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New uses for old hard drives

Plus: avoid frustration when burning DVDs.

This article appears in the October 06 issue of PC Advisor, which is available now in all good newsagents.

I use old hard drives, no matter how small they are, for as long as I can. This month I have two easy ways to use old drives.

The hassle: I legally downloaded a few episodes of ’Lost’. I want to watch them on a TV, so I tried to burn them to 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 make a wind chime, because I have a contraption that makes playing movies on a TV easy and simple – 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 connect the device to a TV to watch your film.

Start by copying the video that you want to watch, including uncompressed ISO files, on to the TVisto. Your PC will see the TVisto as another drive. After this, link the device to your TV, choosing from five standard connectors. The TVisto’s built-in, menu-driven, Linux-based software lets you play back videos of various formats.

I tried several – Mpeg1, 2 and 4; DivX and avi – and they all played. Although I was interested only in using the device for videos, the TVisto can play music and show images, too. It costs about £125 and includes a remote control and cables.

The problem is that you need to buy and install your own hard disk. I used an old 60GB, IDE drive that I nicked from an unused PC. But, there are hard-drive deals everywhere. A Maxtor 80GB drive, good for around 20 videos, costs about £32. A 250GB drive costs about £50.

Fortunately, installing the drive into the TVisto takes just a few minutes: you remove some screws, connect the drive, plug in the cable and reinsert the screws. And when you’re not watching videos, you can use it for backup storage.

The hassle: I have some working hard drives from old PCs. What can I do with them?

The fix: I have a quick, cheap solution that will let you use the drives for long-term storage of photos and videos: a £15 adapter that lets you 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 ends with an IDE connector and a power supply. There’s no enclosure and you provide the 2.5in, 3.5in, or 5.25in drive.

Attach the drive to the connector, turn on your PC, 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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