View from the Classroom

Hard Drives: Bigger and Cheaper

- March 6, 2000

I noticed the sound of a February thunderstorm while doing some of the final editing on the column Making Your PC Work With Your Mac. I remember thinking to myself, "I'm online and I've fried a modem this way before."

Sure enough, I was back to modem shopping. There wasn't any horrendous crack of lightning and thunder. The 56K modem just went deaf and kept telling me it couldn't hear the dial tone. I was ready to replace the thing, anyway, as it never had lived up to its promise and was a real dog connecting. It's 33.6 Kbps older sibling was far more reliable. As a matter of fact, I used the 33.6 with the Performa 575 to do my daily email and web chores while deciding what modem to purchase, and then later shifted it to my G3.

This really isn't a column about the dangers of lightning to electronic equipment. This is a column about upgrades. While Publisher Dan Knight and family were vacationing somewhere warm and sunny in January [Florida was cold and windy that week. dk], I took the opportunity to do a needed upgrade or two to the G3/266 minitower that serves as my primary computer, plaything, excess money gobbler, etc. I didn't go for a ZIF socket upgrade, as I'm still waiting until I can double my current 266 MHz rate for under $300. (It may be a long wait.) There are already tons of reviews about the many G3 and G4 upgrades available. Instead, I chose to pop for a 128 MB RAM upgrade and a larger hard drive.

Among the many sites I visit regularly, Tom McKenna's all in one site is a favorite. I'm not sure why, except that I wished I could have an Artemis. In a posting a week or so ago, Tom wrote that he started out with a Performa 575 just like me. I guess I admire they guy's taste.

The folks who write to Tom and get posted on his site are always trying various upgrades with their G3 All-in-ones. They write about installing faster chips, more RAM, hot PCI graphics and SCSI cards, giant hard drives and multiple giant hard drives. Some of the installations described become an exercise in the exotic.

When I moved from using the Performa with its 1 GB hard drive to my beige G3 minitower, the 6 GB drive of the new machine seemed immense. After just two years, I found I was again beginning to store many frequently used files on Zip disks to conserve my remaining hard drive space. I also began to carefully monitor with considerable delight the continuing decline of hard drive prices.

The current hard drive revolution was brought about by a breakthrough in drive technology made by the folks over at Big Blue (IBM, not their supercomputer). Before this breakthrough, hard drives had typically topped out at around 18 GB in size and were priced somewhere out in the stratosphere.

IBM figured out how to write lots more data on the same size disk platter by somehow narrowing the tracks on the drive disk. That's about as technical as I'm going to get on the matter. The result, however, was deliciously humongous drives appearing on the market in ever decreasing prices!

As I read of giant inexpensive Maxtor drives going into the machines of the all in one site crowd, I became ever more mindful of lack of free space on my G3's stock 6 GB drive. The drive was also becoming a bit noisier - or maybe I'm just getting older and more sensitive to hard drive noise.

I'd watched with relish as IBM EIDE Deskstar drives went to 37 GB at fairly reasonable prices. SCSI drives followed suit, but with slightly higher prices. Seagate has pushed the 10,000 RPM Cheetah line to a maximum of 73.4 GB and recently announced a 15,000 RPM 18 GB Cheetah X15. I also watched the Barracuda EIDE (ATA/66) get bigger, faster, and cheaper as well.

I won't debate the various merits of SCSI and ATA drives here, as I'd just make a fool of myself in the process. My choice was driven by price and compatibility with my Mac. If you'd like a pretty scholarly discussion on the subject, Henry Norr has written an excellent explanation and comparison of various drive types.

My darling wife had okayed a new drive around Christmastime, but the prices just didn't seem right at the time. For whatever reasons, I decided I'd watch the IBM and Seagate drive prices. A few weeks after Christmas, the Barracuda 28 GB dropped nearly $100 to around $200 at several outlets. I began to check around and found a vendor who had a good track record, at least with me, and had the same low price as many of those vendors mentioned on Tom's site and at DealMac. So, I zipped off a web order to BuyComp.com for the drive.

Since my beige G3 has the revision 1 motherboard, it doesn't support slaved drives. This ruled out using both the new Barracuda and the old hard drive, unless I wanted to give up my ATA CD-ROM drive. Fortunately, I'd read a good shortcut for moving files to a new drive on machines such as mine. Joe "Science Man" Martha suggested installing and formatting the new drive as usual. After using the CD-ROM to install a system, he suggested disconnecting the CD and using that controller for your old drive. I followed his suggestion and was able to easily transfer my old files from the original hard drive to the new Barracuda. More detailed instructions are posted on his web site. If you have a machine that does support slaved drives, Mike Breeden has a good "how-to" on Accelerate Your Mac!

The folks at DealMac always have lots of bargains posted, and the area of hard drives is no different. Many of the sales posted are to national chain stores such as Staples. Currently, it seems Onvia, Computers4Sure, and Comp-U-Plus are really hungry to sell hard drives. I used Buy.Com to get my Barracuda, but they're now out of stock of that particular drive.

The hard drive market seems especially vigorous right now, with new drive configurations released almost weekly. It's a good time to upgrade.

Odd Thoughts While Shaving Between Paragraphs:

After my last column and the wisecrack about AppleWorks 6 shipping around February 51st, I noticed that my copy actually shipped on February 28. Unfortunately, since I chose the slower but free ground shipping, my copy is not scheduled for delivery until March 9. I suspect that has something to do with where I live (way out in the boonies).

The Apple Store also has made a welcome change in now including a link the UPS tracking number and a link to the UPS site from the "Your Account" section of the Apple Store. This is a big improvement, as I've spent over half an hour on hold with the Apple Store just trying to get a tracking number on previous orders.

AppleStore UPS tracking link

The Macintosh News Network (MacNN) is carrying a page of comments relating to the upgrade that seem to be leaning heavily to the negative side. MacFixIt is also following a number of apparent conflicts and issues with the upgrade, several of which concern the popular OS enhancers Action WYSIWYG, Action Go Mac, and Default Folder.

Charlie Springer, of clear SE fame, wrote this week that he was trying to clear his shelves of some older Mac software. While I'm not in the business of running a software clearinghouse, I figure I owe Charlie one for just sharing his clear SE photos with us. Mentioned in his email were:

  • Digitalk Smalltalk V manuals and disks
  • An original Mach II Forth. This started as a student project at Stanford and became a product. Written by the couple who founded Global Village Communications and also did some work at Information Appliance.
  • Inside Macintosh Volumes I, II, III, V, and VI.
  • Aldus PageMaker
  • Symantec Think C (2 versions)

While most of the Macintosh world may already know about it, I'll post a short blurb here in case you missed it. Apple has posted it's service manuals for download. This link originally appeared and was noted on MacNN a week ago. It winked on and off several times early last week, but now appears to be somewhat permanent. If so, along with the AppleCare Technician Training now offered by the Apple Store, this adds to the average Mac users ability to service their various Mac models themselves.

I was surprised when I saw the John McCain button on Low End Mac (just millimeters above the listing of my column).* It seems publisher Dan Knight may have stirred up a hornet's nest with that one, but even though I'm a dyed in the wool union Democrat, I didn't see a whole lot wrong with the postings and really enjoyed reading Dan's commentary, How McCain Won Michigan. After all, it's Dan's site and his opinion. Charles W. Moore, who writes superb informative and opinion pieces for Low End Mac (and nearly every other Mac web site), has an interesting column on the "conflict." It's well worth reading.

* It was removed after the Michigan primary. dk

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View From the Classroom columns copyright 1999-2000 by Steve Wood.

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