Different alternatives for data storage

Anyone familiar with the original Nintendo Entertainment System has experienced how infuriating electronics can be without being able to store their data. You would have to play through entire games in one sitting because turning off the console was the equivalent of a hard restart.

As a kid, I remember leaving my NES on for days as I struggled to beat all 8 worlds of the original Mario Bros 3. I would keep the NES on day and night- being unaware of how taxing my actions would be on our electric bill.

The time when we had cartridges…

NES and SNES

When it finally came time to ditch our old NES for the newer SNES, I was ecstatic. This system had some saving functionality that would store information straighSNES cartridgest to the cartridge itself. This system was a huge step in the right direction, and I felt I could finally casually enjoy video games. Saving directly onto cartridges was a thousand times better than not saving at all, by it still had several blatant flaws.

If your cartridge was damaged or lost- that meant all your save data was destroyed. All content and user information had to be held on one small cartridge: meaning that the cartridges only had enough space for a single save.

 

And then the Nintendo GameCube came

nintendo gamecube

Finally, with the release of the Nintendo GameCube, did Nintendo manage to fix the flaws of their previous saving systems. The GameCube came fitted with a memory card and several save slots. This meant that game data could be directly saved onto a small and portable save chip- making it easier to have multiple saves of a single game, to transport, and to centralize all game data. Other consoles at the time, like the original Xbox and PlayStation 2, already had hard drives built into the system to store information- but the GameCube was my real introduction to the importance of storage devices.

I reflect back on the old Nintendo consoles from my childhood because that’s my only memory of a period without saving devices. Back then, the largest memory card for the console, one that held a meager 64mb, had entranced me- but today, I can barely even settle for 32gb of storage, which is equal to 32000mb. Advancements in storage devices in the recent years have allowed for the storage of more information in less space. A couple of months ago I read an article about how scientists have discovered a way to store data, by the bit, into a single atom- it’s incredible.

What my younger self-didn’t realize was, while I was busy playing through every video game in existence, many researchers from around the world were working to develop more efficient forms of data storage. Computer storage has shifted from ironically delicate “hard” disk drives to the more favorable solid state drive.

My experience with data storage devices

Within the last few years, I’ve picked up the hobby of building my own computers, allowing me to become more knowledgeable on its storage units. In my experiences, I learned that saving my OS to an SSD will allow my PC to boot up faster than if my OS were on an HDD- this is due to the moving parts in the HDD that requires some time to start working. In addition to SSDs running programs quicker, they’re also more durable and less prone to failure since there are no moving parts that could be disrupted with a slight bump. The only advantage that HDD’s have over SSD’s is the fact that they’re cheaper.

The RAID array

These are the most common options, but I was delighted to discover a flurry of other options. My personal favorite storage concept is the use of what is called a RAID array. This is where multiple smaller storage units are all utilized by the computer for data storage. I’ve heard of people setting up a RAID array with just a series of inexpensive thumb drives- with the computer storing data equally across all of them. The only problem with this is if one of the drives are defective, then that means that all the data you’re trying to store has been corrupted. The solution to this problem is to instead use a RAID array as a backup system; so the same data is stored on all the drives in case one of them is defective. This limits the amount of storage space but is the safer approach.

External hard drives are awesome

external hard driveAlternatively, a more mobile form of data storage could be achieved through an external hard drive. External hard drives vary in size and storage, but their USB adapter allows you to access the information on it as long as you have access to a computer. Personally, I’ve been using a terabyte external hard drive to transport video game save data, work, and projects to my friend’s house and school. Thumb drives, aka flash drives, are the most common form of external hard drives. They’re very small and mobile, usually holding around 16GB worth of storage. The SD cards are less common, they hold less information, but they are usually compatible with mobile devices like MP3 players and smartphones, unlike thumb drives.

How much storage you need?

To determine what storage device you want, you have to determine what you’re planning on saving it. For example, I knew the computer I was building was going to be a glorified gaming console, so I knew my storage had to work fast and store a lot of information. This led me to the SSD since, as stated earlier, it launches programs quickly and can store tons of information. However, students or workers who will only use their computers for writing papers, surfing the internet, and using Microsoft Office programs would probably want to explore some of the other cheaper options that store less information.

It’s better to overestimate how much storage you need rather than to underestimate because you don’t want to be placed in the situation where you have to delete data to make room for whatever you want to download. I’m ashamed to say this, but I’ve filled up two out of three of my terabyte SSDs, but I hope I can be an example of why you should always overestimate how much storage you will need.

A subject many people never take seriously is backing up your information. I used to think this way, I would consider it to be a waste of time to save my information, and I would always assume everything is safe- that is until my computer became infected with a virus and I had to completely wipe my drives to fix it. Everyone, including myself, thinks that only old people will succumb to internet viruses.

Is our personal data safe?

We assume that since we’re smart enough to not give away our social security numbers to people strangers on the internet that we’re safe from malware. Or we assume that our router’s firewall and our computer’s anti-malware program will protect us- and they mostly do. But all it takes is for one malicious program to slip through the cracks, usually through methods like Trojan horsing (sneaking the virus in a seemingly harmless program), and then your entire computer system is compromised. If your anti-virus program fails to eliminate it, you’re only left with the option of resetting your hard drive back to a point where the computer wasn’t infected.

Many people create boot disks or boot drives that you can just copy your files over and onto. If you’re working on your network with other computers, you can back up your data onto the drive of another computer.

There are programs that you can get that will create system images, which hold all the information of your PC from a specific state, and will allow you to restore your PC back to that point- as if you were traveling back in time back to that specific point.

I know windows have this feature built into it, and if you’re too lazy to update your computer yourself, then you can set it up so that it automatically backs up your information every month. Any of these methods will help save countless hours of frustration in the future at the cost of a couple of minutes.

To Sum Up…

In conclusion, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding suitable storage devices to save your information, and to find some way to backup said information in the case its compromised or corrupted. Data storage has come a long way and its important to recognize the many different options that are available to us today. Knowing the features of these drives and their flaws can help us all specialize our devices for our needs. I grew up with a fond admiration for storage devices since for a brief period of my life I lived without them, and I believe this is why I did so much research into data storage before purchasing anything.

People born in the 21st century will probably never understand what it was like to use electronic devices without being able to save any of the information, but I hope stories like mine can help them understand and appreciate the many different data storages at their disposal.

Matthew Clinton, UMass Amherst

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