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How Much Storage Do I Need for a Portable MP3 Player?

[originally posted on Techlore.com]

by Ron Repking 

Are you thinking about buying an music player but confused about how much storage you need for your MP3 songs? Or have you run out of storage and need to buy more but don't know how much? Understanding digital memory and the basics of MP3s is essential before you make this decision.

Understanding the Basics

Storage capacity for MP3 players (and other devices) is measured in bytes of digital memory. Larger quantities of bytes follow a naming convention similar to the metric system:

  • 1 Kilobyte (KB or "kay") = approximately 1,000 Bytes
  • 1 Megabyte (MB or "meg) = 1,000 KB
  • 1 Gigabyte (GB or "gig") = 1,000 MB

The size of an MP3 file varies widely. For our purposes, let's assume that a typical MP3 file takes up about 4 MB of space. Given that there are typically about 12 songs on a CD, you can figure that a normal CD takes up about 50 MB of space. If you own 100 CDs, multiply by 50 MB and you would probably need about 5000 MB or 5 GB of storage at least to hold all of your CDs.

The inside works of a Flash Memory Drive There are currently two types of MP3 players - Flash and Hard Drive based players. Flash-based players, like the Sansa series have built-in memory and often optional removable Flash memory cards to increase the storage of the player. Typical Flash-based players now typically have 1 or 2 GB memory built-in. Flash Media, such as CompactFlash, is available at reasonable prices up to 3 or 4 GB.

Factors to Consider Making the Decision

Here are some questions to consider when deciding how much storage to have for an MP3 player:

• How often do you want to change the music on your player?

If your MP3 player has enough memory for all of your music, it only has to be updated before you first use it and whenever you buy new music that you want on your player.

In the case where you do not have enough storage for your music, it is necessary to update the player whenever you want to change the music on it. How often you change the music on your player is up to you. While many software programs make this fairly easy to do with syncing programs, it still takes time to perform this task. First you have to find the time to do it and when you do, you have to spend the time to make the decision of what music to put on the player.

• How much music variety do you want to listen to?

MP3 players have the ability to shuffle songs to provide you with a variety of music as opposed to listening to a full CD. The more music that you have on your player, the more variety of music that you can listen to while in shuffle mode.

Also, on a related note, MP3 players can only be updated when connected to a computer. If you are running out the door for a jog or long car trip and want to take your MP3 player, you are stuck with the music on your player. The more storage you have, the more music variety that you can listen to while on your trip.

• How much money do you want to spend?

Players with multiple gigabytes of storage, currently all hard drive based players, are significantly more expensive then the flash card based players, usually under a gigabyte of storage. However, if you buy a flash-based player, you will need to purchase a flash card for it which may end up costing you as much as a hard drive player in the end.

• Do you own flash cards that you can use for your player?

Flash memory card with a Reader connector to PCIf you own two or more flash cards already that are compatible with your player, you can preload your music onto multiple cards and take them with you at no extra cost. Flash cards are small enough that several of them can easily fit into your pocket while you are on the go. Instead of changing the music on your player, you can just change the flash card to listen to something different.

Since flash cards are standard across devices, you can also share them with devices that you own such as your digital camera or even cell phone.

• How much technical ability do you have?

While software programs have made the process of transferring files easier, it still requires basic technical knowledge to update your MP3 player. If you are going to have someone else update the player for you or you have limited technical ability, consider buying an MP3 player with enough storage for most or all of your CDs.

• How easy do you want it to be to find your song?

MP3 players have small LCD screens for the display of the songs, artists, and albums. The more songs and artists are on the player, the more difficult it is to navigate through the menus and songs. For example, if you have a 40G player with 5000 songs and 250 artists, it may take you awhile to scroll down to find the albums by The Zombies. On the other hand, smaller flash-based players usually have extremely small LCD screens which can also make finding any song difficult, especially if you have poor vision.

Final Notes

Since hard drive players can hold quite a bit more music than flash-based players, deciding the type of player that you want to buy first will help you quickly determine what your options are for storage. If you want to purchase a flash-based player, you should research prices and storage quantities for flash cards before you make your final decision.

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