Productivity
Brought to you by

Top 10 Hard Drive Upgrades And Fixes

You should never feel like your hard drive is holding out on you. Anyone should be able to back up, recover files, boot multiple systems, upgrade, or otherwise improve their storage space. These tips explain the possibilities and procedures.

Photo by limaoscarjuliet.

10. Quiet It Down

Over time, the moving parts and powered pieces that move your magnetic disks around at lightning speed will wear, age, and get noisy. In a desktop computer (a Windows PC, generally), you can quiet the drive with rubber shock absorbers or elastic suspension. Toting a laptop? NotebookReview has a good starter guide to cleaning your laptop, which reduces noise, removes dust, lowers temperatures, and gives your drive a bit more life—never a bad thing. (Original posts: Rubber shocks, elastic).

9. Erase It Entirely, The Right Way

There’s a huge range of tools that offer spy-agency-level data wiping—some of them are complete overkill. What software actually wipes the slate clean? Jason ran through them and picked out the good stuff, along with the physical, take-no-prisoners means of data destruction, in his advice on how to properly erase your physical media. If you need to pass on or reuse a disk, those apps and boot CDs will get you there. When you just need to make sure your credit card numbers are hidden forever, there’s always a hammer. No, seriously. Photo by scragz.

8. Make A Complete Image

Backups keep your data safe, but a complete image of your system on an external drive ensures that everything—applications, data, settings, wallpaper choice, the whole shot—make it back onto your system if things go wrong. Windows users can image their hard drives with DriveImage XML, a great free tool. Another free tool, SuperDuper, makes it easy, if not exactly quick, to mirror your entire Mac onto an external drive.

7. Convert It To An External Drive

Whether it’s an old desktop with a surprisingly large drive, or a laptop that’s getting an upgrade, you can save that once built-in storage and turn it into an external drive, one you can just plug in with a USB cable and use for backup, media storage, or whatever you need.

6. Visualize Your Usage To Free Up Space

The strangest stuff ends up clogging up your hard drive unnecessarily. Leftover files from CD rips, huge data folders from games, backup files for apps you don’t have installed—the list goes on. We recently looked at simple tools for analysing and freeing up space on your hard drive. Once you know what’s there, and how big it is, you can start toward getting rid of some of it.

5. Recover Files And Rescue Your System

When things go wrong with your hard drive, they usually go really wrong—lost files, no booting, and general panic ensues. Adam’s run down recovering deleted files with free software, with a focus on Windows utilities, with a few cross-platform goodies sprinkled in. When you can’t get into your system, we heartily recommend a live Ubuntu thumb drive to grab files and fix things up, though a system rescue CD session can work wonders, too. When we put the call out, the answer that came back for the best recovery tool was Recuva, a Windows utility that can save files from hard drives, SD cards, iPods and much more.

4. Install A Drive Yourself

Tech shops and laptop sellers will charge you a good bit over the parts cost to install a new, likely larger hard drive in a computer. Whether it’s a desktop, a MacBook, or an SSD drive, you can likely take an hour and tackle it yourself. Adam explained the desktop hard drive installation, while tech blogger Dwight Silverman has explained a MacBook hard drive upgrade. Each laptop is build differently, but if a solid-state drive is in your future, this tutorial on MacBook installation should give you some general guidance on the job. It’s a good skill to have, in general, because as Silverman writes, “Whatever you have now, it’s not enough. And when you add more, that won’t be enough, either.” (Original post: MacBook hard drive).

3. Dual-Boot Windows, Mac And/Or Linux

Just because your computer only came with one operating system doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. If you’re a Mac owner who’d like a little Windows time now and again, read up on Gina’s guide to setting up Boot Camp for Mac and Windows. If Windows 7 looks appealing, and a virtualised XP Modes isn’t quite enough oomph, you can still boot Windows 7 with XP or Vista, and just choose your Windows flavor at start-up. And if you’re keen on giving Linux a real go, why not dual boot it with Windows 7 in a way that makes it easy on both systems? It’s so nice when everybody at the (partition) table just gets along.

2. Upgrade It Without Re-Installing

Maybe you’ve settled on a spacious new hard drive for your laptop, a solid-state drive for durability, or just need to rescue your stuff before your drive goes. Time to re-install Windows, right? Not so much. Using the Clonezilla Live CD, it’s possible to upgrade to a spacious new hard drive without having to completely re-arrange your operating system and applications, and tediously transfer all your media over. It’s a step-by-step process, it’s fairly straightforward, and you get to trick Windows, somewhat, into believing that nothing ever happened, which can be its own reward.

1. Automatically Back It Up

Don’t sell your computer data short—even if your documents don’t seem all that important, the time you spent setting installing applications and putting everything in order is definitely worth saving. If you’ve got a good spare hard drive or an web space you can FTP into, you can set up automatic hard drive backup through Windows. Most folks, though, will want to go with one or both of two routes: online backup, for the entire-house-burns-down security, and/or offline backup, for speedy backups and convenient restoring. For two solutions that make the process mostly painless and care-free, try web-based, automated systems like Mozy or Carbonite. Photo by miss karen.

What’s the hard drive tool you’d rather not live without? What blog posts or tutorials showed you something new about your hard drive? Share the good stuff in the comments.