Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 144 / SEPTEMBER 1992 / PAGE S5

How to choose and maintain a large hard drive. (Compute's Getting Started with Power Computing)
by Tony Roberts

The easiest thing to do with a computer these days is to run out of disk space. Applications are bigger and are burdened with unending support files. Data files have swollen exponentially.

If you find yourself constantly checking to see what you can delete from your hard drive before you install new software or start a new project, you're a candidate for a new hard drive.

As long as you're buying a hard drive, you might as well make it a big one. With programs routinely asking for 2, 5, and 10 or more megabytes of disk space, no drive is too large, especially if you expect your computer to carry you through the next few years of technological and software evolution.

So, if you're ready to upgrade, here are some things to think about.

Building a Better BIOS

What kind of drive will your current BIOS support? Run your system's setup utility, and check out the list of supported hard disk types. If your system is a year or two old, the BIOS may not be able to handle a huge drive. if your system has a relatively new BIOS, you should find a setting for a user-defined drive type at the end of the drive type listing. This setting allows you to tell the BIOS how many heads, sectors, and cylinders the drive has.

If there's no user-defined setting, and no drive type matches the large disk you're planning to buy, you'll have to upgrade the BIOS before you can upgrade your hard drive. This procedure involves replacing a couple of chips on the motherboard at a cost of $100-$150. The actual chip replacement isn't difficult, but I've had trouble getting the correct BIOS chips because my system uses a no-name motherboard.

Once you've determined that your BIOS will support a larger drive, consider the controller. If you have an older system with a 20MB or 40MB drive, chances are you're using a controller with an ST506 interface. That controller will probably support two hard drives, but if you plan to simply add a drive, you'll be limited to a small, slow ST506 drive. if you can find one at all.

If you're looking for a large hard disk, investigate an IDE, ESDI, or SCSI interface. (For more information on the various drive interfaces, see Mark Minasi's "Hardware Clinic" in the October 1991 and May 1992 issues of COMPUTE.) This means purchasing a new controller as well as a new drive, but it's the only way to obtain the performance you'll need.

If you're planning to continue using your old drive along with the new one, you may be disappointed. Unless the two drives use the same interface, you can't run them f rom the same controller, and the experts advise against putting two controllers with different interfaces in the same system.

Getting Organized

Once the new drive is installed, stop and think before you start filling it up. You'll want to manage the data on a large drive differently than you would on a small one. Think in terms of the safety of your data and of making backups when you begin filling your disk. Backing up a small hard drive is simply a pain in the neck; backing up a large disk is a monstrous chore.

First, consider splitting the disk into several partitions. Although it may seem convenient to have one huge C: drive on which everything is stored, this method has its liabilities. With all your eggs in one basket--or all your data on one drive--your entire database is at risk if problems occur with your file allocation table. Spread the data out across three or four partitions, each with its own FAT, and you ensure that a problem with one FAT doesn't wipe out everything.

A 200MB hard disk can easily hold 6000 files, and it's safe to assume that most of those files needn't be backed up daily or weekly. But, there are a handful of crucial data files that must be backed up regularly.

You can minimize your backup headaches by creating several partitions on your disk and storing data in each partition depending on its backup requirements.

For example, you might install your program files on Drive C: and keep your data files--the spreadsheets, documents, accounting files, and databases--on Drive D:. You could backup Drive C: on an occasional basis, but you'd backup Drive D: daily or weekly so you'd always have current backups of your most vital data.

Similarly, if your system is used for recreational as well as business purposes, you might set aside a partition for games, which probably wouldn't need any backup at all.