Hassle-Free PC: New Uses for Old Hard Drives

Illustration: Marc Rosenthal

Call me cheap, but I use old hard drives, no matter how small, as long as I can. This month I have two neat ways to give ancient drives new purpose.

The Hassle: I legitimately downloaded a few episodes of ABC's Lost. I want to watch them on a TV, so I tried to burn them onto a DVD. But first I couldn't figure out the correct format, and then an episode wouldn't fit on just one disc.

The Fix: You can string all of your ruined discs together and build a wind chime, because I have a nifty contraption that makes playing movies on a TV a hassle-free affair--and it has nothing to do with DVD burning.

My secret is the Galaxy TVisto Multimedia Center, an external drive enclosure that you attach to your PC via a USB 2.0 or FireWire connection. You then hook up the device to a TV to watch your movies.

Start by dragging and dropping the video that you want to watch, including uncompressed ISO files, onto the TVisto. (Your PC will see the TVisto as another drive.) Afterward, link the device to your TV, choosing from five standard connectors. The TVisto's built in, menu-driven, Linux-based software permits you to play back videos of various formats. I tried several kinds--MPEG-1, -2, and -4; DivX (which is based on MPEG-4); and AVI--and they all played. Though I was interested in using the device only for videos, the TVisto can play music (.wav, MP3, and other formats) and show images, too. The product costs about $143, and it includes a remote control and cables.

The catch is that you need to supply and install your own hard drive. I used an old 60GB, IDE hard drive I raided from an unused PC. But, hey, hard-drive bargains are everywhere. At press time, a Maxtor 80GB drive, adequate for around 20 videos, costs about $50; a 250GB drive runs about $80. Fortunately, installing the drive into the TVisto takes just a few minutes: You remove some screws, pop in the drive, connect the cable, and reinsert the screws. And when you're not watching videos, you can use the TVisto for backup storage.

The Hassle: I have some perfectly good hard drives I've removed from old PCs. They're small (most are 40GB), but I hate wasting the drives. What can I do with them?

The Fix: I have a quick, cheap fix that will let you use the drives for long-term storage of photos and videos: an $18 adapter that allows you to connect any IDE drive to your PC's USB port. The PCMS IDE to USB 2.0 Drive Adapter consists of a USB cable that terminates with an IDE connector and a power supply. That's it--there's no enclosure, and you provide the 2.5-, 3.5-, or 5.25-inch drive. Attach the drive to the connector, turn on your computer, copy the files, and disconnect the drive once you've shut down the system. This is a great way to use old 20GB drives. Though I wouldn't waste a new SATA drive in this manner, you might need to; if so, the $30 Young Micro USB 2.0 Adapter can help.

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