Our photos, videos, music, and documents stored on our computer are important parts of our lives. Make sure your backup strategy is simple so it is not a burden to do frequently. Hard drive complete and partial failures are common. It will happen.

Read this article to see how an external hard drive can help and hints on what you might need to purchase.

Lutron Electronics

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. When 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.

Dell Computer Catches Fire at Japanese Conference

I have two other backup needs in addition to protecting against drive failure. My second need is to 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 have learned.

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 for 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 useful.

Front and Rear view of the Western digital Dual Option Combo External Drive
showing extra USB and Firewire ports

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! You can get a drive with a capacity probably 50% greater than this one (without the wonderful buttons and USB hub) for the same money.

Here is a list of things to consider:

1. You should get an external hard drive to backup your notebooks important data so it’s easy for you to do frequently.
2. Desktop users should add a second internal drive, not external. It’s cheaper.
3. 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.
4. Generally Firewire is faster than USB, and USB is much faster than a NAS/Network interface. Use the fastest port you have.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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 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 can get.
10. 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 it.
11. 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.
12. What if the external drive also fails too? 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.