NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2006
New Hard Drives and XP Hard Drive Management Utility
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

WEBSITE: http://www.langa.com
With the oft mentioned convergence, where our desktop computers are now commonly used for more than traditional computing tasks, many of us seem to run low on hard drive space. A quick review of the newspaper and online ads for the electronics and office supply stores often show a selection of large capacity hard drives for very reasonable prices. Sometimes these hard drives can be purchased for an exceptionally low price after the application of high value rebates. Now that many of us are using our hard drives for the storage and editing of video (very large files), countless music files (typically a few megabytes each), and even recording and time shifting TV (huge files), it is quite easy for hard drive space to run short. This is an indication that it is time to somehow utilize an additional hard drive.

The aftermarket hard drives now so readily available come in a variety of packages. Generally the lowest priced drives are name-brand drives packaged as “OEM” intended for computer builders, and typically lack cables, installation software, instructions, brackets, screws, and other sometimes useful accessories. Commonly available at the retail stores, for slightly more, are drives packed in retail packages which usually include cables, detailed install instructions, partitioning and formatting software, technical support, brackets, and other paraphernalia. At the top of the price charts, but still sometimes bargain priced are external drives, already partitioned and formatted, and ready to use by simply plugging one cable into a USB or firewire port, and connecting the traditional power cord, with no other hardware installation. External drives often come with a variety of utility software titles for creating backups, and other purposes. Since there are a variety of hard drive controllers (the device that physically connects the motherboard in the computer to the cable and drive) in use, the purchaser needs to be sure that any internal drives purchased are compatible with the controllers in the computer. Acronyms such as IDE, EIDE, and SATA are commonly used to describe the interface of the hard drives advertised. If the purchaser is not sure which type is correct, a knowledgeable salesperson or call to the hard drive manufacturer may help the buyer select the correct type.

Installing an additional hard drive in a desktop computer may be easy, and can be done by anyone with moderate mechanical or electrical skills. The retail packs often come with very easy to follow directions (and sometimes even a video!) showing the step-by-step process. Most typically, computers come with two hard drive controllers either built in to the motherboard, or on a separate card; each controller can usually drive two hard drives, or a hard drive and a CD/DVD player or burner, allowing for up to four hard drives and CD/DVD units in any combination without the installation of additional controller hardware. One proviso worth noting here is that if the computer is still covered by warranty, opening the case to install an additional hard drive may void the remaining balance of the warranty. There is no warranty risk in using an external hard drive since there is no “hard” installation necessary.

Once a new internal hard drive is installed, it must be partitioned and formatted appropriately in order for it to function properly. If a retail pack was purchased, there will likely be a floppy or CD included that contains the necessary utilities; if an OEM drive was purchased, either a third party utility must be used (my favorite is Partition Magic), or a little know XP utility can be used. External drives, unless home built with a separate drive and case, generally do not need any utilities to make them function properly. Fortunately, users of Windows XP have a built-in utility that can be used for the necessary partitioning and formatting of new drives, as well as other hard drive and computer management tasks. Fred Langa, author of the very popular “Langa List” (http://www.langa.com) published a series of articles in early March documenting the availability and utilization of this integral utility. “Administrator” access is necessary to access this utility. While there are several ways to access the utility, one of the easiest ways is to right click on the “My Computer” icon on the desktop, and then clicking on “Manage”. “Disk Management” is listed under the “Storage” heading. From this point, hard drives can be partitioned, formatted, have drive letters designated or changed, and a variety of other hard tasks can be accomplished. It is important to be especially careful not to partition or format existing hard drives with this utility, unless explicitly desired, as it is likely that existing data on the drive may be destroyed or otherwise become inaccessible. Other non-hard drive management tasks can also be utilized from this utility.

If a new hard drive is installed, it will show up as an “unknown” disk. Right-clicking on the new disk will open a menu with “partition” as one of the choices. Selecting this will open a wizard which will guide the user through the steps of initializing and partitioning the drive, and then formatting it with an appropriate format. After the process is completed, the new drive should show up in Windows Explorer.

Since many of the new hard drives are truly huge in capacity, it may be more convenient in the long run to partition them as if they were several smaller hard drives, each partition with a separate drive letter. This makes disk storage more efficient, with less wasted space, as well as easier to backup, maintain, defragment, and perform other tasks.

A new large capacity hard drive may be useful to improve the utilization of the computer as well as allow it to be used for the many new non-computing tasks that are becoming popular.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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