New backup method

For many many years now, I’ve had a tiered approach to backups. On one tier, I do automatic nightly backups from one hard drive to the other, protecting against drive failure and accidental deletion. On the next tier, I have done manual monthly backups to DVD-RWs (and CD-RWs before that), protecting against power surges, malware that may corrupt all attached disks, and physical damage to the computer. On the last tier, I do manual yearly backups to DVD-Rs, which are then stored off-site, protecting against fire, flood, and natural disaster. I pretty much have all my bases covered.

Except for the troublesome middle tier — the DVD-RW backups. Since I do it every month maually, I don’t want it to be too involved or take too much time. So, to cut down on the number of discs required I’ve usually just backed up my regular data, minus music and movies. That cuts it down a lot. But, even that subset has grown and recently has spanned 4 DVDs, which is just time-consuming to do every month. I had a similar problem several years ago when I used to back up to CDs, which prompted me to move to DVDs. Logically, I could progress now to Blu-Ray discs, but I think history is telling me that moving to new media will only buy me a couple years before I exceed the capacity again. It’s a flawed process.

So, I recently decided to switch my middle-tier backups to a big external hard drive instead. This way, I can do a full backup every month (rather than a subset), and all I have to do is start the backup process, and then let it go. No switching of media. And it’s important to note that this external hard drive will always be disconnected from the computer, sitting in a drawer, so it is as safe as the DVD-RWs. The whole point of this backup tier is to be easily accessible, but generally disconnected, and this still satisfies this requirement.

You can buy pre-made external hard drives, but after much research I decided that it was more cost-effective to build my own, not to mention that doing so means I can get more capacity, and in the future it is easier to upgrade just the drive if needed. Plus, I like building stuff myself.

For the external enclosure, I decided on a Rosewill Aluminum 3.5″ SATA-to-USB enclosure. It’s made of aluminum, which helps dissipate heat generated by the drive, and had overall very good reviews on NewEgg. External enclosures can be a hit-or-miss category, and this particular one seems to be a best-of-breed component.

For the hard drive itself, there was a lot of drama. I had initially decided on a 500GB Seagate drive. I’ve always been a big fan of Seagate, historically they seem to make the highest-quality drives. However, in the last month or so they’ve been having many firmware issues with a particular subset of their drives, and this 500GB model was within that subset. As I was deciding on hard drives, Seagate had yet to resolve the issues they were having with this drive. So, I decided on a 320GB Seagate model, which was unaffected by the firmware issue. However, looking at the reviews on NewEgg, an amazing 40% of the reviews were 1-star, and they all were experiencing the same issues — drive completely dies within 2 months or so. You expect some reasonable failure rate — maybe 5% — but having 40% of reviewers report failure is amazing. So, that drive was out.

I finally decided on a 640GB Western Digital drive, which actually cost the same as the 320GB Seagate. It’s been a long time since I’ve owned a Western Digital drive, but they really seemed like the best option right now. Maybe they will become the new Seagate in terms of reliability, or maybe Seagate will recover from this.

At any rate, the external hard drive assembled very easily, and seems to be working great so far. I’ve added a new page to this site of “Shared Resources“, which allows me to show and track components which aren’t really a part of any one computer, but are shared amongst several, such as this drive.

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