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04:19 PM

Super-Sized Storage -- With A Catch

Bigger desktop hard drives are on their way. But if you want to buy one, you'll need a lot more than just an empty slot in your PC.

Bigger desktop hard drives are on their way. But if you want to buy one, you'll need a lot more than just an empty slot in your PC.It seems like 2TB hard drives have been on the top of the storage heap for a while now. But a couple of weeks ago, a Seagate spokesperson confirmed that the company will finally announce new 3TB models later this year.

I could ask what use anyone could possibly have for a 3TB drive, but I won't. If history teaches us anything, it's that users will find a way to fill up storage space -- no matter how much they get.

Instead, I'll focus on a couple of big gotchas lurking in the Seagate announcement. First, you'll need an OS that is capable of seeing that much capacity in a single disk. And if you run Windows, that means upgrading your desktop system to a 64-bit version of Windows 7.

But that's not the only change you'll have to make. Today's BIOS software -- that 25-year-old dinosaur lurking deep inside almost every desktop PC -- just isn't capable of handling hard drives bigger than 2.1TB.

Now you know why Seagate and other drive vendors have been slow about introducing 3TB drives. They were waiting for a successor to BIOS to appear on the market, and that is finally happening.

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The successor, called the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) can handle drives bigger than 2.1TB just fine. But implementing it will require hardware vendors to rewrite the low-level drivers that make their products work. PC Motherboards that use EFI, for example, are just appearing on the market, and it will take quite a while for those changes to trickle down into the PC mass market.

How long? Well, if you build your own PCs, you can get started right away. If, like most businesses, you buy your systems from a big OEM, I wouldn't be surprised to see the process take a year or more to get underway. And it could take years for the stragglers to get with the program.

(Mac users, you can quit worrying about all of this. Apple moved its desktop hardware to EFI years ago.)

So if the prospect of a 3TB hard drive tickles your fancy, be prepared to have a little patience. And when the big day does arrive, be sure that any new PCs you buy include EFI support.

Otherwise, that new 3TB hard drive might make a good doorstop, but it won't do much else.

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