The Terabyte Hard Drive: Tons of Storage

You can't store digital data in barrels unless you store hard drives in the barrels.
You can't store digital data in barrels unless you store hard drives in the barrels. | Source

Terrabyte Hard Drives

A byte is the smallest unit of storage available to a digital computer. Your desktop PC, your mobile phone, your pacemaker, and even your laptop computer all use bytes to store data. When a file comes into existence, space is allocated on the mass storage device in increments of bytes.

In very basic terms, a byte is one character. When you press a key on your keyboard you are consuming one byte of space in the computer. This is a broad generalization, but unless you prefer a few pages of computer science, this analogy is certainly sufficient for the purposes of this treatise.

Files stored on a mass storage device consume lots of bytes. Some operating systems may even display file size information in units of bytes. it is certainly possible to create a tiny file that contains only a few bytes of information. In reality, a 1 byte file probably consumes much more space than 1 byte because space on a storage device is allocated in much larger chunks than single bytes.

You need lots of space

If all you ever plan to do with your computer is manually create documents, then you need much less space than the average computer on the average shelf at the average discount store. You can stroll into any big box computer store such as Best Buy or Staples, stride confidently past the 'sales associate', and pick out the least expensive computer on the most accessible shelf. You don't even need the extended warranty.

On the other hand, if you plan to download stuff, you need more storage space. A movie DVD can hold up to 4 billion bytes. You'll never type 4 billion characters in your illustrious lifetime, but you can download that many bytes in a matter of minutes. The contrast is striking.

We don't actually measure storage space in tons, but a ton of anything sounds like a lot, therefore the colloquialism "tons of space" applies. Feel free to use it at your next fancy dress party or when you are standing in line at Chipotle and the person in front of you whips out 5 different orders for everyone in their office. When it suddenly becomes evident that your waiting time for a luscious burrito has jumped exponentially, it's time to turn to the person behind you, who has an even longer waiting time, and say something such as "my computer has a ton of storage space."

How to type 4 billion characters

Typing 4 billion characters at one character per second would consume 6.67 X 107 minutes. That doesn't mean much.

Using different units: that's 127 years.

How do you get more storage space?

Most home computers have exactly one dynamically available mass storage device installed. In other words, you probably have one hard drive already installed. Fortunately, most computers are built to be expanded a little. Unless you purchased a system designed to fit into a coffee cup or hide behind a picture frame, your computer case will probably happily accept another hard drive and actually know what to do with it.

You can add a second mass storage device. We heartily endorse adding a terabyte hard drive. All that extra space can only improve the quality of your life and it's cheap, also. A typical low-end 1 TB drive can cost well under one hundred dollars. It's a modular device that easily installs into your computer case as if it was meant to be there, which is actually is.

You can have more space even if you don't have more space for the space

You may be asking yourself about the unfortunates who have no space in their computer case to add a second hard drive. We also pity the folks who fell prey to salespeople selling compact cases with no expandability. Ironically, these cases are often more expensive and almost always more prone to failure because they do not dissipate heat nearly as well as a robustly massive computer tower that sits under a desk.

There is hope for the huddled masses yearning for more space but unable to jam another device into their hastily chosen computer case. External hard drives are all the rage these days. They are available in stylish cases with power supplies and cooling fans. The cost is a little higher, but how can you put a price on billions of extra storage locations?

Can you do it yourself?

In the old days of personal computing, we futzed with configuration hardware. We deciphered DIP switches, jumpers, and CMOS batteries. If the documentation got lost, the hardware became a high-tech doorstop. Times have changed.

A modern terabyte hard drive just plugs and goes. The hardest part of the upgrade path is getting the computer case opened up. Once open, look inside the case for the currently installed hard drive: it'll be in a bay. There will be other bays that will look slightly different because they won't have hard drives installed in them. Pick one of those 'empty' bays and make it look like the first bay by adding your shiny new hard drive to it. Secure it to the bay with a few small screws and button up the case. Next, reopen the case because you forgot to plug in the data and power cables. Use the other hard drive as a template: it will be connected to similar cabling.

Once installed, your operating system should recognize the drive and assign it a drive letter. Unless you're running Windows 95 or DOS 3.1 or some bizarre version of Linux that doesn't use drive letters, you should be all set. Look for a new drive letter that's not "C" and not the your optical storage device. It may be "E", "R", or some other letter of the English Alphabet. be flexible and don't panic.

Do you need 2 Terabytes?

If you need 1 terabyte, you may as well get 2 terabytes. The both fit into the same physical storage space inside your computer. They look virtually identical when you hold them in your trembling hands. The main difference is that the 2 TB unit costs more then the 1 TB unit.

Roughly, a single TB can hold about 250 movies, if each movie fills up an entire DVD. A 2 TB device gobbles up about 500 movies under the same conditions. The choice is yours: you must choose, but choose wisely.

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Comments 18 comments

joerdie profile image

joerdie 5 years ago

This makes me feel bad. My file server is rocking 8 2TB drives and I need more space. When do the Petabyte drives come out? lol. In reality, I will probably add a NAS with still more 2TB drives.

I still remember a friend of mine who, after installing Doom, told me, "No one will ever need more than a Gigabyte of storage." He was dumb, and lacked a clear view of the future.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

I don't think I need a terabyte hard drive yet, nicomp, since I'm following the precepts of Bill Gates, who very early in his career said: "640K ought to be enough for anybody." Who knew? Certainly not Bill.


joerdie profile image

joerdie 5 years ago

So, my friend is at least as smart as Bill Gates.... brb, I have a phone call to make...


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

Thanks for sharing important information most of us don't know!


blueman4567 4 years ago

why do you not get all of the terabyte space for ex. i have one with 931 gig. go fig.


Nick Vater profile image

Nick Vater 16 months ago

I enjoyed the write-up, especially the tone and focus on simplified explanation. I'd look forward to a similar explanation of two drives in a RAID configuration.


Matthew Stewart 16 months ago

Very interesting! Your analogies on byte sizes in non technical terms have so far been the easiest to understand thus far in my education. I certainly have a better grasp on that concept now.


jillbean1217 profile image

jillbean1217 16 months ago

This "You'll never type 4 billion characters in your illustrious lifetime" can't possibly be true. Ask all of the seminar papers I wrote in my MA program, or during my undergrad. Not, you know, that it's something to brag about, but a girl has to have some sense of accomplishment, right?


Theresa Munro 16 months ago

This was a very informative article. It was great for a novice like me.


Tina Staton 12 months ago

Thanks, this really simplifies the process of adding a HDD and takes some of the fear out of the prospect of physically doing it. My PC is relatively new build and my 1TB is still plenty roomy especially with my 120GB SSD loading my OS and storing plenty of my programs.


Justice Filimonuk 12 months ago

I found this article to be very helpful and very funny too! I know enough about computers to get around for everyday use, but other than that I'm clueless. I usually go to my boyfriend for computer help. He suggested that I get an external hard drive (it is a 1 TB hard drive) to help my computer run to its full capacity in the long run.


Joseph Jennings 12 months ago

Thanks for sharing this helpful information!!!


Alex K. 4 months ago

I have been contemplating purchasing an external hard drive for quite some time and like many other things I've procrastinated. After reading this article I now want to install a TB in my computer and I may get wild and go for 2 TB.


Seth Mishne profile image

Seth Mishne 4 months ago

wow I cannot believe how big storage space is getting but yet we are always running out of space because everything takes up way too much space these days.


Joey Keilholz 4 months ago

I have a 3 TB hard drive in my computer. It's pretty necessary in order to keep all of my games stored locally; additionally, I have a DSLR with pictures that tend to take up 7 MB each. Speed wise, having an SSD is more important than having a faster HDD.


John DeJarnette 4 months ago

Adding an additional Terabyte hard drive would certainly increase the life of your computer. Being a novice, I almost can’t believe how easy they make it sound to build your own or upgrade your computer. I may have to go purchase the various parts and take my own stab at. I am sure you would learn a lot and gain confidence in the process.


James Wagner 4 months ago

I love how witty the banter is in this informative piece on terabyte hard drives. I think I may need to buy 4 and setup a RAID 10 array so that I can have mirroring and striping!


Xinyi Huang 4 months ago

I always annoying by the computer when it kept telling me the storage almost full. And I can't believe there are how many trash files in my PC!

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