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101. Sneakernet's a breeze with latest gadgets

By Andrew D. Wright

Sometimes you need to transfer files from one computer to another and can't do it over the network. Access may be unavailable or the files may be too large to send in a short time. You need to use sneakernet.

A term from the old days of computing, sneakernet means copying data from one computer on to floppy disks then physically running them over to a second computer.

These days USB keys have almost completely replaced the error-prone 1.45 MB floppy disks. Offering capacities of several gigabytes (GB), the most commonly seen USB key size is 512 MB, or half a gigabyte.

Many computers these days have CD and DVD burners and prices of blank disks are very low when purchased in packs of 50. Locally it's less than 25 cents for a blank CD with a 700 MB capacity and about 20 cents more for a blank 4.7 GB DVD holding more than six times the data.

Dual layer blank DVDs have a capacity of 8.5 GB but like the larger USB key sizes, high price makes these disks less commonly used.

For sheer sneakernet convenience it's tough to beat Secure Digital. The size of a postage stamp, SD memory cards can be readily found locally with capacities up to 2 GB and priced under $80. SD cards have become the most common format for digital cameras and can be used in many different devices.

For computers without a card reader there are a couple of alternatives. A card reader that can handle several different memory card formats and plugs into a USB slot is around $20.

For frequent memory card users, a floppy drive card reader is just the thing. It fits into the same bay on the front of the computer as a standard floppy drive and can play standard floppy disks as well as six or seven common memory card formats.

Floppy drive card readers are installed like a normal floppy drive but have an added cord and plug that fits onto one of the computer motherboard's extra USB ports. The cost is about $30 and is well worth it for the convenience of not always having to fish about for a card reader. Consult your motherboard manual before purchasing one to make sure there is an extra USB 2.0 port available for use.

So what do you do if what you need to sneakernet is bigger than say 10 GB? Burning a stack of DVDs takes too much time. This is where the portable hard drive comes in.

An external hard drive enclosure contains a power supply and plugs into a USB port. Prices start around $50 and the enclosure can handle a standard IDE hard drive or CD/DVD which you would purchase separately.

A cheaper and more versatile option is a basic USB hard drive adapter. Costing around $30, it can handle not only IDE hard drives but also newer SATA hard drives and smaller laptop size drives.

External hard drives using USB can be added or removed without powering down the computer but need to be handled with care when being moved.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 28 January 2007


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