In computers, closets, and kitchens, the rule is the same: You can never have too much storage space. When I bought my home computer a couple of years ago, I thought I'd never fill what seemed like a massive 2.5-gigabyte hard drive. Boy, was I wrong. Between programs, audio and video files, and I don't know what else, I have completely crammed it.
Part of the problem is the massive size of software packages. The Microsoft Plus98 add-on to the upcoming Windows 98 can install 158 MB of stuff, much of it of dubious value, on your hard drive. And you'll really need space if you work with sound or images. Photographs from the new "megapixel" digital cameras can take up 3 MB each. If you use your computer to create a 30-minute home video, you can easily use 3 GB of disk space during production.
GET HELP. Adding storage space to your home can be disruptive and expensive, but increasing your computer's capacity can be cheap and relatively simple. There are three appealing approaches: replacing your primary hard drive, adding an additional hard drive, or adding a drive that employs removable cartridges.
A stopgap measure is to free up space on your existing drive by moving infrequently used files to high-capacity floppies, such as Iomega Zip disks or Imation SuperDisks. But even at 100 MB or so each, you may soon lose track of your cases of disks. And compared with hard drives, the disks have a relatively high cost per megabyte. For real mass storage, a hard drive of some sort is your best bet. Each of the hard-drive approaches has its advantages and its disadvantages.
For most people, adding a second hard drive is the best solution. Most late-model computers have the necessary wiring and space to mount the drive in the case. The price is certainly right. A 2.1-GB unit costs about $150, while one with 8.4 GB, the largest drive supported by Windows 95, goes for $350 to $400. (Macintosh owners generally go for external drives, which are more expensive but much simpler to install.)
Whatever you decide to get, I suggest having a pro install the new drive. Although it looks simple, pitfalls are plentiful. Some computers may need software upgrades, and you may have to move little plastic clips called jumpers to configure the computer properly. Computer City stores charge $60 to install a hard drive.
Replacing your drive outright can be simpler and not much more expensive. And if you don't have space for a second drive, you don't have a choice. Here, too, I advise professional help, since you will want to transfer the contents of your old drive to the new one.
If you prefer the do-it-yourself route, consider a removable cartridge drive, such as an Iomega Jaz or SyQuest SparQ. You'll probably want to go with an external unit, since internals come with the same installation problems as fixed drives. The SparQ connects through a printer port, while Jaz drives require a special adapter card called a SCSI (pronounced "scuzzy"). The SyQuest SyJet comes in both SCSI and parallel-port versions.
Ease of installation isn't the only difference. Printer ports transfer data much more slowly than SCSI systems. What's more, some printers won't work properly if they are hooked up through another device. And if you already have two devices hooked up--say, a printer and a scanner--don't even think about adding a third.
JAZ AND BUZ. On the other hand, adding a SCSI adapter can be tricky. I've had good luck with Iomega's $100 Jaz Jet. If you're thinking about using your computer to edit some of those home videos, Iomega's $200 Buz is a good investment. The single easy-to-install card combines a SCSI adapter with the ability to capture standard video and write it back to a VCR or camcorder.
On a cost-per-megabyte basis, fixed disks are generally a better buy than cartridges. But removable disks are particularly useful for multimedia effects such as video editing, where you may want to preserve the files used to produce other projects.
I don't know how big disk drives can get. I'm using a Dell Dimension with an IBM drive that weighs in at a staggering 13.4 GBs, and bigger drives are on the drawing board. You may not need that much room, but if you have a computer that's getting tight on space, it's good to know that you can expand storage without too much expense or effort.