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Technology Untangled: New year means time for a new hard drive

December 30, 2015

technology-bourThe start of the new year is always a good time to clean up computer files. Hard drive maintenance is often something that goes unattended until it is too late. Today’s article will describe an instance where I took some of my own advice and replaced and upgraded a hard drive before it failed. In the last column, I detailed how I wished I had cloned the hard drive on one old computer before it crashed. With that lesson learned, I decided to upgrade the drive on my workhorse computer in advance of catastrophe.

My favorite laptop is coming up on three years old. One warning sign that reminded me to keep on top of its maintenance was the shortening life of the battery. Batteries don’t last forever; neither do hard drives. Since my battery was failing, perhaps that meant it was a good time to swap out the hard drive. It is cheap and easy to add a higher capacity hard drive. Without overanalyzing the project, I chose a larger 1TB hard drive and went to work on cloning and swapping it. My first stop was YouTube.

YouTube is the best place to find instructions on how to open your particular laptop and replace the drive. Type in your model number and you will probably find several instructional videos. If you decide to do it yourself, I recommend you purchase of a set of computer dismantling tools. It is very helpful to have a few of these thin plastic, screwdriver-like tools to carefully pry off faceplates, bezels and such. These tools are useful with any of your electronic devices that have no disassembly screws.

Next, you will need a cloning cable kit (under $30). This will allow you to connect your new hard drive via USB to your laptop and make an exact copy of the original drive. Go to Apricorn.com and search on “clone.” Here you will find examples of the interface cable as well as the cloning software.

The clone process takes many hours, so it is best to plan on doing the procedure overnight. In the morning after my process, I popped in the freshly cloned hard drive and happily noticed the increased storage space. However, the performance of my computer was noticeably slower. It turns out that not all hard drives are created equal. I had swapped out a high-performance 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Black drive for a garden-variety 1TB hard drive. Lesson learned. Pay attention to the drive specifications.

So it was back to the store to search for a more suitable, higher-performance replacement. I discovered a Seagate SSHD internal solid state hybrid drive. This drive includes some ultra-fast solid state flash memory. Solid state flash hard drives, or SSDs – which have no moving parts – are a welcome advance in computer drives. Their performance is exceptional, but so is their price. The storage sizes are typically smaller. Seagate’s hybrid solution is designed to increase laptop performance with flash speed while including traditional hard disk drive capacity. The advertising says it allows your computer to boot and perform like a flash SSD drive. It is supposed to be particularly helpful in speeding the boot-up of Windows and the loading of your most regularly used programs.

The hybrid drive is designed with adaptive memory technology, which means it learns which pieces of data your computer is most often calling for from the spinning hard drive and then moves that data to the small, but fast, solid state section of the drive for quicker access. The drive installs and works like a traditional hard drive.

I repeated the cloning process with the hybrid drive and installed it. I wish I could say I noticed a substantial leap in performance from the original drive, but I can’t. I suspect that measureable performance has improved, but subjectively it seems about the same. I hope that the performance will improve over time as the drive learns which data is best stored on the flash memory. The good news was that this hybrid drive was not substantially more expensive than other conventional 1TB drives, and it has provided fresh reliability along with increased capacity.

Start the new year right with a fresh large hard drive. Save your old drive and install it in an external USB drive enclosure. If getting under the hood of your computer is not for you, then just drop me an email and I will be glad to help!•

Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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