Thursday, 16 June, 2005

External hard drives and backup software

When we decided to replace our desktop machines at home with laptops, Debra was concerned about carrying around a computer that has all of our financial data on it.  To prevent that, and to provide a convenient backup mechanism, we purchased a 120 GB Western Digital external USB hard drive.  Problem solved.  Quicken is on the laptop and its data is stored on the external drive.  Plus, with regular backups we only out the cost of the hardware if we somehow lose the computer.

My original intention was to back up my laptop on one of my desktop machines.  That turned out to be a real pain in the neck, and I'm trying to get rid of the desktops.  They create way too much heat and noise.  So today I went down to Fry's and picked up an Iomega 160 GB drive.  Less than a buck a gigabyte for an external drive is just amazing.

The Iomega drive has a very annoying feature:  it turns on automatically when it sees a signal on the USB port.  So if it's plugged into my laptop when I power up, the drive comes on.  That wouldn't be so bad, I guess, except that then I can't turn it off.  Windows XP tells me that the device cannot be stopped, and hitting the power switch on the drive has no effect.  This isn't much of a problem in practice because I only use the drive for backups.  The only time it is a problem is when I finish a backup and want to disconnect the drive.  Since I have no way of knowing how long Windows is going to hold on to its buffer before flushing it to the drive, I have to restart my computer before I can turn the drive off.  I'll keep the drive now that I've written data to it, but I probably won't buy another Iomega unless I can find a way around this problem.

Both of these drives, by the way, come with backup software.  In theory this is a good thing.  In practice, it stinks.  I learned a long time ago that hardware manufacturers' software stinks.  I'll never understand why hardware manufacturers continue to provide such crap utility software with their products rather than licensing something that's actually useful.  I especially dislike the Western Digital software because it writes the backup files in a compressed format that can be read only by that backup software.  At least Iomega's software gives me the option to write real files to the disk.  Sure, writing compressed files saves space.  But at the expense of portability.  I'd rather be able to take the drive to any computer and read the files directly rather than having to track down the backup utility and install it.  And with 160 gigabytes I won't be running out of space on my backup volume any time soon.

I'm in the market for some good backup software.  Any suggestions?