Organizing a Personal Media Library, Part 2: Keeping It
How big do you want your library to get? The size of it right now is important, but it's only a guideline. If you expect to grow your media library, you'll want to plan ahead -- especially if you're the electronic equivalent of a pack rat. If you're willing to delete movies, pictures and old songs, you'll be able to save yourself time, money and maybe even a few headaches.
Once you've got all your media -- songs, photos, movies, TV shows and home videos -- converted to easily used digital formats, as described in Part 1 of this series, the biggest decision is how you're going to keep it. While you can burn it all to CDs and DVDs and store them in carefully labeled cases, there are better ways that don't involve spending untold hours burning all the content.
Speaking of better ways, keep in mind there are thousands of possible ways you can go about storing digital media, some which are expensive, difficult or just downright esoteric. This article isn't geared for audiophiles who demand their music be uncompressed or videophiles for whom only the highest of high-definition will do. These aficionados will likely desire to rip their entire music libraries in Apple's Lossless audio format, which easily results in files that can exceed 20 MB per song. For videophiles who are watching full-length high definition movies, the files start at 5 GB on the small side and go larger. Plus, the logistics of copying and storing today's HD, HD-DVD or Blu-ray content, both legal, illegal, and gray, gets complicated and expensive rather quickly.
All About Size
The real question you need to ask yourself is, how big do you want your library to grow? The size of it right now is important, but it's only a guideline. If you expect to grow your media library, you'll want to plan ahead -- especially if you're the electronic equivalent of a pack rat.
If you're willing to delete movies, pictures and old songs, you'll be able to save yourself time, money and maybe even a few headaches. It's something to keep in mind.
If you've got thousands of pictures, a couple thousand songs, and a dozen or so favorite movies, you're in great shape. You've got lots of inexpensive options, the best of which may already be the Mac sitting in front of you.
In most Macs, you can upgrade the hard drive. Configured through Apple, the latest Mac Mini can go up to 160 GB, the MacBook can go as high 200 GB, the MacBook Pro up to 250 GB. The iMac can go up to a whopping 1 terabyte (TB), and the Mac Pro can give you up to 3 TB of space.
For both new and earlier Macs, most models will accept third-party hard drives that you can install yourself if you've got at least a basic level of mechanical aptitude. Keep in mind, though, that you'll need to transfer your existing operating system, applications and files. If this seems risky to you, you'll probably want to enlist the help of a local PC consultant or store, preferably one that has Mac expertise on hand.
If your existing library fits on your hard drive with plenty of room to spare, you've got it easy. The key is buying a separate external hard drive that you can use to back up your media library, which should be at least as large as the hard drive in your Mac. You simply connect to the external hard drive, using the instructions with the Mac-compatible drive you just bought, and drag and drop your files.
Your iTunes files, for example, will be located in Music/iTunes/iTunes Music by default, unless you saved the files to some other location or don't use iTunes. You may want to store the files separately, in your own folders, or you may want to store them in Apple's default folder "Libraries," which is the easiest method. You may, however, have some files that are in other locations. Create separate folders for those files and store them there for the time being. You may decide later, for example, to import them into iTunes or iPhoto.
For larger or growing libraries, the next easiest solution is buying a big external hard drive -- or two external drives so that you can use one to back up the other.
The last thing you want, if you've got a big library, is have your external hard drive fail, effectively erasing the hours of work it took to get all your media converted to digital files and nicely stored in the first place.
Most hard drives have evolved into reliable devices that rarely fail. While I recommend going with brands that have been on the market for years, such as Fantom, Iomega, LaCie, Maxtor, Seagate or Western Digital, you may be fine buying the least expensive option. Yet another option is buying a second external hard drive and using that to back up your backup. The choice comes down to your tolerance for cost, setting up the second backup, and deciding how long you might cry if the hard drive holding your home videos one day fails with irrecoverable data.
While it's hard to make a poor choice of hard drive, there are a few things you should consider. A smart rule of thumb is to buy an external hard drive that is at least as large as the hard drive in your Mac. So if you have a 120 GB hard drive in your MacBook, buy at least a 120 GB external hard drive. If your media library won't fit on your primary Mac, go with a hard drive that is at least double the size of your current library -- assuming that you'll want to add media to your growing collection -- and get a second hard drive of the same size to use as a backup. If you can afford it, in the storage world, bigger is usually better.
Look for a disc speed of at least 7,200 RPM -- it'll help ensure that your hard drive can store and deliver data more quickly. One the connectivity side, your biggest choice is USB 2.0 or FireWire. USB 2.0 offers you solid data transfer speeds, plus it's more compatible with a wider range of devices, including wireless routers like Apple's AirPort Extreme Base Station. By connecting your hard drive directly to a wireless router, you can set up your media files for wireless access and storage, plus you can use multiple Macs to save files to the shared storage.
FireWire is faster than USB 2.0, but the AirPort Extreme, for example, doesn't include a firewire port for shared storage. Most home users should be safe erring on the side of compatibility (USB 2.0) over raw speed (FireWire).
There are a lot of different ways you can back up your data. You can do it manually by dragging and dropping the files from one connected drive to another, you can use Apple's built-in Backup software, or a third-party solution like SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner.
Doing it manually is the easiest method, but using software to schedule consistent backups can be worth your initial setup time. The software never gets too busy watching TV or forgets to do its job.
Using Other Macs
Your storage options expand when you consider the idea of saving to another Mac, such as a Mac mini or iMac, and using that device as a primary media server.
There are benefits here, too, in that it can help you with the next step in developing your personal media library: organizing all your media so you can actually enjoy it!