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Uses for Removable Storage

The potential uses of external and removable storage devices are as many and as varied as the people who use them. Here are just a few:

Expanding storage on notebook systems

Replacing the hard drive in a desktop system is easy and inexpensive, but options for notebook systems are much more limited. Notebook hard drives are expensive, have relatively small capacities, and are slow. Adding an external hard drive to a notebook system addresses all of these problems. If the notebook has a USB 2.0, FireWire, or External SATA port, you can use one of the many models of external hard drives that support one or more of those interfaces. If your notebook has only slow USB 1.1 ports, you can install a USB 2.0, FireWire, or External SATA PC Card adapter to take advantage of the much higher transfer speeds of those interfaces.

Transporting or shipping large amounts of data

If you need to transport or ship large amounts of data, an external or removable hard drive is often the best solution. External hard drives are available in very high capacities. A frame/carrier removable hard drive system uses standard hard drives, and so is limited in capacity only by the size of the largest standard hard drives available.

Using one computer for multiple operating systems

Software development and similar work that requires using multiple operating systems always presents a problem. You can configure one PC to multiboot different operating systems, but that is seldom entirely satisfactory. You can install a dedicated computer for each OS, but doing that is expensive, generates a lot of noise and heat, and means you're soon covered up in computers. Using a frame/carrier removable hard drive system solves all the problems. Installing each OS on its own hard drive means that you can simply insert the carrier with the appropriate OS, restart the system, and have the equivalent of a dedicated PC running that OS. We use frame/carrier units on our main test-bed systems for that reason.

Sharing one computer among several people

Using a frame/carrier removable hard drive system allows one computer to be shared among several people. Inserting the drive and restarting the system presents each user with his own desktop environment, programs, and data, with no concerns about conflicts or accidentally damaging someone else's data or configuration.

Supporting multiple large data sets

Some scientists, market researchers, and others need to manipulate extremely large data sets sometimes in the 250+ GB range. Although it may be possible to build a PC with sufficient disk space to store all the data sets on internal hard drives, it's usually cheaper and more efficient to swap those data sets in and out as needed. If there are many such data sets, using external or removable hard drives may be the only practical option.

Backing up

Tape drives, optical drives, and other traditional backup solutions are too slow and have too little capacity to be practical for doing complete backups of today's huge hard drives. What's needed is something that's fast, stores a lot of data, and doesn't cost much per byte stored. In other words, a hard drive. In addition to their speed and capacity advantages, removable hard drives have a major advantage if you experience catastrophic system failure, because you can simply connect the backup hard drive and boot it directly, without spending the time needed to rebuild the system, reinstall the operating system and applications, and recover from tape.

Offline data storage

Even the largest hard drive eventually fills up, particularly if you're a pack rat like Robert. External or removable hard drives allow you to store unlimited amounts of data offline. For example, one of our readers ripped his entire DVD movie collection to several external hard drives, and stored the original discs safely. Each external drive stores between 40 and 100 movies, depending on the capacity of the drive, the size of the movies, and the level of compression he used when ripping the movies. He keeps a rotating selection of two or three of these external hard drives plugged into his home-theater PC, and always has a selection of between 100 and 250 movies available for immediate viewing simply by choosing from a directory listing. If a movie he wants to view is on an offline drive, it takes only seconds to plug in that drive and access the movie. Others use external or removable hard drives for storing collections of music, digital images, or home videos. One person we know records an entire season of his favorite television programs, stores them to external hard drives, and watches them in a marathon session after the season has ended.

Sneakernetting data

In olden days, the ubiquitous floppy disk was the medium of choice for sneakernetting data between systems that weren't networked. Nowadays, the 1.44 MB capacity of a standard floppy is ridiculously small, and even a writable CD or DVD disc may have too little capacity. USB 2.0 flash drives, which are available in capacities as large as 16 GB, and external or removable hard drives are capacious enough and fast enough to make it practical to transfer amounts of data that are impractical to transfer via optical disc.

Securing data

If you work with extremely sensitive data such as payroll information using an external or removable hard drive allows you to secure that data by taking it with you or by storing it in a vault.

More about External Storage Devices

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