Sep 18 2007

Adding Disk Space to Your Notebook

Many mobile professionals at one point or another discover that their storage needs have suddenly outgrown their hard-drive capacity. Fortunately, with today’s affordable technology and a few optimization tricks, users have options when deciding how to get the most out of their portable systems.

Option 1: Clean Up Existing Temporary Files and Uninstall Old Programs

Windows XP and Vista users can get a good start freeing up disk space by launching Disk Cleanup on their system drives. To do this, simply open My Computer (XP) or Computer (Vista), right-click the system (usually C:) drive, select Properties and click Disk Cleanup.This will give you many choices for clearing old temporary files and even compressing infrequently used files, and can release an impressive amount of disk space with very little effort.

Additionally, users might want to launch their “Add/Remove Programs” (XP) or “Programs and Features” (Vista) applet and uninstall any old programs that are no longer used. It isn’t uncommon for an installed program to require 1 gigabyte or more of hard-drive space, which adds up quickly, even if only a few programs are removed.

Pro: Free of charge, easy — even for inexperienced users.

Con: Of all options, this will typically net the least amount of available disk space.

Option 2: Add More Storage Space With an External Drive

If you have already squeezed as much utility as you can out of your existing drive and stilldon’t have the space that you need, it might be time to consider adding more storage space. Given the prevalence of FireWire and USB technology, this is easier than ever.

Simply purchase the drive, plug it in and go. In most cases, no formatting is required, and best of all, nothing needs to be done to your system to accept the new drive. You can simply plug it in and hit the ground running. There are, however, disadvantages to this approach that you will first want to consider: USB and FireWire drives typically will not offer performance as good as that of internal drives. Also, you might want to ask yourself if the convenience of an easier initial setup makes up for needing to haul the drive around with you everywhere you go.

Pro: Easy installation — substantial increase in available space at a relatively modest price.

Con: Given bus constraints, external drives are inherently slower than internals, and mobile users will have to carry additional equipment.

Option 3: Replace Your Existing Hard Drive With One of a Higher Capacity

Notebook hard drives are surprisingly cheap, and nothing beats the performance of an honest-to-goodness internal drive. The downside is that because you are replacing your system drive, you will need to find a way to get everything reloaded onto the new hard drive, which can be a real pain — especially if you purchased a medialess machine and have no CDs with which to reload the operating system. If this is the case, you might consider using a utility such as Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image (both offered by CDW), which will allow advanced users to image their hard drive’s contents, OS and all, onto a new drive. You will need to have a second machine (that accepts notebook hard drives) in order to move the image across. Although this is perhaps the most complicated solution, it also comes with the convenience of internal storage that will not degrade your notebook’s performance and might be well worth it to road warriors who don’t want to lug any more equipment around than absolutely necessary.

Pro: Maximum performance while netting the most amount of available disk space.

Con: Most labor-intensive option and unavoidable downtime as system is transferred to the new drive.

If you find yourself needing more disk space where a more temporary solution would work, you could consider a few other options: USB flash drives — ranging from the very inexpensive 512-megabyte capacity to higher-end 16GB drives — are now widely available. Also, many users are turning to online storage services to handle their overflow. While neither solution should be considered permanent or ideally secure, each can offer users much-needed storage in a pinch.

Whatever solution you choose, remember that the best decision is the most educated one. Weigh the pros and cons of each option and then decide with confidence.

Jason Holbert is a second-tier desktop support technician at Harcros Chemicals, a chemical distributor in Kansas City, Kan.