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A storage capacity of 10 to 20 GB should be sufficient if you mostly use your computer for browsing the Internet, running your e-mail client and using office applications. Windows XP requires less than 2 GB of space, and about the same amount again for the swap file.
Software packages like Microsoft Office, the developer center Visual Studio, graphics and web solutions like Adobe's Creative Suite 2 or the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite each require a few gigabytes. Utilities and tools such as WinZIP or WinRAR, or a picture viewer like ACDSee are not even worth mentioning; they are almost all just in the megabyte. Your office computer obviously doesn't need much storage space.
However, modern games are more demanding. For performance reasons, it is very common to store several gigabytes of game data onto your hard drive. But even if you install numerous game titles you should still be doing fine with 100 GB.
After enjoying their multimedia data, most people typically leave it on their hard drives instead of deleting it, which leads to an increasing demand for capacity. Each MP3 file with a 192 kbit/s bit rate will consume 1.5 MB of storage per minute. Archives of music lovers are easily as large as 20 or 30 GB. The situation with digital photographs is not much different: the average size of a 6-8 megapixel JPEG photo is about 2.5 MB. The annual amount of product photographs at our THG lab amounts to at least 25 GB. Professional photographers even use uncompressed (RAW) photos only, which easily take up 10 MB per picture or even more.
However, digital video definitely needs the most storage space. If you like storing whole DVDs onto your system, you probably need several gigabytes per movie. The future does not look much brighter in this regard, either: since we are looking at HD-DVDs and BlueRay discs with a capacity of 25 GB, you might get an idea of what you need to plan for if you still want to have your multimedia data standing by on your hard drive in the future.
By the way, many users waste quite a lot of storage space because they simply forget to delete unneeded files or old data. After a few weeks, Windows XP's Disk Cleanup Assistant notifies you about no longer used data on your desktop, but other HDD contents will be overlooked. I'll bet you anything that you could easily reduce your used capacity if you jettison data trash and uninstall applications that are no longer required.