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Make Backups, Avoid Crack-Ups

You’re backing up all your data…right?

If you’re not, you should be.  These days, your critical documents, family photos and entertainment collection all live on your computer’s hard drive — a hard-working and reliable little device that nevertheless has (according to a 2007 study by Google) a 3% annual failure rate when it’s brand-new — that’s right, every year, on average, 3 out of every 100 new hard drives fails…and it only gets worse as drives age.  With professional data recovery costing up to $1,000 (or more), it’s just not an option to take any chances!

No need to panic — the good news is that backup software, once costly and complicated, is now very cost-effective and easy to use, while external hard drives are now available in sizes of up to 3 terabytes (that’s about 3,000 gigabytes) for less than $300.  There’s really no reason why you shouldn’t have a backup solution in place…these days, the challenge lies in picking the backup solution that’s right for you.

An important consideration is the ease of restoring your data from a backup — the more critical the data is to you, the easier and faster you’ll want to be able to retrieve it (and it should be easy for you to find the right version of a file among your archives). Also, in the event of a total drive failure, you’ll want to be able to restore your entire system to a new drive.

Let’s take a look at a couple of software solutions that do a good job of meeting these basic backup needs, one for Mac, the other for Windows (we’ll talk hard drives in just a bit):

  • For Mac, we recommend Apple’s Time Machine, which has been built into OS X since Snow Leopard (for free with your OS).  Time Machine makes it easy to set up automatic backups of your entire system — system files, photos, music, movies, documents…everything!  Time Machine backs up your files every hour for the past 24 hours, every day for the past month, and every week for everything older than a month, until your backup drive fills up…at which point Time Machine is smart enough to through out the oldest weekly backup to make room.  You can restore your system from scratch (note that you’ll need your OS X installer DVD).  The neatest thing about Time Machine, though, is its user interface, which lets you graphically zoom forward and backward in time through your Finder windows.
  • For Windows, we recommend Acronis True Image Home 2012 with the Plus Pack add-on ($79.98 per computer for both).  True Image backs up your disk, including applications and Windows Registry data, in an “image” format that allows you to restore your system from backups to its original state in minutes, no reinstallations required!  And the Plus Pack add-on gives you the ability to recover your system to an entirely different computer, regardless of its make, model or installed components, which can be handy in emergency situations or when you’re upgrading your PC.

Okay, onto hardware!  As we mentioned above, hard drives prices are lower now than they’ve ever been.  But don’t just go for the cheapest option you see — it’s important to pick an external drive with the right capacity, rotation speed, interface and redundancy options:

  1. Capacity: Your backup drive should be at least as big as your system drive, but we suggest you double or triple up, to make room for more archives.  So, if your disc(s) to be backed up total 1 TB (one terabyte) in size, go for a 2 TB or 3 TB backup drive.
  2. Rotation Speed: The faster your drive’s discs spin, the faster it can write and read data; we recommend going for a 7,200 RPM drive over the pokier 5,400 RPM varieties if you think you’ll need to recover lots of data quickly — but if you’re in no hurry, a slower drive is more cost-effective and just as reliable for backups.
  3. Interfaces: This is where it gets just a bit tricky — there’s more than one way to connect an external hard drive to a computer, and not every option is available for every computer.  If you’re a Mac user, it’s FireWire 800 all the way…this interface can handle a lot more data than USB.  But if you’re a PC user, you’ll probably have to go with USB 2.0 (a step up from the original USB 1 standard) or the brand-new USB 3.0.  Some external drives support network access over ethernet or Wi-Fi.  And if you have a real need for speed, there’s also eSATA, but that interface requires an expansion card, and is beyond the scope of this post.
  4. Redundancy: What’s better than a backup disc?  Why, two of them, of course!  It’s a good idea to have a backup of your backups, and the easiest way to do this is to use a mirrored dual-drive system.  In this setup, two physically identical hard drives coexist in a single case, with each drive being an exact copy of the other; should one drive fail, the other serves as its backup.

Here at Island, we have a few “go-to” backup drive solutions that we rely upon on a daily basis, and which we recommend to our customers (all of the below solutions feature 7,200 RPM hard drives):

  • Apple Time Capsule — Available in both 2 TB and 3 TB models, Time Capsules combine the simplicity and power of Apple’s AirPort Extreme wireless routers with a big backup drive that can be accessed via Wi-Fi and/or connected directly to your computer or network via ethernet.
  • OWC Mercury Elite Pro “Quad Interface” — Available in various sizes (including 1, 2 and 3 TB models), the Mercury Elite Pro supports FireWire 800 & 400, USB 2.0 & 1.1, and eSATA interfaces, making it handy for Mac and PC use.
  • NewerTech Guardian MAXimus — This “mirrored” dual-drive system is available in various sizes (including 1, 2 and 3 TB models), giving you the peace of mind that only a redundant drive solution can provide.  And it also features a “quad” interface (with added USB 3.0 support)!

Regardless of which hardware and software solutions you choose to back up your digital assets, the bottom line is that, if you’re not already backing up your computers, you need to make the jump now, before it’s too late.

As always, Island Technologies is here to help, with technical support services and competitive pricing on hardware and software.  Get on track and you won’t have to worry about getting your data back!

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