10 November 2010

Surviving the death of your Hard Drive

Surviving the death of your Hard Drive

Backup is a nice idea which people usually try to implement in retrospect.

(In recognition of this, one very good backup software is called Retrospect)
Your hard drive will certainly die before you do, and probably before your present project
* after 2 years or so, modern harddrives work on luck and prayer.

Free Backup Programs

SyncBack on PC

ChronoSync on Mac

Time machine

Making a clone - on a Mac

Making a clone - on a PC

Backup the Geeky way

Backup in the Clouds

Cloud Backup with Sync

25G free from Microsoft

Free Backup Programs

At Download.com you'll find 600 free backup programs.
(BTW: get used to using Download.com - you can find almost all commercial and free software there,
carefully organised, searchable, with reviews, and best of all, tested for viruses.
This is especially important for Mac users, most of whom don't have anti-virus protection.
Sometimes a popular PC program like Foxit is published for the Mac as a virus.)

My favourite on PC is SyncBack

SyncBack has an Easy mode which is ... easy.
* setting a schedule can be tricky, and this applies to many Windows programs
because Windows insists on using a login Password when setting a schedule
(you can override this, and SyncBack offers to do this. But if you don't, you must remember to click on the "Password" button when setting a schedule)
SyncBack also has an Expert mode which lacks almost nothing, though some things can be difficult to find
* you can backup to FTP sites, have multiple backup profiles running simultaneously, use complex filters
* if you are using it to back up your whole drive (not just your documents etc) it is worth a few dollars to upgrade and use the "Fast Backup" feature.
* but for most things the free program works better than many commercial ones.

On a Mac, the equivalent program is ChronoSync

ChronoSync has slightly fewer features than the PC SyncBack, but it is still very powerful, and it is prettier, and easy to use

Time machine

The Mac Time Machine is great - almost as good as the name suggests
* it copies the whole drive, and can restore back to a previous hour, or day, or week or month (depending how far back the date is)
* it works best with an external drive.
* I don't think it does anything you can't do on a PC, but it is easy, it looks good, and it has a great name.
For PC there are now similar programs (eg Genie Timeline, free or $40 to include system files)
* they do little more than Windows 7 already does for free, but they are easier to use, with a cool name.
(the built-in Windows features have mostly been around for years, but they are hidden deep in the machine,
and they have boring names like Restore Points and System Image, Shadow copies, so no-one looks for them.)
I've read that Seagate Replica works just like Time Machine, but I haven't tried it

Clone your hard drive - on a Mac

For real peace of mind, you may want to back up your whole drive, and not just your own files
* ie make a Clone not a backup but an exact copy of your whole harddrive as it is
* one great thing about this is that when you drive dies, you simply swap with the clone
* your computer is up and running again in 10 minutes, all set up as if nothing happened
* you need an external drive with the same physical size drive as your computer, though bigger capacity can be useful
* on a Mac, run Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. These Mac programs are wonderful

Clone your hard drive - on a PC

* on a PC there are lots of clone programs but look for one which allows incremental changes
* this means you won't be making a complete copy every time, which saves work for your drive
* the best for XP is XXClone: free or $40 for incremental backups.
* it isn't completely straightforward to use - see the tips here
* for post-XP use Paragon Drive Copy

Backup the Geeky way

(Non-geeks can miss the next bit: )
The best backup is still often a scripted program:
* on a Mac use AppleScript (much more powerful than the PC version and largely neglected)
* on a PC use the good old DOS commands in a Command Prompt (in Programs: Accessories) and feel nostalgic
* XCOPY is a wonderful command with lots of features. Type "XCOPY /?" for a list
* to write a program, you simply type the commands and save them as plain text, with the ending ".bat"
* eg, save the following line as a file called "Backup.bat" and put it in your Documents folder

XCOPY "*.*" "E:/Backup/" /M /C /Y /S /H /R /EXCLUDE:"~*.*"

The tags used here:
/M makes it copy only new or changed files, and marks them as copied
/C makes it carry on even when an error occurs (eg a file can't be copied)
/Y answers "Yes" to all those dumb "Are you sure?" questions
/S makes it include subdirectories
/H makes it include hidden and system files
/R overwrites Read-Only files if there is a new copy
/EXCLUDE:"~*.*" makes it ignore all the temporary files created by Word etc.
There are lots of other useful tags

You need to set up a schedule manually for this
* in Windows you find the Scheduler in Programs > Accessories > System tools
* for Macs I use the free Cron program, though there are other ways.

Backup in the Clouds

Data today lives in the "clouds" or on "server farms" - both picturesque ways of referring to data warehouses
* they have wonderful security, backups, hardware redundancy, and some are bomb-proof.
* employees are xrayed, iris scanned and weighed before entering and leaving (a friend works in one)
though like all new businesses there are cowboys and lots of Indians.

Carbonite.com - is probably the best deal 
* it excludes external drives (except temporarily) - though a workaround here may work for you
CrashPlan - a bit more but includes external drives and all deleted files
BackBlase.com - includes external drives, and costs less. Haven't tried it, but they are a good firm and this looks good.

One problem: Backing up your whole drive is likely to take a several weeks
* restoring is quicker if you have an ADSL line (download is faster than upload)

Cloud Backup & Sync all in one

Dropbox.com - free for 2G, about
* it is esp good for keeping the same files on more than one computer
* add PackRat for
* the free 2G account is perhaps all you need for your research, but photos very quickly fill it

25G free online from Microsoft

Microsoft Live SkyDrive has offered us all free 25G storage space
* it is a little cumbersome to use, so download SkyDrive Explorer which make work like a folder in Windows
* you can then use normal backup software to copy files into you free online space.

One day we will all have solid-state drives and we won't need to backup
* don't believe it. They still crash and die, and it looks like it happens quicker than people had thought
* the comforting thing is that solid state drives tend to freeze with their contents intact
* that is, you can't write to them, but you can still read them. Usually.
* so I think Paul's saying will still hold true: Backup, Backup, and again I say: Backup.

1 comment:

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