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Computer Storage

Computer storage, also called memory or simply storage, is a type of computing technology that consists of various components and recording media used in the retention of digital data.

 

The unit of measurement for memory or computer storage is called a byte, which is the standard unit of memory size, and also the smallest. One byte is one character of information that is equal to 8 bits (8 0s or 1s). Since computer storage is much larger than 1 byte, it is often measured in the following units:

 

  • Kilobyte (KB) - 1 KB = 1,024 bytes
  • Megabyte (MB) - 1 MB = 1,048,576 bytes = 1,024 kilobytes
  • Gigabyte (GB) - 1 GB = 1,073,741,824 bytes = 1,024 megabytes
  • Terabyte (TB) - 1 TB = 1,099,511,627,776 bytes = 1,024 gigabytes

 

A computer is comprised of two types of storage: 1) primary storage or Random Access Memory (RAM) and 2) secondary storage such as an internal hard drive. RAM stores data and machine code currently being utilized by the computer, while the hard drive permanently stores data on the computer such as software in the form of programs, and files such as text documents, photos, and video files.

 

Storing your data

Data storage is the act of recording your data on a storage medium, which can be any physical material that has the capability to store information. Our own body’s DNA and RNA, magnetic tapes, optical discs, and even our own handwriting, can all be considered storage media.

 

However, in the context of computing, data storage is achieved through the use of various electronic storage media such as SD cards, USB flash drives, external hard disk drives (HDDs), and online platforms like Google Drive and iCloud.

 

Different types of storage media

In essence, storage media are anything that can store your information. They can be physical devices like external HDDs and USB drives or an online-only platform like the Cloud.

 

Your desktop or laptop computer has its own storage media in the form of an internal storage device, which is either an HDD or a solid-state drive (SSD), depending on the brand, model, and specifications. However, a computer’s internal storage is not sufficient for even the average user. If you find that your computer’s storage isn’t enough for your needs, then you can choose from a wide variety of storage options including:

Portable Storage

Secure Digital (SD) card

The Secure Digital card, or SD card for short, is a type of non-volatile memory card developed by the SD Card Association (SDA) to be used on portable devices such as digital cameras and smartphones.

 

The first SD cards entered the market in 1999 through a collaboration of efforts by 

SanDisk, Toshiba, and Panasonic. These cards have since become the industry standard, and the three companies involved in their production actually formed a company called SD-3C to license SD cards as well as enforce any intellectual property rights associated with them.

 

As of today, there are four SD card types and three SD card sizes available.

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Types

  • Standard-Capacity (SDSC)

The Secure Digital Standard Capacity (SDSC) card was meant to be an improvement over its predecessor, the MultiMediaCard (MMC).

 The SDSC card had a maximum storage capacity of 2GB (although there were some 4GB variants produced), and a transfer rate of up to 832 Mbit/s.

  • High-Capacity (SDHC)

Physically, the Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) card is identical to the SDSC card—the difference lies in the storage capacity. As its name suggests, the SDHC has a max storage capacity of 32GB, which is 16 times higher than that of the SDSC.

 

  • SDHC cards are divided into five classes with different minimum transfer rates which are as follows:
  1. Class 2 - of 2MB/s
  2. Class 4 - of 4MB/s
  3. Class 6 - of 6MB/s
  4. Class 8 - of 8MB/s
  5. Class 10- Min. of 10MB/s

 

  • Extended-capacity (SDXC)

            

The Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC) card can support up to 2TB of storage, so it has an even higher capacity than an SDHC card.

The transfer rates of SDXC cards vary and mostly depend on the year they were produced as well as the manufacturer. Some have transfer rates of 10MB/s to 80MB/s, while some are capable of much faster transfers.

 

  • Input Output (SDIO)

 

Essentially, the Secure Digital Input Output (SDIO) card is the same as any standard SD card. The only major difference is that the SDIO card has Input/Output (I/O) functions.

SDIO cards can only be used on host devices that can support their I/O functions. This means you can use a regular SD card on any host device, but you can’t use an SDIO card on a device without I/O functionality.

 

  • Sizes 
  1. Original size SDSC (32mm x 24mm x 2.1mm)
  2. MiniSD (21.5mm x 20mm x 1.4mm)
  3. MicroSD (0mm × 11.0mm × 1.0 mm)

USB drive

A USB drive, also called a thumb drive, flash drive, memory stick, or USB stick is an electronic data storage device that is composed of flash memory on an integrated USB interface. They are small and very lightweight (30 grams on average), so they’re easy to carry around. The downside is  that USB drives have low storage capacities versus other storage devices. Some brands offer USB drives that have 1TB or 2TB storage capacities, but they are not widely used by computer users due to their high price, which is upwards of $1,500 depending on the brand.

 

The first USB drives became commercially available in 2000. Trek Technology sold USB drives with the brand name “ThumbDrive”, which would later become a generic term for any USB drive. Meanwhile, IBM started selling drives called “DiskOnKey”. Both products had a meager 8MB worth of storage, but that was already regarded as a large capacity back in 2000, considering the 3½-inch floppy disks which were common in that time only had a capacity of 1,440 KB.

USB drives can either have USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 connectivity. Second generation USB drives (produced beginning in 2003) had USB 2.0 connectivity which has transfer rates of up to 480 Mbit/s. This meant that these drives were much slower than HDDs or SSDs.

 

Third generation USB drives, or those that became available in 2010, had 3.0 connectivity which has transfer rates of up to 5 Gbit/s. This is equal to file transfers of 625 MB/s compared to the USB 2.0’s 60 MB/s.

Apart from transfer rates, there is really not much difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 drives, and all USB 3.0 devices can still be plugged into USB 2.0 ports.

 

External HDD

 

External HDDs are basically the same as the HDDs found in laptops and desktops, except that external HDDs connect to computers via USB, while internal HDDs connect to computers via SATA.

This “plug-and-play” feature, along with their relatively small size (average of 2.5 inches in length) make external HDDs a highly portable device, which is why it’s a widely popular tool used by millions of computer users worldwide.

 

External HDDs are available in various storage capacities that will fit any budget. You can buy an external HDD with a storage capacity as low as 250GB or as high as 10TB.

When it comes to transfer rates, external HDDs are capable of transfers up to 60MB/s. However, the exact transfer rate of an external HDD will depend on its manufacturer as well as the product’s own specifications.

 

External SSD

 

Solid-state drives are storage devices that use integrated circuits to store data. Unlike HDDs that have actual rotating disks in them, SSDs have no moving parts. This makes them much faster, much more resistant to damage, and less prone to errors. SSDs are also much quieter than HDDs, because unlike the latter, they don’t have disks that rotate rapidly inside them while they’re in operation.

 

There are already plenty of external SSDs produced by various brands available in the market right now. The only caveat is that compared to external HDDs, they have lower storage capacities (max of 2TB). External SSDs are also very expensive, with some products costing as much as $2,000 dollars. To put it in context, that’s about the same price you would pay for a high-end gaming laptop or a MacBook Pro.

Online Storage

Cloud storage (iCloud)

Cloud storage is a type of storage in which data is kept on remote servers that are only accessible via the internet. The physical location of these servers is managed by a hosting company.

One of the most popular cloud storage platforms today is iCloud, which was developed by Apple, Inc. and launched in 2011. As of 2018, iCloud has more than 780 million users from across the globe.

 

As a service, iCloud provides its users with a way to:

  • Store all kinds of data such as text documents, high-resolution photo and video files, music files, apps, and so much            more
  • Automatically backup their iOs devices directly to iCloud’s servers, so that they don’t have to go through the hassle             of manual backups
  • Sync data from their emails, contacts, photos, etc. on one central hub.
  • Instantly share photos, music, videos, and all sorts of data to linked accounts via AirDrop

 

Upon signing up for iCloud, you get 5GB worth of free storage. If you need more than that, you’ll have to upgrade and get larger storage, but you’ll also have to pay a monthly subscription fee.

 

iCloud’s pricing scheme is as follows:

  • 50GB - US$0.99 per month
  • 200GB - US$2.99 per month
  • 2TB - US$9.99 per month

 

Choosing to upgrade to iCloud’s 2TB plan means you’d have to pay close to US$120.00 every year, which can be expensive for some users. If you don’t want to shell out that amount year on year, then you might want to look for cheaper physical storage options.

 

Google Drive

Launched by Google in April 2012, Google Drive is iCloud’s closest competitor, and has 800 million users as of March 2017. The Google Drive app is available on Windows, Android, MacOS, and iOS devices.

Google Drive enables users to store data online, synchronize files throughout all devices, and share files. In addition, the service also gives its users access to Google’s office suite which includes apps like Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides.

 

Here is the latest pricing scheme for Google Drive’s storage plans:

  • 15 GB - Free
  • 100 GB - US$1.99 per month (US$19.99 annual lump sum payment)
  • 1 TB - US$9.99 per month (US$99.99 annual lump sum payment)
  • 2 TB - US$19.99 per month
  • 10 TB - US$99.99 per month
  • 20 TB - US$199.99 per month
  • 30 TB - US$299.99 per month

 

From the information above, you can clearly see these differences between Google Drive and iCloud’s storage plans:

 

  1. Google Drive’s plans are more expensive than iCloud’s (Google’s $19.99 2TB plan vs. iCloud’s $9.99 2TB plan).
  2. However, Google offers three times more free storage than iCloud. (15 GB vs. 5 GB)
  3. Google Drive has much higher storage capacities. Google Drive allows for a maximum storage of 30TB while iCloud only has a maximum of 2TB.

 

Dropbox

Dropbox is another widely used cloud storage and file hosting service developed by California-based company Dropbox, Inc. Initially released in 2007, Dropbox now has more than 500 million users worldwide.

Similar to iCloud and Google Drive, Dropbox provides data storage and file synchronization services. On Dropbox, you can even create a folder on your computer and synchronize it with Dropbox’s servers as well as other devices you’ve installed Dropbox on.

Among the popular cloud storage providers, Dropbox has the lowest maximum storage at 1 TB. Here’s how the service’s pricing scheme works:

 

  • 2GB Basic - Free
  • 1 TB Plus - US$8.25 per month
  • 1 TB Professional - US$16.58 per month

 

Since the Basic Plan is free, you get only minimal features such as anywhere access, shared folders and links, and email support. On the “Plus” and “Professional” Plans, you get a whole lot more features such as mobile offline access to folders,  remote device wipe, and priority email support.

The “Professional” Plan is more expensive because it allows you to use all of Dropbox’s functionality. It’s for subscribers who want to use the service for work, whereas the “Plus” plan is more for casual users.

 

Pros and cons using cloud storage

 

If you need extra storage space for your data and want to use cloud storage instead of conventional physical storage devices like flash drives or external HDDs, then you need to think about your decision carefully. Consider the following pros and cons of using cloud storage

 Pros

 

  • Anywhere access

As long as you have an internet connection, you can access your data at any time, no matter where you are. It’s a very convenient way to manage your data without needing something like an external hard drive on hand, which is especially advantageous if you travel a lot.

A physical storage device also lends itself to being lost, stolen, or simply forgotten, which can be a hassle if you have sensitive data on it. By using cloud storage, you can avoid all those risks in one fell swoop.

 

  • Data persistence

With cloud storage, your data essentially exists forever. With its automatic backup features, you will never lose your data. This is in contrast to physical storage devices where you have to think about data loss or corruption and backing up your data to other devices manually.                

  • Ease of synchronization

Cloud storage makes synchronization a breeze. When you save a file on one device, the file is automatically saved on the cloud’s remote servers as well as all your devices. When you edit any file in your library, the changes you made are saved on the cloud’s servers and your devices.

This convenience isn’t possible on a physical storage device like an external HDD. When you edit a file on an external HDD, you’d have to copy the edited file to each of your devices manually in order to have multiple backups, which can be time-consuming especially if it’s a large file.    

  • High storage capacities

If you opt for iCloud, you can  upgrade to the service’s highest storage plan of 2TB. For the average user, this is already ample storage. Want even more storage space? Then you can sign up for a Google Drive account and choose from the 10TB, 20TB, or 30TB plans so that you never have to worry about running out of storage ever again.

 

Cons

 

  • Lifetime costs 

When you sign up for a cloud storage service, you have to pay either monthly or annual fees, and you’ll be paying those fees for as long as you use the service. You may not think of the fees as expensive at first, but they will definitely add up over time.

Consider this example: You sign up for Google Drive and choose the 10TB plan which has a rate of $99.99 per month. Fast forward to five years later, and you’ve already paid $5,999.40.

 

  • Vulnerability to hacks

Storing your data on a public cloud means that if the provider’s servers are hacked, then your data is also potentially compromised.

Companies have taken several steps to beef up the security of their servers, but hackers always find ways to advance their methods, so you can never really say that the internet is 100% secure.  

 

  • Limited offline functionality

Providers offer little to no offline functionality for their cloud storage services, which is an inconvenience if you’re in a location with no internet connection. In this regard, physical devices such as flash drives are the better option, because they are highly portable and do not require you to be online.

Choosing the right data storage solution for you

When it comes to data storage, there is no perfect solution. Everyone will have different priorities, needs, and budgets, so the choice will depend on a whole lot of factors. If you’re thinking about getting additional storage for your data, here are some things you should consider:

 

  • Convenience

Are you the kind of person who travels a lot, either for work or leisure? Then you most likely visit locations with poor internet connectivity. If that’s the case, cloud storage is not your best option. You are better off going with a portable, yet high-capacity physical storage device such an external HDD. If you’re looking for something that can fit in your pocket, there are 1TB flash drives that you can buy.

 

  • Purpose

You need to ask yourself “What am I going to use the data storage for?” Are you an artist who renders high-resolution graphics and illustrations on a high-end laptop? Then a high-capacity (5 to 10TB) external HDD might be what you need. If you want even more storage, you can sign up for Google Drive’s 20TB or 30TB plan.

If you’re a photographer or filmmaker who carries around expensive cameras all the time, then you need a high-quality SD card. Whether it’s an SDSC, SDHC, or SDXC, just make sure you select the right one for your devices, because not every device is compatible with every kind of SD card, and vice versa.

  

  • Budget

Only go with cloud storage if you are prepared to keep on shelling out cash for however long you use the service. If you plan on on using cloud storage for 5 to 10 years, then that’s 5 to 10 years that you have to keep paying, which can be quite a lot of money to spend on data storage.

If you’re looking for something cheap, your best best is an external HDD that only has a small storage capacity. Depending on the brand, you can find external HDDs that are less than $100.

 

  • Type of data

If you handle any sort of sensitive data (e.g. financial information), then avoid storing it on the cloud, since it would be a major risk. For storing sensitive data, you should go with an encrypted flash drive or external HDD instead. They cost significantly more than standard flash drives and HDDs, but at least your data is secure.

Carefully thinking about the aforementioned factors will allow you to make the best possible choice and find the ideal data storage solution for you.

What to do when your computer doesn't have enough storage

There’s no need to stress yourself when your computer is running low on storage and you don’t have the budget for additional storage yet. You free up some space on your device with these tips.

Delete files

Here’s how you can delete files on your computer, whether it’s a PC or a Mac.

 

  • Windows 10 (PC)
  1. Click on the Windows icon on the menu bar at the bottom of your screen.
  2. Click on Settings (“gear” icon).
  3. Click on System.
  4. Under System, click on Storage.
  5. Click on “Free up space now”.
  6. You’ll see a list of items you can choose to permanently delete such as “Temporary files” and “Recycle Bin”. You can tick all the boxes if you want.

 

  • Windows 7 (PC)
  1. Click on Start.
  2. Go to All Programs.
  3. Under All Programs, click on Accessories, then click on System Tools
  4. Click on Disk Cleanup.
  5. Choose whatever items you want to delete.
  6. Click Ok.
  7. Clicking on the “Clean up system files” tab at the bottom of the window to delete unnecessary system files.
  8. Click on “Delete files”

 

  • MacOS (Apple)
  1. Click on the Apple icon at the top-left corner of your screen.
  2. Click on “About This Mac”
  3. Click on Storage, then click on Manage.

 

Your Mac will show you the following options for freeing up some space:

 

  • Store in iCloud

You can store your data on your iCloud account, which is the one you signed up for when you set up your MacBook for the first time. This option saves all the data in your Desktop and Documents folders on your iCloud Drive, and your photos and videos are saved on your iCloud Photo Library.

 

  • Optimize Storage (iTunes)

You can permanently delete iTunes movies and TV shows you’ve already seen as well as edit your mail settings so that it doesn’t automatically download storage-consuming attachments when you open an email message.

 

  • Empty Trash Automatically

In this option, all the files that have been in Trash for more than 30 days are permanently deleted. Before proceeding with this step, review the contents of Trash first so that you don’t end up deleting a file you actually need.

 

  • Reduce Clutter

Your Mac will automatically organize your files into specific categories like Applications, Documents, and iOS Files. This allows you to easily review files and delete the ones you no longer need.

You just need to remember that there is no right or wrong answer when choosing from these options. Just go with the one that is best for your specific situation.        

 

Uninstall unnecessary applications

Removing applications you no longer use is a great way to free up space on your computer. Here’s how.

 

  • Windows 10
  1. Click on the Windows icon (Start) on the menu bar at the bottom of your screen.
  2. Click on Settings.
  3. Click on Apps.
  4. Click on Apps & features
  5. Click on any app that you want to uninstall.
  6. “Modify” and “Uninstall” options will appear. Click on Uninstall.
  7. A prompt saying “This app and its related info will be uninstalled will appear”. Click on Uninstall again.
  8. Repeat the process for all apps you want to uninstall

 

  • Windows 7
  1. Click on Start.
  2. Click on Control Panel
  3. Click on Programs.
  4. Under Programs, click Uninstall a program.
  5. You’ll see a window with a list of all the programs on your computer. Select any program you want to uninstall.
  6. Click on Uninstall.
  7. Agree to any prompts that appear.
  8. Repeat the process for all programs you want to uninstall.

 

  • Mac
  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. Click on Applications.
  3. Drag any app you want to uninstall to Trash.
  4. Go to Finder again and then click on Empty Trash when you’re done removing all apps.

 

Once you delete all unnecessary apps, you’ll see that a significant chunk of your storage has become available.

 

Clear your cache

Your cache contains temporary files like website information and website images. When not cleared regularly, they can take up a considerable amount of storage. This is why you should\clear your cache regularly. The “Disk Cleanup” process detailed above already takes care of this problem on Windows-based computers, so here’s how to do it on a Mac.

 

  1. Open a Finder window, then click on the “Go” Tab.
  2. Click on Library on the menu that pops up.
  3. If, for some reason, you can’t see Library, go to it manually by clicking on “Go to Folder”. Type “~/Library/Caches”.
  4. Go into all the folders that appear and delete their contents.

(Note: Delete only the contents of the folders, and not the folders themselves)

Difference between a Windows hard drive and a Mac hard drive

In terms of things like design aesthetics, user interface, and operating systems, there are plenty that separate a Windows computer from a Mac computer. However, in terms of internal hard drives, there isn’t much difference between one inside a Windows PC and one inside a Mac.

 

Both types of computers contain hard drives made by the same manufacturers which include Seagate, and Western Digital. The only difference lies in the filesystems on Windows and Mac devices (Windows uses NTFS while Mac uses HFS+), and even then, the difference is not noticeable enough and does not have a significant impact on performance.

Conclusion

When trying to think of a data storage solution, there is no single perfect solution since there are various factors to consider. What you may consider the ideal solution may not be the case for others, because you have different needs and and so do they.

 

An excellent way you can come up with the best data storage solution for yourself is to think of the following:

  • the level of convenience that the solution brings
  • the functionality of the solution
  • The security it offers
  • what you are going to use it for
  • what type of data you are planning to store on it
  • and finally, how much you are willing to pay

 

Once you’ve made these considerations, you’ll find out what kind of storage solution you really need.

 

However, it isn’t just about having additional storage. It’s also about backing up your data so that in case something happens to your storage device that causes data corruption or loss, you have your bases covered. If you are on the cloud, then there would be no problem as your provider automatically backs up your data on remote servers. But if you have dat stored on a physical device, you would have to back up the device’s contents on another device in order to avoid losing your data.

 

If you can afford it, buy a physical storage device and back it up using cloud storage. This way, you get the best of both worlds. You have the portability and offline capabilities of a physical device like and external HDD, and you also gain the convenience and the ease of synchronization that cloud storage provides.