In the PC world today we have a problem, one that has gone unchecked and is encouraged by the hard drive industry, that is hoarding. Am I being a little melodramatic, sure, but this does not make my point less true. Hoarding is defined as, “a pattern of behavior that is characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects “. Now look at the typical persons PC. Look at the old programs, huge music collections, photo collections, downloaded movies and so on the occupy the HD space. Ask the person about removing and archiving material and they explain they are not sure when they will need it next hence they keep it. This despite the fact that in many cases it has been so long since they have access the material they forgot they even had it.
This pattern of behavior has been promoted by the industry for some time, in both the enthusiast world and the HD sales departments. Now in fairness this did not start out as an issue, in the early days the old HDs were small and we needed the larger drives to hold the material we actively used. However once the HD broke the 100 Gigabyte barrier all bets were off the sizes skyrocketed. Today we have 3 Gigabyte drives and the norm seems to be around 1 Gigabyte.
This belief and sales pitch that we need bigger drives has been one of the reasons SSDs have been so slow to adapt in the mainstream. Tell a user that an SSD will only have 120 or 240 Gig of space and they get a panicked look on their face. Mention it to an enthusiast and he will shrug and tell you that is cool he will just add it to the 3 gig of HD space he already has. The need for large storage space seems to be built into our DNA. But do we truly need all this space?
In April of 2010 I had my awakening to computer hoarding when I was reviewing an SSD from the folks at OCZ. In my article Bringing Your Laptop To Life, I showed that even on as little as a 60 Gig SSD it was possible for a person to get a great computing experience and have the software they needed plus still have room for data. Lets go over a few items I discovered in my research.
If your word files average around 25 pages each (those BTW are not small word files on average) then you need to have about 12,000 of those files to fill up one gig. That’s right folks TWELVE THOUSAND! To put this into perspective I recently did some work at a lawyers office and put a new machine in for his secretary. During the course of the I had to move her documents that cover legal material over the last 7 years. Her total number of Word documents were 2,793 and before you ask yes I double checked on the backup we made. So someone that is typing every day and a lot does not even begin to approach the number of files I am talking about. When I asked her as I prepared this article about it she explained that she kept a fair number as templates. However once a case was done the printed materials was stored and there was no reason after a decent amount of time to keep the document in the computer.
How about pictures, based on the average picture size of 10 megapixel you would need about 1000 pictures to equal one gig. Now lets be real for a moment and realize that of the pictures stored on most computers that average size is much smaller. Also consider that while 10 megapixel is great for printing 8×10 pictures it is terrible for posting on the internet or emailing and so pictures are often smaller. A look at my daughters machine, she is a serious photographer, revealed that most pictures were in the 5 megapixel size range. She explained to me that this size still gave her nice quality for the rare times she wants to print and gave her more space on her flash media when she was actively taking pictures. Now remember with my daughter we are looking to do photography as a serious hobby if not pseudo professionally. Using her average we get around 1750 pictures per gig. We have all set through home slides shows right? When was the last time any of us wanted to sit through one with more that 1500 slides?
How about music, something a lot of people keeps globs of files on. My own quick access library has 17 hours of music on it if I played it all end to end, yet I am still only at 720 or so meg, not even up to a Gig yet. Now think about this fact, on average a person will only find 2 or at most 3 songs on an album, (not including best of collections which is 90 % of the music I have) that means that with an average of 12 songs per album you have about 75% that is not often if every actively desired to be heard. Suddenly with this in mind 17 hours of music can be a LOT!
Movies are next and these do require some space. My favorite movie, Down Periscope is around 1 Gig in size and that is NOT in HD. These can be made smaller but at best you are getting 2 movies of decent quality per gig. However I would point out, that with the exception of a specialty HTPC it is rare for people to store a lot of movies on a PC.
Finally we come to software, it is amazing how many programs you likely have on a system that you have stopped using or never used. There of tons of little programs, mostly free to trial ware that people download, try out and then forget they have. Individually they do not amount to much but together they can build up quickly. One of the worst culprits however are video games. People get a game, play it and then forget it. I have seen games on systems that had not been played for 3 years and yet they remained installed. When I ask why the answer is always the same, what if I want to play it again. I dunno but to me the simple answer would seem to be to reinstall it.
As I started work on this piece I was sitting at the northern command center (my in-laws) and looked at the PC I am using. This computer is used by me and Dad as our primary machines, I use it for gaming and a lot of family visiting when I am not up use it as a guest machine. So this has two full time users, one that is working on home movies and the other that is an active gamer.
I opened up some stuff to give a little idea of what is active on the system. Notice that a full Office 2010 is installed along with Windows 7, there are 4 games, none of which are “small” installs active on the system, one of my daughters picture folders from a holiday past is on the system, actually more than one but this was the smallest with 175 pictures as well as a number of other programs for Dad’s video editing and my sound editing if needed. Because we were concerned with both of us on the system we would need the space I put in a large HD. However look at the total, less than 100 Gigs have been used! Think about that, two active users and less than 100 Gig, one of us is even a hardcore gamer!
What this shows is that the industry and enthusiast groups have lied to you about NEEDING more space. All it takes is a little effort and the majority of us can live in a smaller storage space and also then gain a huge performance boost. The smaller size means that we can move comfortably into the SDD and this results in the entire computing experience getting a shot in the arm.
Now let me clear, I do not work for any makers of SSD, though maybe they should be paying me with articles like this. However I have over the last two years installed a LOT of SSDs into computers for family and clients and all have reacted the same way, with amazement that their PC could actually respond this quick. In addition on the few that have been forced for whatever reason to move back to spindle drives the result is always the same, a feeling that the computer is somehow sluggish, even if the new computer should be a lot faster that the older machine.
Now if all the information above is not enough to convince you that there is no need to hoard HD space, consider these tidbits. The PC world is moving more to the Cloud everyday and with that less material will actually need to be stored on your PC. Office 2013 has a near seamless integration of their Skydrive system and applications using Google’s online service have been around for a while now. Online sites such as Shutterfly and Photobucket allow free online photo storage and sharing with the family is a lot easier than using email of printing and sending. Music can be easily gotten with services such as Pandora and Microsoft with their Custom DJ in Windows 8 plus applications like Spotify all make it simple to find the music you want to hear and enjoy it anywhere you might be. Movies and TV shows are now super easy to get thanks to Hulu and Netflix with more services coming online for this constantly.
When you realize that among gamers, the majority play on average 3 games at any one time and as for other apps most people only have 4 or 5 they make use, it is easy to see that application space is not an issue. Now add to this the fact that more applications are making to move toward online use. Office suites have been available without any need to download and install them for a few years. Services like Onlive are attracting more attention as the computing world moves from big powerful computers to more compact devices. Even the big video game card makers, nVidia and MAD have shown off work on systems designed to work better for streaming of the gaming experience. Photo editing has made the move of late from the on PC to the online software system and other programs have started the move or will not be far behind.
I think you begin to get the idea but then there will be people throwing exception at me, lets look at those. A genealogist I know that has almost 15 years worth of work in their project. That means a ton of picture, almost 15,000 to be exact and of course more PDFs that I have ever seen a bunch of Word documents. They have a system with Windows 7, Office 2010, two different genealogy suites, two photo editing suites and all those pictures. Their HD use comes in at the massive total of 71Gig. Or what about an even larger extreme a working architect that is doing large scale projects constantly but also works out of the home so the PC is a personal computer as well as a work PC. The various projects work across a number of CAD and drafting programs, there are a lot of pictures stored from various projects in various stages and yet with all this massive amount of data stored the system total comes in right at 200 Gig.
The point of all this information is simple, when you look at an HD are you looking for pure storage or a speed bump. If pure storage I would ask myself if I need it. Now I am not advocating erasing data in the way of family pictures but I am saying they could be archived with various online storage methods or even an external HD as a backup. You might find that the need for more space is not as pressing as you thought. If you want more speed look at the SSD and know there is no reason to let the size through you off.
So this holiday season while we are trimming our homes for the spirit of the season and making plans for our New Years resolution to lose weight, why not also look at trimming the waist line of our computer storage and make a holiday resolution to kill the hoarding. Give ourselves the gift of a trim, lean and mean PC!
There is a truth in the world of home computer users that we are scared to face, we have become a bunch of hoarders. Yes I mean hoarders and not packrats, those people that cannot walk in their homes because of all the junk they keep. The same can be found on many home users PCs today. Programs that are years old that have not been used since the day they where downloaded. How about family pictures that are special memories, so special that no one has seen them in the last 3 years and in fact the events they where taken of have been long forgotten. Please do not get me started on music, that thing we all love to listen to and yet we have music on our hard drives that we have not taken the time to play since the day we ripped or in some peoples case pirated them. I could go one but you get the idea and the people that do this, most of us, know who you are!
Much as the tobacco industry created an artificial addiction by introducing extra chemicals so did the computer industry create an addiction to drive space over the years. You hear it everyday when you speak to a lot of “enthusiasts”, the most addicted of us all. They talk about the benefits of large storage and the need for more by using RAIDs. They claim they need this space and fill it, clamor for more and complain about bloated software.
The time has come gentle readers and listeners for an intervention!
For me the realization I was a hoarder came when I was testing SSD drives for the first time. I went into the review prepared to hate SSDs because they are so small and cost so much. I needed my space after all, my music, pictures and games needed room to grow. However the SSD forced me to sit down and take a serious look at what I put on my computer. It did not take long for me to realize that I was keeping a lot of stuff I never use.
For example I have a ton of family pictures and photos I have taken for reviews and websites. All told close to 5000 pictures, that’s a lot of photos. Combined these take up close to 4 Gigs of space. However going through them I quickly realized that about 30% of them where things I would never need again after I had used them. Another large group where duplicates. In a matter of about 2 hours work I weeded that number down to 1500 pictures and less than 2 Gigs of space. But looking closer I realized that I had not even bothers to look at most of these pictures in YEARS! Why was I keeping them? Well the reason we all know is just pure sentiment and there is nothing wrong with that but did they need to take up my HD space?
I next turn to music, I have a large CD collection but I no longer use the CDs because, well it makes more sense to just have them all on my computer, or does it? From 38 Special to ZZ Top I have music from over 300 groups and a total of 32K PLUS of songs! That is almost 80 gigs of music. Lisa and I sat down and thought about what we listen to and when, we quickly realized that less than 1% of the music gets actually listened to. Now this is all legal music we own, the CDs stored safely away in water tight boxes. Do not get me started on the people with their massive pirate libraries.
I could on talking about gamers who keep games forever and never play them or various other programs that get downloaded, people grow bored with yet leave on their system and so on, but you get the idea I am sure. We have become hoarders of space.
Even if we do not suffer from hoarding the mentality still infects many of us. Walk up to someone and talk about buying a new computer and tell them you want a 250 gig HD and they will think you are nuts, telling you how you NEED a bigger HD. Do you, really? One of my clients is an author and works for a local tourism bureau, he has more word files on his computer than any person I have ever seen and his photo library makes my pictures look like a kids scrap book. Yet with all that activity, office suites, internet usage and literally thousands of pictures he can fit it all in less than 45 gig. Or there is the day trader I do work for that uses his computer 40 hours a week, is constantly doing research and is full of excel spreadsheets that he has from the research he has done. Yet with all this work everyday on his PC he uses less than 30 gig total.
The point I am trying to make is that for a lot of people the larger HDs are not nearly as important as the industry and the “enthusiasts” want us to believe.
What does this mean for consumers? Actually very little at the point of purchase. Sorry folks but the off the shelf PC comes loaded with big HDs and really no other options. For the DIYer or upgrader however it means SSDs are really something you need to look at. Sure they cost a bit more and have less space but they are also a very nice performance boost over traditional HDs.
Another benefit of this knowledge is a better understanding of the concept of cloud computing. Now this is just a overview of what it is but the concept that you can use the online world for access to data is a basic tenant of the concept of cloud computing. With places like Facebook letting you store your pics online, Pandora giving you the customized music selection you want and Netflix letting you stream movies without having to store them the ability to keep our HDs empty and still access what we want has never been better. Add to this the fact that Microsoft and Google now let you have solid home use office applications for free with no real installs and the data store online, you can see the days of the big storage capacity in a home are numbered.
So the next time someone gets excited about their new massive hard drive or complains about how software is bloated today, just look at them with pity, they are likely in need of an intervention.