Advice needed regarding backup solutions

March 29, 2011 at 02:05:05
Specs: Windows XP
I would like to implement some sort of external storage for the purposes of backing up my data and was wondering if people could provide some advice as to the pros and cons of usb flash drives vs external hard drives, especially with regard to reliability and such.

I haven't had a problem with USB storage in the past, although admittedly I've only ever used it as a portable storage medium, not as a backup device. I haven't been so lucky with external hard drives though. Currently I have/had a Western Digital 1T MyBook External Hard Drive, which was great up until 3 micro-seconds after its warranty had expired, at which point it decided it was better suited to a life as a warm brick. Whether this is typical of this sort of storage medium, however, is another matter entirely.

The main thing I'm looking for is reliability, and I would greatly appreciate some advice and opinions regarding storage media (flash drive vs external hard drive) and what brands are better quality.


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March 29, 2011 at 02:23:40
It's not really so much about which format is best, it's more about on how much the data means to you. While all the options (optical/flash/magnetic/on-line) have their own advantages, nothing is absolutely 100% reliable. Multiple backups (perhaps amongst different types of storage) is really the best option. Personally (due to the low cost per disc) I prefer optical---with the stuff I'm really anxious to keep getting 3 copies or more. Convincing someone to do routine backups on data is one of the hardest things I ever attempted. Still get calls from those who don't...

"Channeling the spirit of jboy..."

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March 29, 2011 at 05:34:32
Flash drives are the least reliable of the current options. IMO optical disks are the most reliable.

Do you currently own any back up/imaging software?

The key to a successful plan is to make it easy enough that you will continue with it.

IMO the first thing is to set up your hard drive into multiple partitions. The reason for that not everything on your drive needs to be backed up at the same rate. Programs don't change much and they may occupy quite a bit of space. I will explain what I think is optimal.

Three partitions if you do not use multiple partitions. More if your do.

Primary boot partition contains Windows and a few core programs/utilities. The second partition holds the remainder of your programs. The third is for your music, movie, photos, etc.

The first partition will need more frequent backing up. The second one only when you make a change in the programs. Items like your cleaners and AV that update frequently go on the first partition.

The third partition can simply be copied. Backup/imaging programs compress the data to conserve space. The items I mentioned are already in compressed formats so not need to use special software.

Now to the good part. Lets say you have individual images of both the first and second partitions and Windows needs to be restored. You use the first image to restore the first partition and everything else on the computer will work. No need to restore all those programs and files on the second and third partitions.

My ideal solution is this. When you first setup the hard drive after everything is installed as described, you image the first and second partitions separately to DVDR media.

After that you image to an external hard drive using commercial software that has incremental backup.

Occasionally you may elect to image to DVDR again when major changes have been made to the partition. Things like a service pack for instance.

FYI, Windows 7 has some backup features built in. I have not explored them enough to know if they are good enough to stand alone.

One other thing to note. If you have a pre-configured PC you will need to be aware that changing the primary partitioning may make it difficult to use the factory restore features. It is best to burn the disks as instructed and save them for when you finally dispose of the PC.

The links below are for two versions of the same product. Read the reviews. Appears the more expensive one seems to work better with Windows 7.

Another option is to buy an external USB hard drive that comes with backup software included.

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March 29, 2011 at 08:12:35
Wow. That's certainly much more information than I was expecting. Thanks, guys.

I would really like to have an automated incremental backup in place, so optical isn't really suitable for this, although I will certainly consider it for infrequent manual backups.

If we limit the options to flash drives and external hard drives, could I get some advice on these?


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Related Solutions

March 29, 2011 at 08:18:39
Just from browsing the web, what I'm seeing is that external hard drives seem to come with warranties along the lines of 2-3 years, while flash drives can be 10 years or more if they're made to be durable. In the case of the former, are these figures typical? Is it possible to find them with longer warranties?

Here, I'm equating warranty to reliability and longevity. This assumption may not be valid.


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March 29, 2011 at 08:21:43
Flash Drive NOOO. They only allow so many writes before they begin to fail. Optical is ok if you like swapping disks out all of the time. I prefer using an External Bookshelf Drive. They are just as susceptible to corrupted sectors like your hard drive but they are large and fairly fast. The other thing is that they are Random Access which means you can over write them quickly unlike some cheap optical solutions. And did I mention they are cheap. You can get a 2 TB drive for around $150.00.

If you have Windows Vista or 7 Professional or better then you can setup the built in backup systems to automatically backup to one of these external drives. If you don't then there is a slue of free backup utilities out there and if you don't mind doing a little scripting you can even do it with Home additions using commands like XCOPY, ROBOCOPY or others.

Good luck.

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March 29, 2011 at 08:55:16
Then there are the off site backup companies.

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March 30, 2011 at 08:47:05
What does everyone think of using an old hard drive for backups? How reliable is this?


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March 30, 2011 at 11:52:23
Backing up your OS and installed programs would be OK using old or new. What you need to really be concerned about are your personal files. Especially work you created and photos. That stuff can't be replaced. I recommend backing up that sort of data to optical disk and make more than one copy. Store at least one off site. Friends, relatives, safety deposit box.

Keep two backup sessions and then replace the older with a third version. That way, if something goes wrong you still have a fall back file.

Don't use ANY drive that has generated any messages about bad clusters, even if repaired.

Your original software disks fall into that category too. Make copies and install using the copy to verify in works. I never install any software I bought from the original disk.

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April 1, 2011 at 02:48:57
Thank you everyone for your advice. I've weighed up all the options, looked at prices, etc, and reached a decision, so thought you might be interested in knowing what I went for in the end.

Essentially I'm going to use an old existing hard drive, which will be connected externally to the computer using a HDD enclosure. The benefit of this, apart from being extremely cheap, is that it'll be a fast SATA connection, and has hot swap ability, i.e. no restart necessary. It can also be easily removed and kept off-site if necessary. Unfortunately I can't automate backups, but oh well. I'll also transfer my more essential files via USB to a relative's hard drive.


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April 1, 2011 at 08:24:57
Why not go for an online storage solution like Mozy or Carbonite. It done automaticly and you don't have to worry about an external storage device going bad.

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