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  • OT: External hard drives and back-up routines

    A) External hard drives seem to be all the rage these days. I will be swapping out my old slow house computer with one of the faster ones from the shop and am considering going with an external drive.

    The "faster" machine has USB2 ports but I have no idea if USB ports are speed rated or not. My concern is speed with an external drive hooked through a USB port.

    1. Is an external drive appreciably slower than an internal drive?

    2. Any other pointers on external drives?


    B) Back-up routines: I also need to establish some sort of back-up routine (preferably automated) when I do the house computer upgrade. The current drive in the house computer is 80g and has both programs and data files on it. This machine has been in use for many years and this particular drive has never been backed-up. Yes, I know, bad Wayne.

    1. What type of data back up routines do you guys use?

    2. Is it best to back-up all the program and data files or just data files. Or maybe have some sort of ladder system where you back-up data files nightly, and the whole drive monthly, or something like that?

    3. What about off-site, or storage in a home safe?


    C) XP pro and the mother ship:
    The current 80g drive in the slow house computer is a bloated mess. It is clogged with old files, 50 running processes, etc.

    My plan is to purchase a new drive for the newer computer and set-up that computer next to the old one in the house. That will allow the two systems to run in parallel while I load software onto the new machine, transfer data over etc. Once I'm confident that I have all the important stuff on the new machine/drive, I can wipe the 80g drive in the old machine, then transfer the wiped 80g drive over to the new machine as a second drive... if that made any sense.

    1. I'm running xp pro on the old machine right now and will be installing xp pro on the new machine as well (have the disk, key code etc). Is it possible to run the same copy of xp on two different machines for a period of time, or will MS send the software police to my door?

    Thanks
    Wayne

  • #2
    I have an old computer running linux that serves as my file server among other things using samba for windows file sharing.
    For you, if you only have an 80gb hard drive, you could probably just make an image of your drive and put it on an external drive. I've never tried this with XP but if it works, would be the way to go for a total system backup. What I do is backup my important files like my photos. I have one set on the computer, 2nd set as backup on the file server. Once I get to a point, I offload the files off my computer onto DVD's for backup and leave them on the file server under an archive folder.
    If you want utmost in speed, I would buy Serial ATA controller card with external ports and buy a Hard drive enclosure for SATA hard drives, connect them with the external SATA cable. Certainly faster than USB 2.0.
    USB 1.0, 1.1, forget about it, way tooo slow. Firewire is another option. If you use dual external SATA drives in an enclosure, perhaps you should look at a SATA card that will do RAID, Run RAID 1 for mirroring, each external drive will mirror the other so if one goes dead, you dont lose anything.
    Ofcourse if your tower has room inside it, dont even need external storage.

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    • #3
      USB 2.0 is faster than a hard drive. It has a maximum transfer rate of about 48 megabytes per second. It won't bottleneck the performance as long as it isn't sharing the controller with another USB device. Each pair of USB ports has a separate controller.

      It's easy to make a disk image of a drive, any drive. Norton Ghost does a good job and can be had for little or nothing. It is often included for free on motherboard driver disks.
      Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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      • #4
        1. I'm running xp pro on the old machine right now and will be installing xp pro on the new machine as well (have the disk, key code etc). Is it possible to run the same copy of xp on two different machines for a period of time, or will MS send the software police to my door?
        Here is a little secret that MS doesn't want you to know. To avoid too many problems with customers the Product Activation scheme in XP will allow multiple installations under one condition. It must be more than 180 days since the last time that particular product key was used to activate an installation up to a maximum of three times.
        Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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        • #5
          Anectotally speaking, I haven't found that USB is as fast as a "normal" hard disk. If USB is as fast as Evan says, then the bottle neck must be the controller on one or both ends. YMMV.

          I'd have to second Bill's comment - a fast way to get a total backup is to "ghost" the disk. Buy another drive of equal or larger size, and just copy everything over. The upside is that recovery (at least to the point of your latest backup) is easy and complete. The downside is that, depending on your hardware's physical configuration, doing the backups can be a hassle. It'd be best to have a slot for a removable drive.

          When we were installing Linux servers on customer sites in my previous job, we couldn't necessarily count on the customers having the discipline (or time?) to do regular backups. So we installed RAID controllers and put two drives in every server in a "mirror" configuration. There was no speed penalty (the controller took care of everything) and if one disk failed, you found out, replaced it, and "re-mirrored" it. Upside is that it's completely automatic, and recovery from a disaster (aside from complete destruction of the computer) is also easy and complete, and always up to date. Downside is the expense of the RAID controller and the additional disk, although I've seen motherboards with RAID controllers built into the chipset. (example: Biostar Socket 754 Micro ATX MB, p/n K8M800-M7A)

          Both of the above have the additional downside of having to mess with hardware in a recovery situation, and the expense, however little, of an additional drive.

          Now at home, I'm usually too lazy and cheap for either of the above. From time to time, I back up (data only) to either cdrom or dvd, depending on what drive is in the machine. Programs can get really fat, but I just don't generate that much data, and backing up the data only is easy, if you know where to look for it. Programs would just have to get reinstalled. I have a fire-resistant safe where I keep backups. It's not a completely failsafe procedure, but it's an acceptable risk to me.

          -Mark
          Last edited by Wirecutter; 08-11-2006, 02:16 PM.
          The curse of having precise measuring tools is being able to actually see how imperfect everything is.

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          • #6
            There is a big downside to using a RAID mirror configuration. If the machine locks up or is shut down improperly it is likely that the data on the drives won't match. This means when it is rebooted it will need to synchronize the drives. Depending on the size of the drives this can take quite a while, more than a few minutes. I have sold RAID mirror systems to customers and they hate that part. I usually sell systems with two separate drives not in RAID and I put a batch file on the desktop that invokes a reboot and uses Ghost to image the drive. They can use this at the end of the day and leave it.
            Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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            • #7
              My definition of a backup: the copy of your data you didn't get around to making before you lost the hard drive.

              Been there, didn't like it.

              What I do now is this: for daily/ephemeral data I run a scheduled task every day that uses robocopy to push all the changed data files over to a second hard drive in the computer. That keeps current data in two spots.

              I also have two spare hard drives that I periodically reimage with Ghost. The nice thing with that is if the main drive dies, I can drop one of the spares in (they stay on the shelf) and it immediately comes back up, though of course it is as of the date of the last image. I can then use the secondary drive to copy the data files back over to the clone drive.

              Though I don't do the clones as often as I should, I do at least try to do one after installing software so the changes/patches/updates won't have to be redone if I have to swap to a clone.

              Bringing up a drive with a fresh OS install is such a chore, especially if all your dial-up/DSL config info was safely stored on the dead drive.

              Oh yes, I also have an external USB drive, and I usually have copies of the last couple of Ghost images stored on that. And when I think of it I'll plug it in and copy over all the data files too, just to have another copy of them somewhere. Drives are relatively inexpensive these days, so having some redundancy isn't too expensive. Having a pro attempt to recover data from a seriously hosed drive can easily run in the thousands of dollars.

              cheers,
              Michael

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Evan
                There is a big downside to using a RAID mirror configuration. If the machine locks up or is shut down improperly it is likely that the data on the drives won't match.
                You're absolutely right Evan. You reminded me of a couple of other parts to the story. First, these were Linux boxes containing a big psql database. These Linux boxes and the accompanying software were far more robust that similarly capable Windoze boxes. Losing data, and even uptime, was a big hassle. Therefore, they ran on a UPS. The UPS daemon was configured so that it would "wall" (write all) consoles that the power was out and the system was shutting down in 5 minutes. If the power came back, the shutdown was cancelled. If the power stayed out, an orderly shutdown would occur. The system would have to be restarted manually when power was restored. (No big deal - just hit the "on" switch) The UPS was sized to be able to power the machine for at least 20 minutes, as a margin of safety.

                The result was that, with between 100-200 servers deployed all over the country, no customer ever lost data due to crash, power outage, or hardware failure during the 3 years I was working this project. We only had about 5 hard drive failures, which seems low. Maybe because these systems were always on, maybe despite that they were always on. We also never had a building burn down, which also would negate the benefit of RAID. In later days, after a customer was burgled, regularly scheduled automatic data backups were implemented, which sent data over the network to an offsite location. (A stolen server would otherwise also mean lost data, raid or not. Good thing that server wasn't stolen, but it was a warning.)

                Anyway, a proper functioning UPS was the other critical component.

                -Mark
                The curse of having precise measuring tools is being able to actually see how imperfect everything is.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Michael Moore
                  Bringing up a drive with a fresh OS install is such a chore, especially if all your dial-up/DSL config info was safely stored on the dead drive.
                  That's what I'm dreading as well. It's just that this drive has so much accumulated garbage on it I thought a complete wipe would be good (the drive works fine, just really, really cluttered).

                  Not sure what would be less troublesome, just putting this drive in the new computer and trying to clean it up manually, file by file, or wiping it and re-installing all software and data?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I did a bit of cleanup at one time and I found that I had copy after copy of some things where it had been easier to grab **everything** (including copies of copies) when I felt the need to save something or move the contents of some old drives over to a new one (pre Ghost). After a while you end up with a significant amount of duplication.

                    But that can be fairly easy to spot as you'll have folders of the same name scattered around, and you can delete the old ones.

                    I'd suggest cleaning up what you can and then do a virus/malware scan and a defrag/optimization of the disk. If you feel lucky you can try pruning some old stuff out of the registry. After doing your best reasonable job don't worry about it as memory is getting cheaper by the day.

                    A nice thing about cloning the existing drive is that, if running XP, you don't have to do hours of "automatic update" to bring the OS back to a current state. This is also helpful when you've found, as I have, that some non-critical updates will break some other software (I've run into this with Rhino, as MS would change some DLL (video driver related I think) and cause Rhino to crash).

                    If you are putting the drive back in the same computer, the registry on the clone sees the same hardware it is expecting so there's no reauthorization needed - it doesn't know there's been a drive swap.

                    Once you've done that you can fiddle around with a different drive and fresh installs etc if you really want to. But if the clutter is mostly data files (which is the case on mine) it shouldn't be making much of an impact on how the PC runs - that is more a problem with virus/malware or old software that you don't use that is still loading stuff on startup or deleted software that didn't clean up very well on the way out, etc etc.

                    There seems to be a lot of software that is really grabby when it comes to system resources, and they often want to install themselves so the are loaded on startup, instead of when you actually want to use it. You might look to see what IS loading on startup as you may be able to disable some of that and free up systems resources. Do a recovery point before you start experimenting and you should be able to put things back they way they were if you go too far.

                    cheers,
                    Michael

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Michael Moore
                      If you are putting the drive back in the same computer, the registry on the clone sees the same hardware it is expecting so there's no reauthorization needed - it doesn't know there's been a drive swap.
                      The drive would be going into a different computer. Don't know how xp is going to deal with that.

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                      • #12
                        XP is pretty good about hardware changes. Unlike Win98 it won't have a heart attack when everything changes. However, if it doesn't recognize and install drivers for the network card then do that as the very first thing. If it decides that it needs to be activated again and you have no network you can get in a position where on the next reboot it won't let you continue to use it without activation first. Then you have a chicken-egg problem if you don't have net access and you will have to phone and hold a very uninteresting conversation with a MS DF robot.

                        edit

                        I forgot to mention, you can make the activation system a lot more tolerant of changes to the hardware by telling XP that it is on a laptop, even if it isn't. Right clik my computer>properties>hardware>hardware profiles>properties and select "This is a portable computer"
                        Last edited by Evan; 08-11-2006, 07:09 PM.
                        Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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                        • #13
                          Almost all the ext HD are sold with appended software, some better than others that can automate the backup process. You might try exploring the web sites for PC Magazine (www.pcmag.com) , PC World (www.pcworld.com) and Computer Shopper (www.computershopper.com)
                          for recent articles comparing ext HD and their appended software bundles.
                          Some of these have 'buttons' you punch to initiate a backup where you define what you want backed up: all, data only , new data only etc.
                          As others have pointed out, images are nice but you really dont need 15 copies of the operating system and MS Works and all your other programs,
                          you need a couple and a rescue DVD and data backup.
                          Steve
                          Steve

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Wayne02
                            My plan is to purchase a new drive for the newer computer and set-up that computer next to the old one in the house. That will allow the two systems to run in parallel while I load software onto the new machine, transfer data over etc. Once I'm confident that I have all the important stuff on the new machine/drive, I can wipe the 80g drive in the old machine, then transfer the wiped 80g drive over to the new machine as a second drive... if that made any sense.
                            Buy a MAXTOR 250 GB ATA drive (99$ on sale at Futile Shop). It comes with software to clone your original drive, and make the new drive the boot drive. On restart you simply change the jumper on your original drive to slave and you are ready to go in minutes...

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Evan
                              USB 2.0 is faster than a hard drive. It has a maximum transfer rate of about 48 megabytes per second. It won't bottleneck the performance as long as it isn't sharing the controller with another USB device. Each pair of USB ports has a separate controller.

                              Not entirely true, my external Seagate 300GB USB 2.0 drive cannot keep up when I'm backing up my data. Of course I'm backing up 8 36GB 10k rpm Ultra 320 SCSI drives in RAID 5, they're average transfer rate is about 80MB/s according to the benchmarking utilities I've run. The newer faster SATA drives are all faster than 48MB/s a second with the WD Raptor taking the top prize I believe. Isn't there a next gen Firewire due out sometime soon?

                              On the topic of data security, I recently upgraded from one old server to two newer ones at work and set up FRS (file replicatication service), used to be DFS (distributed file system) under win2k server. I'm running both machines with SCSI RAID 5 for data and SATA RAID 1 for the OS and programs. The main data folder on the servers is running DFS and it's fantastic, no more alerting users that I'm shutting down a server for updates or other reasons, the whole system is transparent to the users who see only a mild slowdown while one server figures out that the other is offline. The servers and my workstation are connected by gigabit lan while the clients are 100mb, the server drives easily overpower the network.

                              I'm waiting for 5.25 hot swap enclosures for SATA, these would be the ultimate in backup solutions for most users.

                              I also recommend storing critical backups like financial data, family photos etc. offsite. I burn mine onto DVD and lock them in my desk at work. The work data backups to DVD are kept in a safety deposit box. In the event of fire or theft the data is still available. I've been toying with figuring out and easy way to install the old company server hear at home and connect it as an "online" backup machine so the comapny servers could backup to it after I've gone to bed.
                              Last edited by rsr911; 08-12-2006, 01:06 AM.

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