Figuring Out Hard Drive Players
Many people have only dealt with hard drives as a component of their computers. They are the massive storage devices that reside inside the computer's tower (or are connected to the tower by a FireWire or USB cable) and hold all the data on your computer while it's not being used. It's basically a huge filing cabinet. And if you have a laptop computer, the hard drive is right inside the case.
Manufacturers are always trying to make things smaller and more functional, however, as demonstrated by the hard drives in portable audio players. These devices take a miniature hard drive and place it inside a case that also includes firmware memory (the memory that carries the instructions for how to operate the player and find the files on the hard drive) and audio playback hardware (the circuits that feed the audio signal to the headphones). The ever popular iPod is a prime example of a portable hard drive audio player.
The major advantage of this is the sheer amount of data you can pack into such a small package. No other portable audio player can hold the sheer amount of data that a hard drive player can. These devices usually measure memory in gigabytes; at the time of this writing, portable hard drive audio players can handle from 5GB to 60GB worth of material.
Manufacturers and computer scientists measure gigabytes in different ways. Because the computers are built on the theories of the computer scientists, this basically means that you end up with slightly less data than what was listed on the box. Formatting the hard drive also takes up some of its space.
Hard drive players are also capable of taking information from your computer in the form of playlists and the information tags attached to the audio files. The player can organize the files according to the same tags the media player uses, and you can select files by artists, genres, or other identifying tags. Again, this sounds simple, but hard drive players can accommodate thousands of songs — you should be able to find your songs with a minimum amount of hassle.
Many hard drive players also carry additional features like computer games or the ability to show basic information like calendars, notes, or contacts. You can also use these devices as portable storage drives. Most of them can handle documents, pictures, and other files as well as digital music. Connect one to a computer, and you can read and transfer files like any other storage device. This function takes up storage space as well, and some players cannot play digital music that has been loaded as a file instead of through the media player.
The primary difference between hard drive players and the other classes of portable audio players is price. Because of the technology involved and the size (small hard drives with a large capacity are more expensive), the cost might be prohibitive for some budgets. Unless you need to carry around a huge amount of music with you, the cost could make you want to look elsewhere.
Hard drives can also be very sensitive. Obviously, the manufacturers took this into account when building their products and took every opportunity to shockproof these devices. Still, an excessive amount of jostling or dropping could make the hard drive skip (if that doesn't damage the unit first). And if the hard drive gets damaged, it's time to get a new player. Hopefully your warranty will cover it, but this isn't the case for older hard drive players.
If you have enough money and want to carry a wide variety or large quantity of music around with you, a hard drive player would be a great choice. You should also look into the additional features a hard drive player offers and see if those would be beneficial as well. As more online music stores are tying their services to the use of hard drive players, this is a good choice if you're planning to buy music online.