We have all heard we should back up our hard drive. Back it up to what?
In personal computing, methods for external data storage have evolved from cassettes and 51/4” floppy disks to solid state USB drives and Blu-ray discs. Capacity of these formats has increased from just 360 kilobytes to 50 gigabytes.
Data storage is measured in bytes. Each byte consists of 8 on/off bits which are the basic pieces of information a computer processes. A thousand bytes, more precisely 1024 bytes, is one kilobyte, a thousand KBs is one megabyte, a thousand MBs is one gigabyte. For reference, the newest desktops have hard drives with at least 250 GB of storage. Small word processing files use 10 to 50 KB. Spreadsheets may require a MB of space or more. A photo can be 3 MB when transferred from a digital camera. Music and video files range from 1500 KB to 4 GB or more.
In the early 80s, we balanced the checking account in the little book that came with the checks. We struggled to hand write a term paper, then painstakingly type and white-out the final draft. Way back then, there were computers that used cassette tapes to audibly transfer information. You might remember early Commodore models, the TRS80, or the Apple II Plus.
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Much better than cassette, the 51/4” floppy was the standard for early PCs and computer terminals. In 1984 the 3 ½” floppy was introduced, which could hold 1.44 MB, four times as much data as its predecessor. It held its ground for nearly 20 years, even after the CD became the standard format for external data storage.
In 1994 the zip-drive provided a 700 percent improvement over the 3 ½” floppy. Its later versions provided much greater capacity. Competing with the CD, the zip-drive never gained a large market share.
The compact disk represented an entirely new form of storage from floppy and zip disks, which were magnetic media. A CD is a polycarbonate disk with a microscopic spiral band on which data is recorded in a series of “pits and lands.” In the computer’s binary thinking, change indicates “1” and no change (pit to pit, or land to land) indicates “0.” Miles of microscopic data are stored on one compact disk, enough for a music album or photo album.With an expected shelf-life of 20 years or more, CDs provide a much more stable format than magnetic media. CDs store approximately 700 MB, 500 times more than the floppy disk. DVDs, the next step up, provide six times more space than CDs. Progress continues with HD DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, which are great for movies. The bigger selling Blu-ray discs hold 25 GB, five times more than regular DVDs. One dual layer Blu-ray disc holds 50GB, as much as my computer’s hard drive
In the past five years, solid-state USB drives have become very popular due to their convenience and reliability. Data can be re-written, the device is sturdy, and it’s small enough to slip into a pocket or change purse. Also called a flash drive or thumb drive, the USB drive is available at increasingly larger capacities for lower and lower prices. Flash drives are great for backing up important files, or for impressing your favorite people with their own photo album-to-go. No more excuses, get that hard drive backed up, then have some fun with your family photos.
Michael Shaffer, owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277.