Saturday, August 28, 2010


We're still in Paris for another couple of days. But to tide you over:

I had one of those "whoa" moments a while ago. Ars Technica (good site; I read it often) had a write-up about the latest generation of hard drives being too big for current computers. They've reached 3Tb (terabytes), and current-generation computers can't handle more than 2.1Tb per drive.

I hear that and I think that "oh, that's interesting I guess, but nothing to do with me". After all, we're talking Terabytes here; who would ever need a terabyte or more on their own machine, right? It's a near-mythical size. This is a problem for big datacenters, not for ordinary people. I mean I only have a 250Gb drive, which is.. a quarter of a terabyte.. in my laptop.....

A quarter of a terabyte, in a laptop the size of an A4 paper.

Panasonic Let's Note S9

My current laptop. I know I've used the picture before, but I like it.

And 1/4 Tb isn't even very big, come to think of it. My desktop has a half-Terabyte drive, and so does our networked backup drive. So "terabyte" has silently moved from being near mythical to become humdrum and I haven't even noticed. Between my laptop, desktop and network drive I have a terabyte and a half of personal storage. 1.5 Terabytes. It's a magical number to me - and now, pedestrian. Ordinary. What's next - Exabyte? I didn't know, honestly; I had to look it up.

It's not all empty either. I use about 39% of this laptop drive at the moment. When I got this computer, Ubuntu (try it; it's good) and all my data from my previous machine took about 35%, so I've used up another 4% (about 6 gigabytes) since May.

Where does it all go? I have a lot of work-related data, research papers and so on, but a lot of my data is pictures. I store more pictures over time of course, but the size of each image increases too. My first digital camera gave me jpeg images less than a megabyte in size. The K10 gives me raw images of about 10 megabytes. And a good-quality 24-bit color scan from my Pentax 67 takes 400 megabytes. Needless to say, I don't keep the scanned files (I can always rescan the negative after all), but even the processed and compressed Jpeg files takes about 10Mb each. And while I process such an image I may have a couple of gigabytes worth of intermediate files laying about.

But even with this growth of data, disk space seems to grow even faster. I used to be really careful about saving space on my computers. I'd clear out old data, uninstall applications I don't use, and make backups to free some extra space. And still, when I got a new computer the disk on the old one would be almost completely full.

This is no longer the case. When I got my current computer, the disk on the ond one was only 2/3 full, and I had never once made a real effort to clean out old data. Abundance has crept up on us. When was the last time any of us worried even for a moment about the size of a software package, and how to clear out disk space for it? Storage has become unlimited for most of us today, and nobody's even told us.


  1. I have 250 GB as well on my laptop. I didn't carry over much data from my former laptop and desktop - it is saved on a 1.5 TB NAS. Still, a month or so ago I had to go searching for files I could remove from the laptop and keep on the NAS instead - otherwise I would be out of space for the next offloading of pictures! Right now I have 7 GB free space. So I certainly don't feel this abundance you talk about... or perhaps I do, but at the same time I feel like a pig for taking up all that space.

    More than half of the HDD is occupied with photos. That's what you get for being lousy at deleting bad shots and for having an 18 MP camera (which even does HD video...)

  2. Yes, pictures can really eat up space, especially if we try to save everything. Which I have learned not to do :)

    That said, it still feels really different from, say, ten years ago. If I wanted to install a game, say, I'd have to think long and hard about what other application or data to delete in order to create enough free space. We just don't have that kind of problem anymore.


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