by Todd Whitesel
June 2007: I woke to the sound of water, and I wasn't at the beach. It was just a few weeks after I moved into my Superior, Wisc., home when a torrential spring rain dropped some 7 inches of water into my nearly table-top flat yard. The clayey soil soaked up what it could, but eventually some overflow began trickling into one corner of my basement. When I ventured downstairs that morning, I found wet drywall giving way to wet floor, where ponded water was slowly draining toward the low point in the middle of the room. Ugghh. Fortunately, the weekend before I had moved several boxes and crates of CDs that would have surely been worse off for the bath. A little water wouldn't ruin the discs, but it would be a mind-numbing process to clean and dry a couple thousand of them. If I had to replace them, it would be a very expensive enterprise. After that event, I purchased a 250 GB hard drive and began backing up my most prized discs. I recommend you do, too.
Space Is Cheap
Compared to just three or four years ago, external hard drive space is very affordable and very spacious. The dream of a 1 TB drive – or bigger – is now a reality, so even if your collection contains thousands of discs, the drive space is there for the filing. A 1 TB drive can hold approximately 1,428 full-length, uncompressed compact discs. Using a lossless compression format, such as FLAC, that number essentially doubles to 2,856 CDs - the equivalent of 3,808 hours or 158 days of non-stop tunes. Yeah! Copying CDs to a back-up drive is not only good practice, it also makes ready a multitude of music for playback via computer or streaming audio to a wireless receiver. If you're looking to archive your musical investment, here are three recommended drives.
LaCie's storage products are known for their contemporary and fun designs. The first external drive I purchased was a 250 GB LaCie Brick Desktop Drive; nearly 3-years-old and still going strong today. Bricks look like large LEGOs, and just like the venerable Danish toy, the LaCie Bricks are stackable and come in different colors. The Brick is a cinch to use, as it self-installs in Windows and Macintosh systems via a supplied Hi-Speed USB 2.0 cable and operates with very little noise and heat. Bricks support data transfer rates up to 480 Mbps (Megabytes per second) and come with a 2-year limited warranty. A 1 TB Brick can be purchased directly for $114.99 on LaCie's Web site (www.lacie.com). Need more space? Purchase another brick and stack. Repeat as necessary.
Newer Technology miniStack V3
My main computer is a Mac mini. This mighty mite takes up little more space than a paperback book but still provides the processing power of a tower drive computer. The appeal of the mini is its small footprint, but it's also currently limited to a maximum 500 GB hard drive. That's a lot of space but not enough for archiving a large digital library without compromising fidelity by compressing files. Enter
Newer Technology's miniStack, a Mac mini body clone designed to sit squarely atop the computer, adding just 1.5 inches of height. Models up to 2 TB are available, with 1 TB units retailing for $189.99 on Other World Computing's Web site (http://eshop.macsales.com). These feature a 7,200RPM drive, one eSATA, two FireWire 800, one FireWire 400, and three USB 2.0 ports, and come with FW800/FW400/USB 2.0 connection cables. The miniStack V3 comes plug-and-play ready for both Macs and PCs. I test-drove a 250GB model and was impressed with its lightning-quick Firewire file transfer and quiet and cool operation. The Mac mini's FireWire 800 port, along with the miniStack V3, support transfer rates up to 800 Mbps. Considering that a standard compact disc at full capacity contains 700 MB of data, it's easy to see how such speed can make short work of a big project. For a Mac or Firewire-compatible PC, and particularly for use with Mac minis, the miniStack V3 is my speedy and spiffy choice.
ioSafe Solo USB
If you're prone to bad luck, superstitious or just steely in your resolve to keep files Fort Knox-safe, ioSafe's Solo is the answer. The Solo not only provides the disk space to store data, it's built to withstand water and fire. In fact, ioSafe puts their drives through torturous tests to ensure
digital matter survives flame and/or flood. The Solo is engineered to be waterproof in up to 10 feet of fresh or saltwater for 3 days as well as fireproof at 1550 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Compared to the Brick or miniStack, the Solo is a beefy drive, weighing 15 pounds and sporting a metal chassis that covers an inner waterproof barrier and fireproof insulation. It can also be bolted or cabled for extra protection against theft. Out of the box, the Solo is plug-and-play for PCs; Mac owners must format the drive before using. Its USB 2.0 port supports transfer rates up to 480 Mbps. Of the three drives discussed here the Solo is the loudest operator, making a low-volume hum while powered on. It's like background white noise, not disturbing but noticeable. The unit, however, does run cool and my review drive worked flawlessly. At $329.98 for a 1 TB unit, Midwesterners might call the Solo “pricey” compared to the Brick and miniStack, but the ioSafe includes a $1,000 Data Recovery Service that covers any type of disaster, natural or otherwise. The Solo may lack the quirky styling of the Brick and it doesn't fit neatly atop a Mac mini, but it's a rugged combo of brawn and brains that takes the worry out of those “What if?” scenarios. Available at iosafe.com/home.