I know, I know—this is a week late. And no, I don’t actually have anything better to do on Thanksgiving morning.
The reason this is late is the same reason I didn’t back up my own data last week at this time: I was visiting my family in Cleveland. The laptop came with me, of course, but bringing the ZIP drive would have required another piece of luggage. And I had only a dial-up connection while I was away, which is not very useful for doing extensive online research into backup esoterica.
In my last newsletter, I promised to provide information on the difference between drive mirrors and drive copies. For drive mirrors, see more below.
So here I am back at home searching for what may be the Holy Grail: a backup or copy of your hard drive that you can use on another computer.
Drive imaging software like Norton Ghost creates a “clone” or “mirror” of your hard drive onto an external hard drive or a set of CDs/DVDs. This means that if something goes wrong with your drive, you can restore the whole thing from the mirror rather than starting your installation over from the OS (last clocked in at 11+ hours).
This is a very good thing. However, there’s one little problem with this: you can only restore a drive image onto the same hardware you made it from, or an exact duplicate.
This doesn’t help much if you have a physical drive failure and you have to send your hard drive (or indeed your entire machine) back to the manufacturer for a week or so to get a replacement. You can’t restore your drive image onto the computer that you rent so you can keep working while your main machine is gone, unless it happens to be an exact duplicate of the original, which is fairly unlikely.
The ideal thing would be to have a backup of your hard drive that you could connect to another machine, or use in place of your original hard drive, and run just as if you were using the machine which just got fried or stolen.
Unfortunately, reliable authorities inform me that this is impossible, at least with Windows. (And before you Mac people get too excited, the same is true for Macs.) In essence, if we want that kind of simplicity, we need to start running Linux, which I’m not ready to do.
Okay, so what’s the next best thing?
Make sure you have all of your data backed up in a format that doesn’t depend on the hardware or OS you’re using to access it. Normal methods of making CDs and DVDs (and ZIPs and floppies, though both are becoming increasingly less common) work fine for this. So does just dragging and dropping files like Word documents or images onto your XHD through Windows Explorer.
You may also be able to access the files you have in your drive mirror from another computer if that computer has your drive imaging software on it. But before you rely on this alone, check it out—take your software install disks and your XHD over to a friend’s computer, plug it in, and try to access the data. If you can get your files out, you don’t need to make a secondary backup (though you might want to anyway).
And what about drive copies? A drive copy utility is designed to help you upgrade from one hard drive to another—usually internal hard drives on desktop computers. Many of the drive mirror software programs have a drive copy utility. Making the copy involves opening up your machine and switching around some connectors. At the end of the procedure, you take the old drive out and use the new drive instead, and the only difference you notice is that you now have more storage space. This can save you time when you’re upgrading, but you probably don’t want to do it every week as a backup technique, and again, it assumes that the rest of your hardware will stay the same.
I did see one very tempting combination hardware/software product, the CMS ABSplus, which claims you can actually stick it into your laptop in place of your existing drive in the event of total drive failure. (Kids, don’t try this at home—at least not if your warranty is still valid.) Indeed, its own advertising makes it sound almost like the Holy Grail discussed above, since it claims you can access your files from any computer. Whether it’s actually superior to other drive backup/XHD combinations remains to be seen. If I give in to temptation and purchase one, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.
More backup news next week,