Friday, June 06, 2008

Digital Storage and USB Drive Letter Management

Digital photography has led to a somewhat headache problem for most users - storage. In fact, I have been shooting digitally since 2001, when I still also shot film with my MZ-S for more serious shootings. Until January 2004, I got my first DSLR, a Pentax *ist D. After that, I have shot almost mostly digitally. Nonetheless, I still shoot some slides very occasionally from time to time just for fun.

In fact, the internal harddisk of my compact sized desktop PC (which is a MSI slim barebone bought in 2003) has been full quite a number of times over the years and I had upgraded it from 40G to 80G to 120G and then finally to 250G about two years ago. Each time I got a new harddisk, I had to migrate my Windows, application programs and all data files to my new harddisk and then I moved some of less important files to the old ones and then used the old ones as data backup disks. Since my desktop has limited expansion ability owing to its compact size and thus limited space inside it, I could only install one 3.5" harddisk inside it and thus I just made two partitions on it with one for the OS and system files and the other solely for data (which is not so desirable of course). In the past, I used Norton Ghost to make a disk-to-disk operation to simplify the job, which could be a bit clumsy and time consuming.

There is some tricks for ghosting both the system files and data in one-go with the Norton Ghost. What I had to do is to leave the old harddisk to be physically connected to the booting "C" drive for the hardware connection before the ghosting and then plug in the new drive to another connector. And then, boot with a Norton Ghost bootable utility disk (which could be made with the older version of Norton Ghost of Windows, say, the 2002 version. Don't get the later version of the Ghost which clones files under Windows environment which is problematic AFAIK). Lastly, unplug the old disk and replace it by connecting to the new disk, reboot and everything is done and will work as it has been!

Recently, my two-year old 250GB harddisk has got full again last month after flooded by my digital photos taken over the last year with my 5D (which are quite large in size in fact - roughly 5MB each even for shooting large fine jpegs alone). Indeed, I have got tired of such internal harddisk replacement procedures nor it is not totally logical to back up digital photos and other data in this way. It is because the newly purchased harddisk will always have a capacity much larger than the old one, usually doubled for my case. Since the 2.5" notebook harddisks are damn cheap right now and I do consider they are more reliable than 3.5" ones since they are less susceptible to shocks and vibrations as well as higher temperature, I opted to purchase two as a pair and simply move all of my "current" digital photos (in whatever formats) to my new notebook harddisks via USB. Those notebook harddisks in fact could be even more reliable since they usually have a lower spin rate at 5400 rpm instead of higher ones.

Week ago, I purchased two Fujitsu 250 GB SATA (model MHY2250BH) with two very nice external SATA to USB casings. The purpose of a dual setup is one for main data storage and the other for backup as a mirror, which I shall periodically copy all my data to the mirror disk manually using my favourite file management software (which is this one).

The story went on. Since I do not have enough USB ports in my desktop (which has 6 built-in only) and that my PC (which is a MSI barebone) has no option to cut off USB power after sleeping or shut down (so that my mobile harddisk(s) could run on 7 x 24 hours if they are not unplugged!), I acquired a PCI 2.0 card based on VIA chipset in aiming to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, this VIA chipset based card is just a piece of junk which has various software and hardware conflicts which I could never get it worked with my mobile disks but just system hung up or an unstable Windows as long as I used it. I have tried the card on several different PCs at my office and various different abnormal behaviours were yet found. So, it must be the card! For interested readers who have faced the troubles, you may look at this page.

So, as the VIA card is of neglectible cost, I just trashed it and purchased another USB 2.0 card based on the NEC chipset (I bought the Belkin), it installed without any trouble at once and my system has been operating speedy, reliably and flawlessly since then. As you know, I always hate troublesome products which have too many issues and problems just because the manufacturers have not spent enough efforts to make it good and trouble-free as it should be. In fact, those inferior designed and made products have created, would create and will create too many unnecessary troubles and pains to the customers and users who bought them, which is just a very unfortunate thing afterall! But in reality, there are yet too many those poor products in the market, no matter what they are - so careful selection is always crucial. For this case, I told myself I would never buy any VIA based products again. The logic is simple, if they could not even make a basic USB chipset to run properly, how can I trust them for some other more sophisticated products?

After all the problems have been resolved, I faced another problem which is just one of the typical numerous Windows Annoyances. The USB drive letters assignment was in a big mess and with my two XX-in-1 card readers, those drive letters caused even much chaos owing to the inconsistency and unpredictability of the assignment logic (which is rather illogical indeed) by the Windows (I am using the Xp).

After that, I found, downloaded and installed a very good piece of freeware which eliminated all the problems and is highly configurable and small in footprint but however may not be too easy to install for some of the Windows users, owing to the lack of a wizard nor even a dialog window for the setup. This freeware is surely for more experienced PC users but it is actually not too difficult to install and config if you read and follow the documented instructions with a few more minutes.

So, here is my highly recommended software, the USB Drive Letter Manager (USBDLM), which could set all those Multi-Slot Card Readers (MSCRs) to occupy a drive letter only when a memory card is inserted and all drive letter range can be assigned to the USB thumb drives, external USB harddrives and MSCRs as well. Fixed network drive letters can be excluded too. Even if not (set by the user), this tiny program is smart enough to skip those already assigned drive letter(s). Really excellent job done by the author!

I summarise also the installation and configuration procedures herewith: After downloading, unzip the whole zipped folder. Run the command line batch file "_install.cmd" and the program will be installed (forever until you run the other command line batch file "_uninstall.cmd"). And then, copy and rename the example .INI file "USBDLM_sample.ini" to "USBDLM.INI" and edit it in whatever ways you like for the features and settings available as outlined in the software's homepage or in the included help files (in German and English).

For example, if we want to assign portable harddrives and thumb drives as F, H to J and memory cards as inserted in a MSRC as U, V, W, X, Y and Z, we can simply type the following:-



OR, simply (for the recent versions):-

Letters=F, H-J


On the other hand, if you just want to do nothing, but let the program to assign drive letter numbers in the same order as for the sequence of the USB device insertion, just enter nothing in those sections (nor any of them is needed to be created). Wonderful? (But I think it is just that MS Windows have too many unthoughtful designs or simply annoyances at the first place, all in all)

P.S. This is the first time I write about software tips in my blog, I hope you guys/gals do like it and find my shared information useful. :-)


Anonymous said...

there is another aspect, why I prefer keeping my images on external hard drives: in case your computer become the victim of a virus attack, your files are safe.

Anonymous said...

Where's the gratuitous Pentax bashing for the inadequacy of your computer's hd capacity?

Anonymous said...

Get a Mac ;-)

RiceHigh said...

> Anonymous said...
> there is another aspect, why I prefer keeping my images on external hard drives: in case your computer become the victim of a virus attack, your files are safe.

Yes, that's why I actually keep my mirror disk in my desk drawer while the main disk connected to my PC all the time, although it is external.

Anonymous said...

I know you probably don't want to hear it again, but your problems are symptomatic of your operating system. Have you considered upgrading to a modern OS, like Mac OS X.

Get on with being creative... quit worrying about your PC, bad cards, and on.

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