Hardware Tips: Get More, Spend Less on Your PC Storage Upgrades

If you keep music, photos, videos, or other large files on your PC, chances are you're ready to expand your storage. Fortunately, adding extra space for your files and apps is both easier and less expensive than ever. Here's what to consider before you add to your system's storage.

Choose the right medium: As drive and media prices fall, DVDs become more viable for PC storage. If stored properly, DVD discs and other optical media are more reliable than their magnetic counterparts, including USB thumb drives and external hard drives. Placing your large data archives on DVDs can also be cheaper than keeping them on an internal or external hard drive. A 4.7GB, single-layer DVD-R disc costs less than 10 cents per gigabyte, much lower than the price of an internal hard drive, which can be 35 cents or more per gigabyte. However, 8.5GB, dual-layer DVDs--which cost about 25 cents to 30 cents per gigabyte--aren't as good a deal. Click here for a list of DVD media prices, and here for a comparison of hard-drive prices.

If your PC doesn't have a recordable/rewritable DVD drive already, though, you must add the cost of the drive itself. Paying $50 to $100 for a DVD± RW drive postpones the savings advantage over a hard drive until you store from 250GB to 500GB of data. A greater disadvantage of DVDs over hard drives for many people is their file-access times; DVDs are best for archival storage of large amounts of data that you'll need to access only now and then.

Think ahead: The old Parallel ATA (or IDE) interface's days are numbered: While new motherboards will continue to include at least one PATA connector for optical drives in the immediate future, support for PATA/IDE will eventually wither away. If your current PC doesn't support the Serial ATA interface, you can buy an adapter that lets you run a SATA drive over a PATA connection, such as Addonics' $25 SATA to IDE Converter.

Using a converter enables you to hold a SATA drive's data transfer rates to the PATA maximum of 133 mbps. To take full advantage of your SATA drive's capabilities, install a SATA adapter card. The $70 SATA300 TX4 adapter from Promise Technology supports up to four SATA devices.

Adding a SATA drive to a non-SATA motherboard requires a special SATA power adapter to connect the drive to the PC's power supply. You'll find one at any computer store for less than $5.

If you value your time (who doesn't?), you can avoid the hassle of opening your PC's case by spending a little extra for an external hard drive. These devices cost roughly twice as much per gigabyte as their internal counterparts, but they're incredibly easy to install, and sharing files with other PCs--including those you'll be using in the future--is a snap.

Audio Identity Crisis

The S/PDIF digital audio port on the back of my new HP Media Center PC isn't the same as the optical S/PDIF port on my new amplifier. Is there more than one type of S/PDIF port, and is it possible to connect the two?

Lisa Dyer, Las Vegas

The Sony/Philips Digital Interface specification describes only the transmission of digital audio signals, not the connector and cable that do the actual linking. Many PCs have rectangular Toslink ports that work with a fiber-optic cable. Other systems employ RCA jacks and coaxial cables. Use an adapter such as SIIG's $25 Coaxial-to-Toslink Converter (see Figure 1

Figure 1: SIIG'S Coaxial-to-Toslink Converter (left) connects S/PDIF digital audio on PCs and audio amplifiers.
) to connect the two.

A Weightier Mouse

Your mouse is a lot like your mattress; you use it so often that you should buy the most comfortable one you can find. If you think your current mouse is too light or too heavy, one new model will let you decide how much weight to move around. Logitech's G5 Laser Mouse is an optical device designed for gaming. In addition to its supersmooth action, the G5 mouse features a removable panel with adjustable weights. At about $60 online, the mouse is expensive, but it might be preferable to achy wrists. Click here for the latest prices.

Send your tips and questions to kirk_steers@pcworld.com. We pay $50 for published items. Kirk Steers is a PC World contributing editor and the author of PC Upgrading and Troubleshooting QuickSteps from McGraw-Hill/Osborne Media. Click here for past Hardware Tips columns.

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