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Q: Optimal PC backup system with certain features ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Optimal PC backup system with certain features
Category: Computers > Hardware
Asked by: reb-ga
List Price: $18.00
Posted: 22 Dec 2002 18:00 PST
Expires: 21 Jan 2003 18:00 PST
Question ID: 132562
Please identify an outstanding personal computer backup system (mainly
the hardware); naming the type of device, brand name, and model, to satisfy
the following needs and preferences:

1) Frequent, routine or automated, backing of all user data on a PC.
The PC currently has one 40 GB Hard Drive, but a higher capacity
storage device could be useful for future PC upgrades. It has several
partitions - for operating system (Windows 2000 Professional), for
program files, and for user data. All data should fit on a single
medium, as opposed to the zip drive approach.
2) Storage of a mirror image of the hard drive to be prepared for
disaster recovery, for example using Ghost software, in addition to
the routine user data backup.
3)Backup procedure should be highly reliable and very fast and entail
minimal manual action or attendance.
4)Data stored should be easily transferable to another PC, for example
to have full use of the data at another computer while on the road. (I
understand that the full system, even on a mirror image cannot be
transplanted to another computer that is not identical, due to Windows
constraints, at least not easily. However, that would be desirable, if
it is actually possible.)
5) Direct access to selected data files rather than having to restore
the entire drive for single files.
5) Storage medium should be removeable, if possible.
6) High quality construction.
6) Average price.

An example of what I had in mind at one time is a device with
removeable external hard drives, that would allow the primary hard
drive to backed up on two or more removeable drives. The hard drives
would be exchangeable similar to floppies or zip drives. I previousy
found the idea of a hard drive docking bays interesting, but they
posed a number of complications, such as not fitting in the bay
correctly, being made of fragile plastic, problems with configurations
having to do with slave and master designations.

I am inclined more towards hard drives than tape or other storage
medium I am aware of, for their speed and convenience. An external
hard drive might be the solution, without the removeable feature, if
necessary. Last year, one of the Maxtor hard drives seemed to come
close. Some of the features noted may be software related, but please
focus on the hardware. I am interested in a new,  state-of-the-art
type of solution, but am open to suggestions in general.
Subject: Re: Optimal PC backup system with certain features
Answered By: haversian-ga on 22 Dec 2002 21:58 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hi reb-ga,

If speed is your primary criterion, a removable hard drive is probably
your best bet.  Note that hard drives are not archival media - you
should not expect a drive stored in your basement for a few years to
be real happy about it.  If you treat drives well (place in cool dry
place, etc.) and read the entire contents every year to allow the
drive's error detection and correction mechanisms to work, the drive
should last several years, perhaps 10 or so.  But you should never
trust anything you need to a single device, and preferably not to a
single medium.

For short-term backups, removable drives are quick, cheap, and easy. 
Purchase whatever drives you need for the capacity you have in mind,
and buy a removable IDE tray.  Note that you can buy IEEE1394 hard
drives but these are pretty expensive (and a bit slow) compared to a
removable hard drive.  You will need however a free 5.25" half-height
drive bay in your computer.  Something like the products here ( ) are what you'll need.  Pick
whatever mix of quality and price best suit you.

Best of luck,


Request for Answer Clarification by reb-ga on 23 Dec 2002 07:39 PST
Hello Haversian, 

Thank you for interest, but I am afraid your answer does not address
the specifics of my question. Please reread the question if you wish
to provide a satisfactory answer. Speed is not the primary criterion.
I noted the problems that I had with the removeable drives, and then
the link you show is only for the accessories, the rack, etc... with
no recommendation of a hard drive, a make, size, or model. Also, one
PC does not have a free 5.25" drive bay. Transportability is a factor
as well, as I mentioned, and I do not understand how this would work
for that that purpose. I specified that I am looking for high quality,
and prefably a recommendation from someone who knows from experience
or has researched and can understand what is the state of the art to
be able to know recommend. I was not looking for an answer that tells
me to go shop, or do the research, and pick one out. The additional
comments about where to store the drive are okay, but do not solve the
current problem.

I respect your interest in helping with the question, but it is not an
answer that I was looking for.

Clarification of Answer by haversian-ga on 23 Dec 2002 08:43 PST
Your points 1, 3, and 5 all relate to speed, so I assumed that was a
driving factor in your choice of hardware.

The rack and tray are the parts you need to make a drive removable. 
The actual choice of drive depends on personal preference - there is
little material difference in commodity IDE hard drives other than
capacity.  You noted that you have a 40GB drive which needs to be
backed up, but you may need more space in the future.  Would you like
to purchase more drive space now, or buy a 40GB drive now and replace
it with a larger one at a later date?  The optimum price point ($/GB)
for IDE drives is approximately 100-120GB right now, though smaller
drives don't carry too much of a premium.  If you want a
recommendation for a drive, I can give one, but the information you
have given does not favor one drive or another, so any drive you
purchase would be about as suitable as any other.

> Also, one PC does not have a free 5.25" drive bay.
  Do you prefer to solve that problem with a hardware, or a software
solution?  There are many software packages which allow you to backup
multiple computers on a network from a single machine.  This would
allow you to purchase a single drive bay and backup all your computers
to that one drive.  Then you could have as many removable drives as
you need (such as for 7 daily backups).  Sometime during the day you
would exchange drives and the software would automatically backup your
network at 1am or so.

>  Transportability is a factor as well, as I mentioned, and I do not
understand how this would work for that that purpose.
  The drive sleds hold a standard IDE hard drive in a cage which can
be removed from the drive bay.  The sled itself is portable.  It
provides a certain amount of environmental protection for the drive
inside.  You can carry it around like any other computer peripheral
and store it somewhere safe, away from the machines it is backing up.

> ...state of the art to be able to know recommend.
  State of the art is a dangerous term.  For 40GB of data, you aren't
even close to the state of the art, yet using that term can make your
purchasing decisions hideously expensive.

It sounds now like you are looking for more of a complete backup
strategy, rather than just some hardware that you might use.  In that
case, could you more fully describe your situation?  In particular,
how much data needs to be backed up on each machine?  How are the
machines connected?  What is your budget?  How many backups do you
need to keep?  For how long?  What operating system(s) are you using?

I apologize if I misread your post.  I was a bit confused by your
switch from "personal computer backup system" to the requirements list
you gave.  I may have been somewhat hasty in voicing a recommendation
before your needs were entirely clear.

Request for Answer Clarification by reb-ga on 23 Dec 2002 10:33 PST

100-120 GB is okay.
I am looking for primarily a hardware solution, as I stated.
I do mean "state-of-the-art" in the context in which I noted it, and
that would apply to any appropriate solution. I am not asking for a
state-of-the art rocket ship, so to speak.

Are you saying that all hard drives are the same? I am asking for
information about which is the best drive and in consideration of the
criteria I have stated, and if the recommendation involves a tray or
sled, then which is the best of these as well.

Once again, the main PC does not have a free 5 1/4" bay drive, so I
have some doubts about it being a viable solution. Also, this PC has
two CD ROM drives installed, one is rewriteable. I think using the
latter and the hard drive together may not be compatible, that is with
things having to do with master and slave positions, but if I
understand how they would be, and the installation procedure I could
reconsider that aspect. I hesitate to add, but if this is feasible,
then I wonder if this could be set up to boot from the removable drive
with the mirror image, if and when necessary. This may be where the
configuration complications occurred. Finally on that point, if this
turns out to be best solution, then I need to identify a hard-drive
plus tray combination that are compatible with each other. I tried a
number of them last year and found that many did not fit quite right
together and some not quite right with the 5 1/4" bay. The computer is
a Dell Optiplex, so it is quite standard. The trays that I saw did not
seem to be very standard.

No, I am not looking for a multiple PC complete backup system, and I
think I have provided sufficient information about the parameters -
(see Windows 2000 Professional), but am glad to clarify that 1-2
backups could be used. It is one PC whose data needs to be backed up
routinely as well as moved occasionally to another PC. The machines
are not connected. The 40 GD drive is about half full, but I envision
needing more storage space down the line.

A mirror image could be stored in one place for example, and the
second one would be for routine backup and transferring data to
another PC. A third might come in handy for both keeping a backup and
transporting, but 1-2 should be adequate. If the information you are
providing is based on a thorough familiarity of the options that are
available, then the choices seem to be an external hard drive or the
removable approach you are tending to recommend. In either case, I
need specific recommendations regarding the best product(s) on the
market, if you please and are able. (Let us say, quality of
construction, design, reliability - including its ability to preserve
the data, durability, and speed, as criteria. These are difficult to
prioritize, but I am looking for a product whose manufacturer has done
as well as or better than any others in addressing all of these
factors. I think Maxtor, Western Digital, IBM, and Seagate were the
main competing sources last time I checked. A recommendation based on
experience as well as knowledge could be best.

That is okay about the confusion, but I trust it is clear now. If not,
I am happy to respond in terms of further clarification. I do not
intend sound demanding, but would normally use the comments and
clarifications for anything that was not initially clear. I do
appreciate your interest in helping and for your attention to the


Request for Answer Clarification by reb-ga on 23 Dec 2002 17:50 PST
Just clarifying my signature - 


Clarification of Answer by haversian-ga on 24 Dec 2002 06:16 PST
That was quite a clarification.  Thanks!

Other than differences in the stated specifications, hard drives from
different manufacturers tend to be pretty much the same, yes.  Higher
end SCSI drives are a different matter, where Seagate and Fujitsu have
the lead, followed by IBM.  In the IDE market though, things are very
much commoditized, and the hardware reflects this.  Western Digital is
a smaller manufacturer than IBM or Seagate, but has done a good job
with speed and reliability.  IBM is huge and their hard drive division
has literally led the industry for many years (the heads that the
entire industry uses are a result of IBM R&D, for example), but with
competition being so cut-throat, IBM has decided to exit and sell
their IDE hard drive division to a Japanese company.  I could look up
which if you're interested.  Seagate is a big player in the SCSI
realm, but not so large in terms of IDE drives.  They do make a few,
and they're good drives, if a bit pricey.  I personally would go with
Western Digital, as their drives have been quick, reliable, and
reasonably quiet/cool for me.  There are two models available, one
with a 2MB cache, and one with an 8MB cache.  Since you will be using
these for backup, the 8MB cache drives will offer you no benefit, so I
would recommend the 2MB cache drives.  The 100GB model is called the
WD1000BB and the 120GB version is the WD1200BB (or BB-RTL, for the
retail package, which includes a cable, screws, a jumper, etc.).  The
drive can be purchased from your local Best Buy or comparable store,
or online.  If you wait for mail-in rebates, the 120GB drive is
available for $100.  If you purchase it straight out, it may cost up
to about $150.

It is beginning to look like a removable hard drive bay may not work,
even though it is otherwise a great solution.  Firewire or USB hard
drives are more expensive, but might be the only way to go.  Unless of
course you're prepared to buy SCSI peripherals.  That would be more
state of the art (and the drives would be higher quality as well), but
a 140G SCSI drive runs about $1000.

Do both of your computers have USB 2.0 (NOT 1.1) ports?  Do both of
them have Firewire ports?  Would you be willing to network your
computers for backup purposes?  We need some way to get the data off
these machines, and it has to be the same for both.  If you have
neither USB nor firewire, and are unwilling or unable to network the
machines, would you consider buying firewire or USB2 cards?  These
would take up 2 free PCI slot, and cost perhaps $50 each.

Request for Answer Clarification by reb-ga on 24 Dec 2002 08:04 PST
Hello Haversian,

Thank you. You are now really on the right track, and I think you
could probably add the advice or clarification to finalize it and not
continue to take more of your time.

IDE seems to be more appropriate than SCSI for my needs.

The main PC has USB ports (1.1). It does not have Firewire, but I have
a Firewire card purchased about a year ago. I shall consider
purchasing whichever card is best.

The other computer is not at the same location, and it actually may
vary, so I shall have to ensure that whichever machine it is, it will
have the necessary card. The computers also will therefore not be
networked. My primary objectives are to backup, store, and transport
the data from the main PC.
I accept your recommendations regarding the WD and other drives.

The remaining clarification would be what type of device? Are we
speaking about an external hard drive or anything else? The main
features that appealed to me about the removable are that drives could
be swapped, and they could be stored away from the computer, but I may
not be able to have those features unless something they exist in the
world of external drives or some other solution.

Your final recommendations would be much appreciated.


Clarification of Answer by haversian-ga on 24 Dec 2002 19:55 PST
Ok, you still have some choices.

You can go with a straight external Firewire hard drive (pick one up
at your local computer store).

You can go with a Firewire external removable drive bay, such as this
one from Granite Digital (whose removable drive bays I have no
experience with, but their SCSI products are top-notch), item number
4304 or 1095 at

You can go with an internal removable drive bay, such as this one,
also from Granite Digital, item number 4303 or 2610 at

I have emailed Granite Digital to be sure the drive trays for both of
those are interchangeable.  That would allow you to have an internal
bay in the computer which supports it, and use the external bay where
necessary.  I'll post a follow-up when I hear back.

Request for Answer Clarification by reb-ga on 25 Dec 2002 06:56 PST
Hello Haversian,

Thank you!

The external removable drive may be the solution, and I think you got
me to where I can get what I need. I am inclined to check if it is
compatible with other hard drives, for example the WD you recommended,
unless it is just as well to go with the IBM in their package.

I hope the construction is good and solid, but from some other case
kits I have seen, I am not sure I can count on that. Nevertheless, it
seems to be the functional solution I am looking for.

By "if you wait for mail-in rebates" in the previous note, did you
mean if I wait until they become available or that they are already
available and I wait during the process.

I appreciate your advice and your sticking with this through the

Good job!


Clarification of Answer by haversian-ga on 27 Dec 2002 07:56 PST
Hi again,

Ok.  Both the internal and external bays are Firewire, and they both
use the same tray, part number 6061.  That tray "holds any hard drive
mechanism" which probably means it has short ribbon cables inside to
plug into your hard drive, so slight differences in placement on
different brands of hard drive won't matter.  I wouldn't recommend
buying drives from Granite Digital.  Their products are expensive (and
usually worth it) but in the case of hard drives, theirs are the same
as anyone else's, so it makes sense to get the cheapest price you can
(within reason) elsewhere.

I've seen some flimsy removable drive bays too, and wasn't impressed
by the cheap-plastic-look of the Granite ones, but I think if they
needed metal to do a solid job, they'd use it and just charge more. 
They certainly don't have any problem doing that with their other
products, so I suspect they're solid, even if they are plastic.

By "wait..." I meant wait for the rebates to become available.  For
the past 4-6 months, the WD1200BB has had mail-in rebates at my local
Best Buy and/or CompUSA.  The most recent round brought the price down
to $101 ($210.99 - $110 MIR) each, including tax.  The cheapest price
I'm seeing online is about $150, so it makes sense to wait a bit for
the next round of rebates.

Happy New Year's

reb-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Good, effective answer and follow-through; very responsive and
addressed all issues and concerns; ensured satisfaction.

Subject: Re: Optimal PC backup system with certain features
From: vinods-ga on 22 Dec 2002 22:05 PST
(I was just about to post this as a clarification when your question
got answered! Well anyway, since I spent some time on this issue, here

Hello Reb, 

Please read this:

This issue came up a couple of weeks back with one of my friends at a
recording studio here talking about the need for a reliable back-up

Going with what you mentioned, backup systems are a bundle of hardware
and software, and both have to be reliable enough for the system as a
whole to work well.

One issue that limits choices is the amount of drive space and
throughput that you may require. The 'reliable and fool-proof' backup
systems are designed to handle massive amounts of data, running into
Terabytes. Most research seems to be heading in that direction since
that is where the big money is and the 'real' need is. For small data
users like you and me (and my friend at the studio!) not many great
new options seem to come up. For example, please have a look at the
Storagetek site [ ] - all solutions have
advanced I/O options (fibre channel) and large disk capacities running
into Terabytes.

When I was designing a fibre-channel based SAN for a TV station last
year, such solutions could be considered. The data would run into
Terabytes, and my backup and retrieval system had to also account for
archiving. Therefore the solution of using a Fibre channel-based disk
array like a NAS box with a DVD-RAM-based archiving solution was
possible. The costs involved are way, way out of reach of small
players like us! (Also, I believe we don't need THAT kind of space and

We have new I/O options like Firewire. However, a Firewire drive is
just an IDE drive in a cabinet with a small IDE<->Firewire conversion
circuit! So in my humble opinion, until and unless the basic unit of
data storage becomes more reliable, it is difficult to expect
miracles! I am not being sceptical here, only realistic.

Considering the above issues, you are left with the basic, standard
practises –RAID for example. RAID arrays seem to be the only choice at
the moment. If you feel my approach is okay with you, I can furnish
more information about RAID arrays and look for some solutions in the
market. Preliminarily, IDE RAID arrays are external, portable enough
to be transported if required, and easy enough to configure and run.
The throughput should be good enough for any standard operation (I
have seen these babies being used for video editing at times!) and the
reliability factor - well - depends on the reliability of the drives
within, but by nature of the RAID configuration, chances of data-loss
due to disk malfunction can be minimized.

Please do let me know your opinions. 

warm regards 
Subject: Re: Optimal PC backup system with certain features
From: blokje-ga on 28 Feb 2004 01:37 PST
i read all articles and can imagine that is an
excellent solution.



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