Best HD set up for a standard situation

I use a Dell Dimension 8400 whose basic specs are: 3.2Ghz PIV, 1GB RAM, 250GB WD2500JD

At present I have four partitions:
C (12GB): OS and some programs
D (20GB): More programs (less needed)
E (20GB): Back ups
F (Rest): DATA

This set up has allows me to resintall the OS reasonably painlessly when necessary - at least without touching the backups/data. I backup regularly to DVD - though don't back up the full video/music content as I consider it expendable.

This machine is used for a variety of tasks but mainly office applications, web, and, increasinly some video editing.

I also run a PC downstairs which is dedicated to displaying video on the TV. I usually watch TV/Film recordings via this PC with the files residing on the main Dimension 8400 upstairs. There is a sizeable drive on this machine (120GB - deskstar which is some 5 years old) but transferring files before I want to watch them downstairs is a bit of a pain.

Now, as often proves the case, it's proved somewhat easier to fill 250GB than I imagined. And now I'm shooting a bit of film on in mpg2 format, I'm rapidly running short of space. So... I'm thinking about new harddrive options. Before you switch off, I'm asking for a set up recommendation rather than specific drives so read on ...

At first I thought I'd just buy a fat external, say 250GB+, and just back up to that when needed. However, then I got to thinking that for a bit more choice on drives and a longer warranty, I'd make my own external drive - USB will do. At the same time, it seemed sensible to use the existing WD2500JD for that external drive and use the new purchased disk in the main machine. Thus I started looking at drives like the T7K250, which is recommended in various places. THen I got to thinking that perhaps I could have a better set up that would be suitable to my needs, give me a more efficient day-to-day running of PC, and perhaps help me when things go horribly wrong. FOr example:

In the dimension 8400, I could run a dedicated smallish performance drive for just OS and programs, eg. a 70GB Raptor, and then a good-sized second drive for data, eg a new T7K250, and then use the existing WD2500JD for external back up as planned (making sure it's nicely switched off when not in use, of course).

Given my set up and use, what do people think of this? Am I over-complicating things? Is there something easier that might satisfy my needs and provide a more secure solution? OVerall, I'd still only be devastated if I lost my main work data (some 10GB at present) - and incrementally as little as 50MB on a daily basis. But I guess when my entire library of ripped music and films/recorded TV actually disappeared I'd actually be more upset than I predict.

Sorry for long-winded nature of the post. And thanks in advance.

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I have a similar situation and I have done the following.

1. 80GB drive that contains OS partition and Program Files partition. It also has a hidden partition that I hold a Ghost image on to allow fast restores in case of poorly chosen installations !!!

2. A 250GB Maxtor drive on the 2nd SATA cable that contains all my live data. Pictures, music, video, documents etc etc.

3. a third external drive (250GB) that I use for fast backups and archiving. It is Firewire to allow faster transfer as I use it to move files around between office and home if I need to. This is a Lacie drive. It also has an ethernet plug so I can use it as a NAS if desperate. However, I would need to reformat to do this so not done to date.

4. Home network 54MBps and I use this to stream video to Media Centre PC in front room for watching movies on. This is actually a laptop but it does the same job. I use a seperate partition on this of 40GB which I have dedicated to paging file and video streaming cache. Using Sony's internal applications (it is a Sony Vaio) I can set up a cache so that I get a perfect video picture which makes up for the 'slow' network transfer.

Works well and gives me lots of options. Means I can upgrade each part seperately as I exceed its capacity. My next option is to add a 3rd HHD to the PC 'server' to host the paging file and archiving of data. This will release space on the external drive (I have about 60GB of archived data on there) and speed up the OS a bit.

Obviously, as much memory as I can physically fit in !! I also plan to run a number of VMWARE sessions on this but this is just me playing ;-)

Hope this helps
Sorry, forgot to mention the network is wireless, thus 54MBps. I set the pre-fetch cache to 1GB max which delays the start of a movie by about 30 seconds to 1 min. Then I get seemless and completely no jerks during the playback.

hander1Author Commented:
This is a brilliant answer - thanks! It opens a whole new load of questions but if you can bear with me, I'd be really grateful.

1 That sounds similar to the thought I was having - I wonder if I'll notice the faster boot time and other speed with the raptor? How have you partitioned this.

2 Sounds similar.

3 Is that a selfbuilt or purchased unit? I thought USB was faster but a quick google reveals that I am mistaken. I know many caddies have both so I suspect I will choose one that does have. One quick q: I only have firewire on my external Audidy ZS - possible to run the drive off this? I'm guessing not - or even unwise to do...

4 Similar system with 108MBps. But I've in fact wired both the upstairs and downstairs PCs (upstairs - because I don't want any dropouts), downstairs as even at 108, I still get lags. However, I don't know how to set up a streaming cache - will look into it. Any easy resources? The downstairs in an ancient PIII (700mhz, 512GB) dell so I'm wondering whether it will be even possible - should be, I guess. But I wouldn't mind this kind of delay if I could get rid of the wires. The downstairs unit already has a redundant 108Mbps wireless card sitting in it...

Finally how do you get  a 3rd drive in? are there enough cables in your 'server' - I can only set enough for two SATAs in mine - and none for any other types of drives.

Anyway, enough for now. Brilliant answer so far. THanks Barney; hugely useful. But, anyone else listening, don't be dissuaded from adding your opinion.

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hander1Author Commented:
ACtually nmy wireless network must run at 54Mbps as although the router and cards claim 108 etc. , I can't use it because my wireless palm card doesn't play nicely when in that mode (It's a Kcorp
To be honest, disk speeds were not my main concern (they are all 7200rpm so one make is as good as another in my opinion). However, you may see some difference with the interfaces on certain disks. I'll leave that one for you to decide.

I created 3 partitions.
SYS C: 15GB System Vol for OS and Paging file
PGM D: 45GB Program Files

I use a Lacie external drive. Couldn't be bothered to build one myself. I like the east routes mainly !!! Not sure about the Audidy unit but I'd guess not. USB 2.0 will be fine for most stuff as I only really use the external for transfer and archiving so fast response is not my primary concern. Firewire does seem good though.

Piii will be OK as long as the PCI bus is not being stretched. Also, you may need to cache more video to avoid streaming delays. Play and see is my suggestion.

3rd drive will physically fit in the spare CD drive bay. My PC has 2 SATA cables so I can connect using the spare one. Alternatively, if the 3rd one contains the non-performance stuff (such as program files etc) then you could even connect this using the CD-IDE cable. Will be a bit slower but not too bad. This will daisy-chain onto the CD cable if you like.

Happy to help

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hander1Author Commented:
Thanks Barny.

One question about streaming cache... I did this in one of the modules in VLC player on a wireless laptop this afternoon - in the hope that it would avoid the same problem. Haven't had a good test yet but it's only got a time setting (in ms) which I upped by a few 100ms. We'll see.

However, you mention setting useing a separate partition on the laptop dedicated to paging file and video streaming cache. Is it only the vaio stuff that lets you do the cacheing? I can't see anything obvious online to guide me with this. Any ideas?

Thanks again.

With regards to the external drive- you will be best served by rolling your own.  There are tons of external drive enclosures that can be found for about $25-$45US, and come with USB 2.0 connectivity, Firewire (1394), or BOTH.     There is a wide variety of case types and such- I personally prefer the quiter all-aluminum variety.   I have one, works great.

Because it's an enclosure designed to add your own drive, it's relatively easy to swap drives in and out as your upgrade needs are determined- I've put three different drives in mine already - usually my "previous" large internal drive from the workstation, and then the newer (and bigger, faster) drive is what gets installed in the workstation.

hander1Author Commented:
Yes, that was my thinking Caseybea.

Just trying to find a decent caddy now. Which is a little harder in the UK than in the US ... Everything I find seems to have mixed reports about reliability of cooling fans etc. That is, they are cheap and prone to making noise.
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