Are you a digital pack rat?

digitalpackrat With the recent acquisition of my new Mac Pro, I knew it was time to face the music and clean-up years of accumulated digital files. I have procrastinated the task for years, and now I fear further delay could lead to tragedy, with old, loud hard drives just daring me to let them guard my data until their platters spin no more. It is time to stare my digital pack rat behavior in the face and do some house cleaning.

But how did I get to this point? How did I become a digital pack rat?

The problem begins when you buy (or build) a new computer. The thrill of a new computer- a computer that runs fast and clean- overrides all reason. You know your old, raggedy documents need to move to the new computer with you, but you can’t be troubled at a time like this to go digging through your old hard drive making “life or death” decisions about old documents. And you definitely don’t want to just copy everything to your nice, new, clean hard drive.

What do you do?

If you’re a digital pack rat, you just add the old drive to your new computer. IDE (for really old drives) and SATA cables are cheap and chainable, so you just slap the old drive in the new system and your problem is solved. Not enough room in the new computer case for more drives? Then your drive finds an external HDD enclosure and leeches on to your new computer, like a suckerfish attached to a shark. You can worry about your old documents later when you have more time.

And, of course, that time never comes.

Years go by and systems get upgraded. Each time you make yourself the same promise: I’ll bring my old files with me now, but as soon as I have more time, I’ll go through my old files and consolidate them on one drive. This builds, until one upgrade you’ve had enough.

That’s where I found myself this weekend. Staring at five dusty hard drives, a mix of IDE and SATA, accumulated over years of upgrades. With my shiny- and most importantly, quiet- new Mac Pro begging me to not ruin the silence with my bevy of bytes, I set-off to finally make good on my promise and consolidate my digital life.

It was actually more fun than I thought. You’d be amazed by how much old files can tell you about your life. I found everything from old college class work to saved “IM fights” with my wife from our dating years. I found random sound clips, funny short video clips (reminding of the days before YouTube), and pictures of forgotten events.

There were three important pieces of technology that helped me unpack my digital pack rat nest:

  1. External HDD to USB Dock – This little dock allows you to treat a full-size HDD like a USB stick. With the convenience of plug-and-play, and the transfer speed of eSATA, I was able to make quick work of my GB of old data.
  2. 1TB Internal HDD – To consolidate your old data, you need a big drive to hold everything. My old drives ranged from 60GB to 320GB, so a 1TB drive was plenty for my needs. I opted for the “green, low power” Western Digital primarily because A) this drive is for storage, not active work, and B) noise is very important to me, and this drive is whisper quite!
  3. Mac OS X – For quickly digging through old files you don’t recognize, you can’t beat OS X’s “Quick Look” functionality. You can literally hit the spacebar for almost any selected file- Office document, Adobe document (including Photoshop and Illustrator), videos- and OS X will instantly preview the contents for you without opening any new programs. I love Windows 7, but it has nothing on this OS X feature.

I now have an organized collection of digital files on a single drive, and a stack of old drives on my desk to format and reuse for other projects. Once a digital pack rat, I’m now organized and clean…at least until the next computer upgrade!

What you about you? Are you a digital pack rat? How many years of hard drives or “archived” files are you carrying around with every computer upgrade? Share you pack rat stories in the comments.

1 Comment

  • So, if you buy this big 1TB hard drive. What is the plan to back it up? Do you buy 2 1TB drives (one to mirror the other)? This seems like the cheapest way of backing up the 1st drive. However, I am not sure you wan't to store your precious moments on something that could be completely wiped out with one electronic surge.
    I have considered offline services such as Mozy however, I am personally in the mode of trying to find a better solution. I am not sure I want to pay yearly for something else (trying to be cost effective and not back myself into a corner with a purchased solution for offline storage).

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