Home PC Data Gone Wild: 3 Smart New Storage Options

The amount of data flying around your home just continues to multiply, creating a storage squeeze. CIO.com's Bill Snyder shares the lowdown on three secure, convenient solutions, ranging from faster USB drives to RAID products for the home.

There's storage and then there's storage: There's storage that's really just backup, and there's storage of the stuff you work with frequently. The reason I'm making the distinction is that many of us are now backing up to the cloud. And that's a good thing; in some ways, cloud options can be more secure and more convenient than backing up to hardware.

But a backup copy in the cloud isn't always available immediately. And if you have more digital stuff—pictures, music, HD video, and so on—than you have room for on the internal drive that came with your computer, you need more storage. That's an old story, of course, but now there are new hardware options that are fast, convenient, (and in one case, more secure than anything I've seen) that make real sense for a consumer or small business.

I'll also tell you about an inexpensive storage device that makes it quick and easy to access your files via the Web when you're away from home.

USB 3.0 Feeds Need for Speed

Storage of all varieties has gotten ridiculously cheap, but moving around a great big HD movie or a whole album of photos can leave you twiddling your thumbs while the files are transferred. Enter USB 3.0, the latest addition to interconnect technology, and as you can easily guess, the successor to USB 2.0.

The industry boasts that USB 3.0, which techies have taken to calling SuperSpeed, is ten times faster than USB 2.0. Of course, there's more to moving data than the speed of the bus; the efficiency and speed of the read and write heads are a major factor. And nearly 20 years of experience covering technology tells me that in the real world USB 3.0 won't really be that fast. But it doesn't have to be. It only has to be significantly faster—and it is.

Western Digital, one of the first vendors to ship 3.0 drives, calls its entry My Book 3.0. For $199 list, you get one terabyte of storage, plus a PCIe adapter (but retailers are already discounting it, so shop around.) A 2 TB version costs $280.

The adapter, which adds about $20 to the price, is key because very few computers already in use have the new bus. But installing the card will let you take advantage of the higher speeds. If for some reason you'd rather not, My Book is compatible with USB 2.0 PCs and it's a bit cheaper without the adapter.

If you do connect the drive to a USB 3.0 port, it will take about three minutes to move a two-hour, high definition movie, compared to 13 minutes using USB 2.0, according to Western Digital. I've seen test results in trade magazines that show a somewhat smaller, but still significant, improvement.

In the same genre, Seagate offers the BlackArmor PS 110 USB 3.0 Performance Kit, a 500 GB drive and USB adapter for $179. Unlike Western Digital's drive, the Seagate comes with backup software. And Buffalo offers the DriveStation USB 3.0 HD-HXU3, which is compatible with either Windows or the Mac OS, for $150.

RAID Comes Home

Enterprises have used RAID-based storage systems since the 1990's, but it's rare to see them in a product aimed at creative professionals and small businesses. Just to be clear, RAID stands for redundant array of independent disks, and that's exactly what Data Robotics offers in its new DROBO S.

The gadget is a chassis with slots for up to five drives, plus software. RAID's claim to fame is the ability to preserve a copy of your data even if one of the drives fails; the DROBO S can handle the failure of two drives.

This is not a cheap solution. The DROBO S starts at $800 and that's with no drives; you need to buy your own. The older version, which is still available, is slower, has four drive slots, and can handle the failure of a single drive. It sells for about $400.

Data Robotics' technology allows users to mix and match drives of different sizes and different manufacturers. The DROBO S maxes out at a total of 10 terrabytes and connects to Windows machines via USB 2.0 and to Macs via FireWire 800. It is also compatible with Linux.

Pogoplug: Your New Travel Companion

Despite its silly name, the Pogoplug is a cheap ($129) and useful device for accessing files of all kinds when you're away from home.

It works like this: Plug the Pogoplug into an external hard drive or flash drive, and then plug the cute little box into your router or broadband modem. Once it's setup, you then go to the Pogoplug Web site, enter your password, and hello, content. Anything on the drive connected to the Pogoplug is accessible. This gizmo works with PCs and Macs.

If you like, it can be shared by multiple users, and it's possible to set up various levels of access for your guests. You can also upload files remotely, which is a handy way to back up your stuff when on the road. If you'd like to have more than one drive connected to Pogoplug, simply use a hub.

Another nice feature: you can grab or upload files to and from a Blackberry or iPhone. I'd like this gadget better if it could connect to the Web via Wi-Fi instead of running a cable, but that's a relatively small drawback.

San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net.

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