External hard drives

I’ve been using an ACOM FireWire external hard drive for about 2 years, and up until recently had been quite happy with it - fast for both reading and writing, and seemingly 100% reliable.

But then about a month ago I had a serious problem with my PC’s internal hard drive. No worries, sez I, that’s why I do backups. At this very moment, the ACOM unit decided to pack it in - each time I connected to it (over the course of several days, I tried 5 different PCs) it said “The disk is unformatted - would you like to format now?” Arrgh!

A call to ACOM was less than helpful. The tech I spoke to said I should kiss my data goodbye - his best guess was that someone had secretly got hold of my drive and unformatted it, wiping out everything. I said that the thing had been in my custody all the time, but this didn’t change his opinion. He said that there are outfits that do data recovery, but it tends to be very pricey and ACOM definitely couldn’t help.

I bought a new PC, thrashed with the old one and recovered most of my data (at the cost of a huge amount of time). I was tempted to drop the ACOM drive in the ocean, but hung onto it. Today, I decided to give it one last chance. And it worked perfectly. All data is now recovered.

This raises several questions:

  • Is there any rational explanation for this chain of events?
  • Is an external FireWire drive a reasonable way to do backup? What are some good alternatives?
  • Are there manufacturers preferable to ACOM? (I have to believe almost anyone’s customer support is better - “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”)
  • Having let me down badly, is there any future for my ACOM drive? Would a rational person trust it again?

Any drive can fail and there isn’t enough information to know if this one was at fault or not. I wouldn’t be at all suprise if your old PC was at fault since the external drive worked perfectly with the new one. A corrupted OS or virus on the host might indicate you need to format a perfectly functional external drive when you really don’t have to.

FWIW I work for a division of NCR and we are issued Dell laptops along with an 80GB Iomega external USB 2.0 drive and Norton Ghost backup software. Several co-workers have suffered failed machines and drives so the backups have proven invaluable. I’ve been really lazy about my personal machines so I think the investment in my own external drive will be worth it.

I felt that I’d proved that the problem was in the external HD by trying to connect it to a number of different PCs - got the same message with each one. One of these was (naturally) the replacement PC - the ext. HD didn’t work with it a month ago, but now does.

    • Is there any rational explanation for this chain of events?*

No doubt. Can you ever know it? Maybe.

    • Is an external FireWire drive a reasonable way to do backup?*


What are some good alternatives?

Second internal hard drive. Relatively cheap and easy to do.

    • Are there manufacturers preferable to ACOM?*

The Addonics Combo Hard Drive USIB25 - storage mobile rack (frame and carrier) is a handy little unit that lets you use any hard drive as an external. Hardware Central has this to say about it. It’s a big hit with the geeks I know. Most of them are hot rodding it to work with hand helds, but that is what they do, eh? My experience is that if it was garbage, they wouldn’t be using it.

    • Having let me down badly, is there any future for my ACOM drive? Would a rational person trust it again?*

How much would you hate yourself if you did trust it and it dies the real death, taking your backup with it? It’s a game of chance, you decide how much you can risk.

Yes, if you then unplug the drive and put it in a different building.

Not a second drive. Burning everything to CD/DVD, or having a tape backup, and taking it to a separate location.

Backing up is potentially useless if you keep the backup in the same location. A fire could destroy the lot, a burglary could lose the lot, a lightening strike could fry your secondary drive. Physical separation of the backup from the original is essential.