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Ten Years Ago

      Steve Bass
By Steve Bass
Pasadena IBM Users Group

A look back at a column that describes the process of getting a new hard disk--in 1992

Here’s a quiz: Why is upgrading your IBM PC like going to the dentist? It’s not — going to the dentist is a lot more fun.

It’s no joke. I hate upgrading because it’s a day of tinkering with the insides of my computer. But I had to get a larger hard disk because I switched to Windows. Applications written for Windows take up humongous amounts of hard disk space and there’s little chance that the trend will stop. Microsoft’s Word for Windows, for example, gobbles up 12 megabytes and Corel Draw takes about 14 megabytes.

Most users have hard disks ranging in size from the older 30 megabyte (the one I’m still using) to about 200 megabytes. Larger sizes are available and many people are looking towards the future, buying disks as big as 384MBs. I predict that within two years, 1 gigabyte disks (that’s 1000 megabytes) will be on many machines. But for now — with hard disks dropping in price — I recommend a minimum 200MB hard disk on a new system or 120MB on an upgrade.

There’s more than one way to add a new hard disk and how you do it depends on your budget and your existing system.

Quantum’s Plus Hardcard is not the least expensive but it is the quickest, easiest way to upgrade. For about $400, you get 105MBs of disk storage on an add-in card — and no installation hassles. Putting in the Hardcard will take less then fifteen minutes from start to finish.

A friend of mine chose a neat alternative and upgraded with a Bernoulli storage device. Instead of a “fixed” disk — one that stays in the computer — Bernoulli lets you remove their 90MB disk. The internal Bernoulli drive is discounted to under $800 and is a good solution as you can buy more disks (at about $150 each) when your storage needs increase. My friend keeps Windows applications on one disk, shareware on another and DOS programs on a third. You’re also able to move the data to another computer via the portable disk, an added benefit.

The traditional upgrade path is to add a hard disk to your existing system which means the drive you purchase must match the controller card that’s already plugged into one of your system’s expansion slots. Older machines usually have an RLL or MFM interface but newer machines come with faster IDE (integrated drive electronics) controllers, the current standard. Most controller cards manage up to two hard disks along with the two floppy drives. Some IDEs include parallel and serial ports used to attach modems and printers.

If you have an IDE controller, I recommend you stay with it. On one IDE machine, I upgraded and choose a fast Conner hard disk because of their reputation for long life expectancy and fast access time. Their 120MB model (CP30104) will set you back about $400 and their 212MB (model CP320) is about $560.

Macintosh owners, however, have a secret recently available to IBMs: Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) adapters. SCSI, pronounced “scuzzy,” lets you attach up to seven devices onto one internal controller card. If you’re upgrading a hard disk and think you may want a CD ROM player (also called a reader) in the near future, consider the SCSI adapter. You can daisy chain the hard disk, CD ROM player, a tape backup and up to four peripherals.

Adaptec’s fast SCSI adapter, the one I’m using, even lets you connect up to two floppy drives, a valuable addition. If you choose to upgrade with SCSI, make sure you check with the hard disk manufacturer to see which controller cards are compatible. I tried the Adaptec with a Conner SCSI drive and had no problems. If you run into trouble, get in touch with CORELSCSI, a Canadian company that supplies special software for a wide array of SCSI devices.

While SCSI offers faster access and more flexibility, it isn’t for everyone. On uncomplicated home machines, upgrading to SCSI should present no problem and you can likely do it yourself. But in business settings — especially if you’re on a network — you may need to hire a technician for help.

So what will it be: upgrade or go to the dentist? I’ll let you make your own decision. I’ve already made mine.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World andran the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at 

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