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Why you'll always need more storage space

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Why you'll always need more storage space

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

I grew up with Fibber McGee's closet, and it haunts me still.

I am reminded of Fibber McGee's closet each time I am asked about computer storage.

Fibber McGee was a character on a radio show called "Fibber McGee and Molly."

One of the highlights of each show was Fibber's trepidacious journey to his closet, which was always too full. Each time Fibber opened the closet door, everything came tumbling out.

And what does that closet have to do with computer storage?

Computers can't store anything in their own memory chips when they are turned off, so they need to use disks. In most cases, these are magnetic disks. Low-capacity versions, called floppy disks, are mostly used to copy new programs onto a computer. For normal storage, most computers these days use what are called hard disks. Their capacity is measured in megabytes - millions of characters, if you think of such things as letters and numbers, which each take up a single byte.

Like Fibber's closet, hard disks fill up quickly. An old saying adapted to the computer world holds that files tend to expand to fill the available space - meaning, in other words, that if you have a 400-megabyte hard drive, it will soon be full, and if you have a 1,200-megabyte hard drive, it will soon be full, also.

Computer users who are upgrading to a new computer nearly always get a bigger hard drive with the new system, but calls and letters I get from readers usually show how little these users understand another axiom of computer lore: If it's a newer program, it takes up more space on your hard drive.

Combine these two principles, and you end up with a need for much more storage space than you might think. Let me give some examples.

An old word processor such as WordPerfect 5.1 may take up 3 megabytes of space on your hard drive. The latest version can take up six times that much space. The current version of Windows (the software that gives PCs those pretty icons and those resizable windows) may take up 20 to 30 megabytes of space just to get itself installed, and it can take up 100 to 300 megabytes of space once you've spent a year adding programs and playing with the doodads.

Data files - the things that programs use when you run them - have ballooned in the last few years, too. In fact, data files are the biggest contributors to disk-drive bloat. Modern PCs and Macintoshes are able to display pictures in full color - 16.7 million colors, if you wanted to count them - and although these images are easy on your eyes, the data files they occupy could make King Kong blush. And those audio and motion-picture files many of us like to collect are bigger yet.

Two lessons are clear.

The first is that this data glut will never end. Files will get bigger, and we will collect and store more of them, with each passing month.

The second is that nearly every computer user is going to need a much larger disk drive.

This ordinarily would be bad news, because larger drives are more expensive, right? But in the topsy-turvy world of technology, that axiom doesn't hold. Gigantic hard-disk drives have been taking the steepest plunge in prices in the 17-year history of the modern personal computer. Competition in the drive industry and the booming market in new home computers - all of which come with medium- or large-size drives these days - have pushed costs down to record lows.

If you're considering a larger hard drive for your computer, keep these prices in mind. Skimping on storage space would be a big mistake, especially when you can now afford a disk drive that can hold 10 times as much as the drive that came with your computer a few years ago.

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