Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Q. I need a new computer. I see computers in the store with 80GB, 160GB or even 250GB Hard drives. I just want to do standard stuff on the computer. How big of a hard drive do I need?

A. A typical home user would be perfectly happy with the smallest hard drive available in today’s new computers (about 80GB). For instance, I am obviously a computer nerd. I have hundreds of pieces of software installed on my computer, a few games, thousands of documents and a few hundred songs. Despite all that, I am using only a third of the capacity of my 80GB hard drive. On the other hand, my oldest son is quite un-nerdy and has a 120GB hard drive that is nearly full. To find out why, we need to understand some basics.

Hard drive storage terms generally adhere to the decimal measurement system. The smallest unit of data that can be manipulated on a hard drive is called a “bit” (short for Binary digit). A single number or letter uses 8 bits which is called a “byte.” A megabyte (“MB”) is a million bytes and will store a 500 page novel. A gigabyte (“GB”) is a billion bytes and will store 1,000 novels. Thus, in short, 1,000MB is equal to 1GB.

For some perspective consider that a standard floppy disk is about 1.44MB and can store about 700 pages of text. A typical typist types at about 20 words per minute. At that rate, it would take that typist over 40 hours to fill up a single MB or, working 24 hours per day, nearly 5 years fill up 1GB out of a typical 80GB hard drive.

One megabyte will store about 30 of my silly little columns but a gigabyte would store 30,000 of them. Chris Giroir, IT Director at the TimesDaily, tells me that an entire edition of the TimesDaily takes up about 20MB so that 50 editions would fit in 1GB. If that’s still not clear, consider this: If the city of Florence had a megabyte for every dollar owed to them through questionable loans to local businesses, they would have enough room to store the nearly all the text of all the books in the public library.

Some information, however, can take up much more space. For example, a typical MP3 song takes up about 4 MB so that a GB will hold about 250 songs. A typical 2 hour movie is about 3GB. Windows XP itself takes up about 2GB while the typical new computer with lots of software preloaded on it will use less than 10GB.

So, to finally answer your question, if you are an average home or business user doing basic stuff, you will likely never come anywhere close to filling up even the smallest hard drive available today. However if you plan to download movies and thousands of songs over a multi-year span you will eventually fill up even the largest hard drive.

No comments: