Recommend an external hard drive or other backup solution

My habitual approach to system backup for my home PC has simply been to copy key files to removable media. However, I’m starting to think that it might be a good idea to do real backups. Can anyone give any advice on devices and/or backup solutions?

Been asked (and answered) several times, and the consesus is that the least-expensive, and perhaps fastest, is to put a 2nd HDD in your box. If just for backups, it does not have to be all that large. Assuming you have a desktop.

Next, there are a lot of external HDDs, among which is my favorite, the Maxtor One Touch. I’m not sure now, but I think they still come with Dantz Retrospect, a really excellent backup program. It not only gives you seveal ways to backup, but lets you create a “disaster recovery CD.” If everything crashes and you can’t recover at all, boot from the CD and it will restore everything just as it was.

Once you do a full backup, just running incremental backups every day or two keeps everything up to date, and it is easy to restore if needed.

There are other good external hard drives out there if cost is a factor. If it is, I still favor an extra internal drive.

What he said…

Here’s a better idea: Go buy a case that will turn your current hard drive into an external USB drive. Lots of companies make 'em, for about $25 or so. Then if you’ve got an old drive kicking around, you can use it. Or you can use the opportunity to upgrade the drive in your current machine, and simply move the old drive into the enclosure, and you’ve already got all your files on it.

I have almost a dozen externals of various types. Western Digital Mybook units are fine drives and come in 160-500 gig capacities. Weekly sales at Circuit City or Best Buy (after rebate) are where the best prices are usually to be found.

I use an external USB drive because an internal drive can die with the other hard drive when it loses the data. You may have a virus that your antivirus doesn’t shut down without damage. Someone using a trojan deleting files. A lightening strike. Motherboard or IDE failure. An external USB drive will avoid these problems better.

Thanks for the comments. Thing is, I had seen a fair number of negative comments about the Maxtor and Seagate (the only brands I recognized) external drives & backup software, so I was wondering if there was anything else that might be preferable.

What Sam said. You can pick up a 250GB - 300GB IDE drive for around $50 - $80 depending on the store (don’t forget to check on-line); that is, if you don’t have an older drive just sitting around. Pick up an enclosure, and you’ve made yourself an external drive, but one that didn’t cost as much as the packages they’re selling.

As for drive types: I dislike Seagates, but have no problem with Maxtors (so far) and Western Digitals. Western Digitals had a brief period a few years back where a great number of their Caviar drives regularly failed, but since then, in my opinion, they’ve come back to the top of the mountain.

If the lack of easy backup software is keeping you from putting together your own external drive, be assured that there are a lot of free backup programs out there. An easy one to use for Windows XP is SyncToy from Microsoft. Me, I just use scheduled batch files to copy my files over, but SyncToy is free and easy to use; it’s worked well the coupla times I tested it.

I’m going to have to so against the “buy a drive and a separate enclosure” suggestion. External drives on sale are going to be cost competitive with bare drive + external generic chassis solution and the generic external chassis units I’ve used are much more klugey looking, and not all that well made (IMO) in many cases compared to the complete drive + enclosure unit units from the manufacturers. In addition the generic units are often noisier as many (not all) include fans, and the manufacturer’s units are usually engineered fromt he ground up to be fanless.

The one I bought (an Enermax Laureate) has no fan. It’s well built, and was around $25.

Anyway, the idea is that you want an external drive for sure, because you should take your backup offsite. Having a second drive in your machine does no good if there’s a fire or your computer is stolen. So back up your files, and store your backup drive at work or somewhere else, or in a fireproof box hidden in the house if you can’t take it offsite.

I guess this has been pretty well covered by everyone, but here’s my own setup which I am quite happy with:

WD MyBook Premium 320GB external drive
The “premium” version works with both USB and FireWire. Apparently, there is some debate as to which one is better; some say that even though FireWire sports a slightly lower bandwidth than USB 2, it is faster for hard drives for various protocol-specific reasons. I use FireWire and am satisfied.

The drive is extremely quiet and it is quite attractive (it does look like a book). I keep it on a bookshelf next to real books when I am not backing up.

I wanted to use the fancy backup software that came with it but ran into one problem: the software does not allow you to back up from a network drive. In fact, it appears that many of the freebie backup tools do not allow network drive backup.
Unfortunately, my important files all reside on a Linux file server that I share with all other machines in my house. Hence, the included backup tool was useless.

This was the solution to my problem. It isn’t a backup tool at all; rather, it is a tool for duplicating file system trees between two devices following various rules you can configure. Its original purpose was for helping folks work with photos captured to flash cards. Consequently, it doesn’t do incremental backups or huge monolithic backup files, it doesn’t twiddle “archive” flags on files or anything like that, and it doesn’t work in the background on a nightly schedule. That said, it really works nice for straightforward work like “Make this folder look like that one, and bring over anything new that has appeared”.

I back up once a week: Following a full machine virus scan, I plug in the MyBook via FireWire, start up SyncToy, select “all folder pairs” and tell it to test run. Five minutes later it shows me all of the stuff it is planning on doing, and I tell it to go. A few minutes later I shut off the drive (MyBook safely shuts itself down when you press its button) and put it away.