Buying an external hard drive: eSATA is fast, but stick with USB or FireWire

Q: I need a new external hard drive. Should I get a USB 2.0 drive or one with both eSATA and USB connections?

A: Most home users need not worry too much about eSATA (pronounced "ee-sat-ah," which stands for "external Serial AT Attachment").

This technology, based on the SATA cables that connect internal hard drives, transfers data much faster than USB 2.0 and FireWire connections. But few computers include eSATA ports. For example, Dell and HP only offer them on a handful of desktops and laptops; Apple doesn't provide them on Macs.

Most hard drives, in turn, support only USB (Universal Serial Bus) and FireWire.

If you'll move large files back and forth and plan to buy a higher-end desktop or laptop in the next year or so, an eSATA-compatible drive could be a good investment. Otherwise, stick with USB or FireWire. The latter connection is especially useful on most Macs, where it keeps too-scarce USB ports open. Another tip: Get a "bus-powered" drive, which will run off your computer's power supply and won't need its own wall outlet.

Q: My Palm phone no longer works as a phone — when I place a call, the speakerphone icon vanishes from the screen and I can't hear anything.

A: It's debris accumulating in the headphone jack of a Treo or Centro phone. The simplest fix is to take a hands-free kit (borrow one from a friend if necessary) and plug it and unplug it rapidly, several times in succession. This should dislodge whatever dirt, dust or pocket lint has accumulated inside the jack.

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