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Wed 1 Feb 2006 04:00 AM

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A time to upgrade...

If you’re looking to enjoy better performance and more storage space, upgrading your hard disk is the way forward. This month, Windows gives you some valuable buying advice and helps make your new disk feel right at home...

|~||~||~|If your PC's performance is sluggish and you constantly find yourself stretched for digital storage space, a dose of a new hard disk is just what the doctor ordered, as a beefy new drive will not only give you more space, but it will also speed up load and file transfer times.

Internal vs external
Many of you may be asking, “Why not go for an external disk instead?” Good question. Although some might say an external hard disk is an easy fix for performance and space problems, these simply aren’t as fast as internal disks. This is because external disks use the USB or Firewire interface to transfer data, which is slower than the SATA interface used by most internal disks on the market.

Another disadvantage of external disks is that they can easily be stolen, plus an external disk is more expensive
than an internal one, due to its higher
production costs.

Knowledge is power
When buying a hard disk the key factors to consider are its, capacity (obviously) interface, RPM and buffer size.

Before you go shopping for a new disk however, decide how much you're willing to spend. If you're looking to buy Maxtor's DiamondMax drive series, prices start from US $80 for an 80Gbyte drive, to $199 for a 300Gbyte drive and $349 for a 500Gbyte model. Western Digital also offers internal drives boasting 80Gbytes to 500Gbytes and prices range from $90 to $350, including a new 150Gbyte Raptor drive.

The larger the capacity, the more music, movies, and documents you can store. However, before you buy a huge drive, you must first check whether your PC can support this larger capacity. Some older PCs are configured to handle no more than 137Gbyte models. In this case, you'll have to either update your PC’s BIOS or add a PCI-based controller card and connect this to your new drive.

The next key factor is the interface. The Serial ATA (SATA) interface offers more bandwidth than the traditional parallel ATA interface (3Gbytes/s vs. 133Mbytes/s respectively). However, if you have an old PC that supports only an ATA interface you'll need to invest in a SATA PCI card. These are quite cheap and can be bought for under $100.

Currently almost all drives on the market feature 7,200rpm motors. The speed of a motor affects the rate at which a PC can access data on storage platters, which means - like a car - the higher the rpm, the faster the performance. Therefore, when choosing a disk, we recommend a 7,200rpm motor or a higher 10,000rpm model if you want to enjoy the fastest load and transfer times.

Last but not least is buffer size. Large buffers can offer a significant performance boost, as the drive can place large amounts of data in the buffer. This way, the buffer can maintain a constant stream of data to the PC, while the drive seeks or moves its heads to a new location on the disk to read other data. Current drives on the market feature buffers ranging from 1Mbyte to as much as 8Mbytes. A 2Mbyte buffer can provide 20-30% more performance than a 1Mbyte buffer and is sufficient for standard PC applications. Hardware manufacturer Western Digital strongly recommends a 8Mbyte buffer, if you regularly work with huge spread-sheets, massive images or video files.

Don’t say goodbye...
Once you've purchased your new drive, you may wonder what to do with your old drive. Luckily, you can give your old drive a second chance by using it as a 'Slave drive' and using your new drive as the 'Master'. Please note that this arrangement is only be possible using an ATA drive. If you've bought a SATA drive, you can still have both drives in the PC but each drive will need to occupy a separate channel. To set your ATA drives to a Master/Slave configuration, first disconnect your old drive from your PC. Next, set your new drive as the Master via its jumpers and connect it to your PC. To find out which jumpers need to be connected, refer to the jumper diagram on your new hard disk (all drives have this). Now install your operating system (OS) on this drive. Thereafter, set your old drive as the Slave drive, return it to the drive bay and reconnect it. Once you're done, boot into Windows and both drives should be displayed on the main boot screen.

Moving on
If you wish to dispose of your old drive but want to save your data or migrate it to a new disk first, you'll need a good imaging application. We suggest using Acronis True Image 9.0 (a 15-day trial version is available at www.acronis.com). This lets you clone an image of a hard disk and copy it to a new one. It also lets you clone separate partitions and resize them to fit your new drive. Please note that before you use this tool, you'll need to install both drives in your PC so that the software can transfer data from the old drive to the new.

To clone your old drive you’ll need to use True Image’s Clone tool. This allows you to upgrade to a new hard disk without having to reinstall the OS and applications or configure user settings To use this tool:
-Open Acronis, navigate to the File Menu and click on Operation/Clone Disk
-Click Next and select the Automatic in the Settings tab
-Click Next again. The software will now show you a list of all the hard drives connected to your PC
-First select your source (old) drive and click Next
-Then select your destination (new) drive and move on to the next screen.
-You'll now see a window comparing partition sizes on your old and new drive
-Click Next/Proceed, followed by Reboot.

Now sit back and relax as the cloning process can take 20-30 minutes. The simply restart your PC. ||**||How to upgrade your hard drive |~|openthecaseweb.jpg|~||~| 1.Open the case
Before you open up your chassis first ground yourself. This is an important step because your body sometimes produces static electricity, which can damage your motherboard and other components. To prevent this from happening, simply touch a metal object such as a screw or bolt on your PC before you begin opening the case. Then bring out your toolbox and unscrew the nails on the side panel of your case.

||**|||~|connectsatacable.jpg|~||~| 2.Connect sata cable to hard drive
Now connect a SATA cable to your hard drive and insert the other end of the cable into the corresponding port on your motherboard. These cables are much thinner than ATA cables and are only able to connect to one drive, meaning a Master/ Slave configuration on a SATA drive isn’t necessary. You can still install more than one Serial ATA drive in your PC only each will be on a separate channel. ||**|||~|powercable.jpg|~||~| 3.Connect the power cable to your drive
Once you’ve connected the SATA cable, it’s time to connect the power cable to your drive. Some SATA drives use a different type of power cable than ATA drives, while others use the same. If your SATA drive only has the SATA power connector and your power supply doesn't have that connector, you can buy a convertor cable for roughly $4. Some motherboard manufacturers such as Asus, MSI and Gigabyte supply these converters with their boards.||**|||~|driveinbay.jpg|~||~| 4.Insert hard disk into drive bay
Once you’ve connected the cables, carefully insert the hard disk into the drive bay. Ensure that the Serial ATA interface cable and power cable can reach the drive in its current location. In addition, make sure that you don’t mount the drive upside down or backwards. Once you’ve inserted the disk, use the proper screws to fasten it firmly to the case. Make sure the screws you use aren’t too long or they might damage your drive. Now simply close the case and boot up your machine. ||**||

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