My notebook is my main personal computer. I keep my personal life on it including
music, photos, and videos. I surf the internet, pay bills and email friends
and colleagues. I use it for entertainment, my personal life, and for work.
The videos are the ones that have become a problem. I suspect most people
are now in the same boat as me. The problem I think started when they dropped the
price of flash memory for my digital camera.
You can now purchase a 1GB SD card for under $20.
I bought two of them. Because I now can, I take long video clips
(mainly of my new son Dalton) with my digital camera. In 20 minutes I can
fill one of these cards up. This is the main mechanism
by which I am filling up my notebook hard drive. Up to now, all this important data I have
been backing up on DVD’s. Up to now I could simply backup all the photos/videos
to one DVD, and the music and Word documents to another DVD. This will not
fit anymore on 2 DVD’s. I need to go to multiple DVD’s and more complication.
things get complicated I tend not to want to do them. What is more is that my programs are not backed up, only the data. If the drive
fails I would need to spend days reinstalling Windows XP and all the various programs
I have downloaded and installed.
I have two other backup needs in addition to protecting against drive failure. My second need is
restore a previous version of a file I was working on from a week, or even a month
ago. My last need is as a long term archive. Thus we have established
the need. I think YOU have the same problem. It may take a catastrophe for
you to realize you have a problem though. When it happens,
and it will, you will be heartbroken and (possibly) no one will be able to help you.
Here is my solution, and what I
I found a good deal on the
Western Digital Dual Option Combo 250GB external hard drive for $99..
This is an external hard drive that connects to my notebook via a USB connection.
Some computers have the faster Firewire connector and it will also connect via that. It brings out an extra firewire
port and is a USB hub (meaning it 'Y' out's to two
extra USB ports). It comes with backup software called ‘Retrospect.’
Firstly I have to say the USB hub is of dubious utility. This drives main
application would be to backup notebook computers. Most desktop users would probably
opt for adding an internal drive since they are faster, cheaper and have more capacity.
I suspect there will be a few desktop users that would purchase this
drive and keep it
connected all the time, and need an extra USB port. These would be people who have
no inclination to open a computer. They are the few people
who might find that feature useful. A notebook user, such as me, would
not leave this drive connected permanently. The hub feature would be seldom used.
A notebook user would definitely
not find this feature
Front and Rear view of the Western digital
Dual Option Combo External Drive showing extra USB and Firewire ports, and the 'One Touch' buttons.
I found the speed of both
the USB ports and the Firewire ports to be acceptable and unimpressive. I did not compare to other drives. Other
reviewers clock these ports as slightly slower than competing devices. It is nice to
use the Firewire feature if your computer has one. The Firewire feature is
a definite advantage to this drive.
The drive also has two dedicated buttons on the front for ‘One touch backup.’ In
other words you touch the button on the drive and the computer backs itself up.
Sounds nice, right? It sounded good to me. Unfortunately using
these buttons left me with a much less than an optimum solution. The problem is with
the Retrospect software. It is slow, awkward and confusing to use … and limited.
For comparison Retrospect duplicated my hard drive (using the ‘one touch’ button)
in about 3 hours. I was able to backup my hard drive using both Apricorn EZ
Gig II and Norton/Symantec Ghost for comparison. Both did a
backup in less than 30 minutes! They BOTH used compression; respectably compressing
the information by about 35%. Retrospect did no compression by default, although
this can be configured. But if I am doing additional configuration of Retrospect
to make it compress then what is
the value of having a ‘One Touch’ button? Finally, if you use this drive with Retrospect
you CANNOT use it on multiple computers. One of my thoughts was to use it
to ‘One Touch’ backup my notebook and also ‘One Touch’ backup my wife’s computer. After all, her computer has a Firewire port and
the 250GB capacity of this drive sure is large enough for both our computers. Unfortunately Retrospect overwrites
the old drive image with the image from the new computer. Retrospect is only licensed
for use on one computer. Arrgh!
OK, so let’s say we buy the drive but don’t use the Retrospect software. What if we purchase
one of the other software choices in the market, like Norton Ghost? Well the
problem with that is the ‘one touch’ buttons are hard wired into the Retrospect
software! They cannot be reconfigured for other software! You might
as well not have ‘One Touch’ buttons or Retrospect! Don't pay more
money to get this feature.
Here is a list of things to consider:
- You should get an external hard drive to backup your notebooks important data so
it’s easy for you to do frequently.
- Desktop users should add a second internal drive, not external. It's cheaper.
- Extra USB hubs and memory slots on the drive are fluff. Stick to a meaty large
capacity drive. Purchase the largest hard drive you can within your budget.
- Generally Firewire is faster than USB, and USB is much faster than a NAS/Network
interface. Use the fastest port you got.
- Clone your complete hard drive to the external drive so it’s easy to restore
in case the main drive fails. Cloning is a specialized operation that both EZ-Gig
and Ghost can perform. You might even be able to boot directly off a cloned drive if your
BIOS supports USB boots.
- Make frequent backups of your important data to the remaining storage area on the
drive. Keep a history of backup’s as far back as the capacity of the drive will
allow. You will be able to restore older versions of your working documents.
Delete old backup's to make room for new ones.
- Some backup software allow for incremental backups. Incremental backups
allow for more backup versions of your drive to fit on the external drive.
And, if you are using a desktop with an internal
always connected hard drive, it may
make sense to schedule automatic
backups. Norton Ghost can do both of these but not EZ Gig. You may find a price difference in these
products and/or may not need the extra features.
- Consider purchasing one of the smaller 2.5 inch portable drives. The main
advantage is tiny size and no need for an AC adapter. The disadvantage is that the
capacity of these drives top out currently at 120GB. You will currently pay a premium
too; a 120GB is going for about $140. The convenience these small drives offer may outweigh the added protection of the lengthier
history the larger drives offer.
- I have three partitions on my USB external drive. One partition for an uncompressed clone image to quickly get
going or boot off of in case of disaster. The second,
and largest partition, for multiple compressed
drive images to restore previous versions of work. The third for the photo
archive to store to whenever the videos or other data are becoming too sizable. You need the largest external drive for backup you
- Whatever backup strategy you choose, keep it simple and quick so you are
more likely to do it often. If it's not convenient, you won't want to do
- The Apricorn EZ Gig II software is licensed from Acronis and can be purchased
from them online or at buy.com. Norton Ghost 10 is a product of Symantec Corporation and can be
purchased in their online store or from any software vendor on the internet such
as Amazon.com or buy.com.
- What if the external drive also fails? A double failure just might happen. Every year or two plan to also backup just the data (videos,
music, photos, and documents) to optical medium.
In any case you should think out your backup strategy and consider making it a simple
but regular chore. The Western Digital Dual Option external drive is not a
bad drive. For the desktop user who is unwilling to open their computer, and
needs extra USB ports, it may be a good choice. Complimenting with Norton
Ghost backup software would make a good choice better.