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Storage, Robotic and Otherwise

By Jim Fisher

In the past year you've probably taken at least a thousand digital photos, shot a dozen hours of digital video, and have added a few gigabytes of digital music to your library. Now you realize that you have eaten up a good portion of your hard drive's free space, and that you don't have a backup.

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, Don't Panic. Hard drives are bigger and cheaper than ever before. RAID 1 disk arrays, which offer real-time backup of data via drive mirroring, are now available at the consumer level. Things are good in the world of storage. So, with that being said, let's go over the storage options that are available.

The Drobo

The Drobo Storage Robot should not be confused in any way, shape, or form with C-3PO, Robby the Robot, or Mr. Roboto. It is, in fact, a 4-bay USB 2.0 disk enclosure. The Drobo supports standard 3.5" SATA hard drives, and features intelligent data protection.

Drobo Storage Robot
Drobo Storage Robot

The Drobo approaches data protection from an innovative and unique angle. Unlike a RAID system, which generally requires disks of identical capacities to function, the Drobo can accept disks of mixed capacities. You'll start benefiting from data protection when you place two disks in the enclosure, although it should be noted that usable storage will be limited by the smallest installed drive.

This makes it an attractive option if you have some spare hard drives laying about, but it should be noted that the Drobo does offer maximum efficiency when drives of identical capacities are installed. You can play around with the Drobolator to see how much usable capacity is available. It is fully compatible with OS X Leopard's Time Machine backup, making it a great option for Mac users who would like a backup system that can grow to meet their future needs.

The nicest thing about the Drobo is the expansion possibilities. You could start building a system now with two inexpensive 500 GB drives. In this configuration, the Drobo will act in the same way as a RAID 1, halving the total capacity, but offering fail-safe data protection against a drive failure. If you find yourself running out of space in the future, you can add another 500 GB drive, bringing your total usable capacity up to about 930 GB.

You won't have to worry about configuring the Drobo via complicated software applications. Simply install the drives and the enclosure will take care of configuration and data protection. It features lights to let you know when space is running low, and when a drive has failed and needs to be replaced. This, combined with the expandability that a consumer RAID system doesn't offer, makes the Drobo an interesting option for anyone looking to expand their computer's storage capacity.

Internal Storage

Western Digital is presently on the storage scene, in top form. They've released high-capacity hard drives for both desktop and notebook computers. Their 1 TB Caviar SE16 SATA hard drive features a 3.5" form factor for installation in standard desktop computer chassis. The drive features a large 16 MB buffer, 7200 rpm rotation speed, and is fully compatible with the Drobo.

Western Digital 1 TB Caviar SE16 SATA hard drive
Western Digital 1 TB Caviar SE16 SATA hard drivecrueftafftequvyabe

The WD 250 GB Scorpio 2.5" SATA hard drive increases the internal storage of a notebook computer. The drive features an 8 MB buffer and 5400 rpm rotation speed. It is only 9.5mm in height, allowing you to use it in the Apple MacBook. You should consult your notebook's documentation to ensure that the hard drive is user-accessible before attempting an upgrade.

External Storage

LaCie is no stranger to making bold design choices when it comes to external hard drives. The new Golden Disk, designed by Ora-Īto, is very, very shiny. The 500 GB drive features a USB 2.0 interface, a 7200 rpm rotation speed, and an 8 MB data buffer. Its wavy top and reflective gold exterior make it a striking addition to any desktop.

LaCie Golden Disk
LaCie Golden Disk

Western Digital's My Book series is their premiere line of external desktop hard drives. The 1 TB My Book Pro Edition II is a triple interface drive that can be configured as a RAID 0 or RAID 1 array. RAID 0 delivers the full 1 TB capacity with extremely high read/write performance. RAID 1 writes identical data to both physical disks inside the enclosure, creating a real-time backup of the drive, but only offering 500 GB total available storage. The drive features FireWire-400, FireWire-800, and USB 2.0 ports for connectivity. A software utility is included to configure the drive as RAID 0 or RAID 1.

Notebook users may want to consider a portable hard drive for additional storage. Portable drives, draw power from the computer's USB port, making them ideal for use with laptops. The disks generally feature a 2.5" form factor in a USB 2.0 enclosure. Western Digital's Passport series and LaCie's Mobile Disk series are both good options, as they are available in capacities up to 250 GB in size.

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