Installing a new hard drive
During the next year, the increased availability and falling prices of digital video will fundamentally change the way many of us use our computers for both personal and business purposes. I will have a column about that in the near future but for the moment it is important to point out that digital video consumes huge amounts of hard drive space. That, coupled with the bloated size of much of the new software, is driving a market forever increasing hard drive capacity coupled with dramatically reduced prices. I have seen 30 GB hard drives on the Internet for less than $300. I just bought one and my guess is you will do the same in the near future. The purpose of this column is to tell you what is involved in installing a new hard drive. Everything I say here relates to the installation of a standard IDE drive. SCSI drives present different issues. Finally, this column may seem a little geeky but the process is not as difficult as it may seem.
Two limitations on hard drive size are important. First, there are operating system limitations. Until the advent of Windows 95 the effective limitation on hard drive partition size was two GB or less. With the advent of Windows 95SR2 with the so-called "fat 32" file allocation system, larger hard drive partitions were enabled. It was then that the second limitation came into play. That limitation is contained in the basic startup files programmed into your computer call the BIOS. Up until a year or so ago BIOS limitations prevented installing hard drives in excess of 8.4 GB. The most recently shipping computer systems have removed that limitation and that is what is permitting the explosion in hard drive size. Before you buy a new hard drive, you need to check the capacity of your BIOS by calling the manufacturer of your computer or checking on their Internet site. If your bios will permit hard drives in excess of 8.4 GB, you are ready to roll.
Installing a second hard drive is not hard. It is, however, a little risky and you must make sure that you have fully backed up all of your critical information before you start the project. After you have completed your backup, it is safe to open your computer case. First, look at the back of your hard drive. You will see two connector slots. One of them has 40 pins and is designed to connect to the hard drive IDE controller. The other has four large pins and is to be connected to the power supply. You will also noticed a smaller pin set that has a small plastic cap designed to connect two of the pins together. Either on the hard drive or in the documentation became with it you will see a picture of this box with alternative places to put the little plastic cap. It is the placement of the plastic cap that configures your hard drive to be either a slave or a boot drive. I am assuming that you are adding a drive to an existing system and you want that drive to be a slave. Follow the picture carefully and make sure you have the plastic cap in the right place. Check and double-check this placement because if you get it wrong the drive will not work.
Having configured the drive, you are ready to install it into your machine. Since every machine is different, I leave it to you to read your documentation about hard drive placement in the computer case. The next thing you must do is to locate an available power supply plug and an IDE controller plug. Look at the existing hard drive for an example of the two plugs you are trying to find. When you find them, plug them into the new hard drive in exactly the same way the other plugs are plugged into the existing drive. There is a red line on one side of the ribbon cable that has the 40-pin plug on it. That red line must be next to the power supply plug. Again, check the hook up on your existing hard drive. Most hard drives come with very good instructions, complete with photographs that make this process almost impossible to mess up. If you follow the photographs carefully, you will have completed the physical installation of the drive in 15 minutes or so. Now comes the dangerous part.
Most of the new hard drives come with a floppy disk that contains the basic program for installing the hard drive. Sometimes you will have to go on to the Internet in order to download the installation software. What ever you do, follow the software instructions with the greatest of care. These instructions are not hard to follow and do not require geek level computer skills. The software itself is usually very straightforward but be prepared to call customer support in case you have a question. This is not a place to take a guess about what some ambiguity means. Remember the people who write these instructions are not lawyers and it is possible that there will be an occasional ambiguity. <grin> Customer service can fix that and I urge you to have their number at the ready. If you guess, and guess wrong, you may format your existing drive and lose all your data. That will not be total disaster, however, because you have fully backed up your drive before you started.<grin, grin> But I say donít cheat Mother Nature. Go slowly and carefully here. You will finally arrive at a screen for the software that will actually format the new drive. At this point, you will be able to make a choice between dividing the hard drive up into multiple partitions or leaving it as a single partition. While this is a personal choice, you need to remember that while this decision can be changed later it is not easy to do so. Consider whether having multiple partitions on your new drive will actually be useful to you in terms of the way you use your computer. If you intend to work with digital video in the near future I would suggest that you leave the hard drive in a single partition that will allow you to create very large files.
Your new drive contains a hidden benefit and that is it is an excellent and fast way of providing backup. The Windows Backup software built into your operating system will work beautifully with your new hard drive. Since that hard drive is separate from your existing hard drive there is a high-level of safety involved in putting your backup files there. I actually spent an extra $25 for a little tray that makes my new hard drive completely removable. That removability provides high-level security for both information and backup files. Installation of the removable drive tray is about as easy as changing spark plugs in a Volkswagen and so is something you might want to consider. The trays can be purchased at any computer supply house such as FRYS or CompUSA.
There you have it! You are ready for digital video as soon as you save up the money for a digital video camera that is designed to connect to your computer via a fire wire port. More about that later but in the meantime, enjoy the luxury of that empty 30 GB of space. You will be amazed how quickly you will fill it up!