Building a Backup Drive
Call me old fashioned, or careful, but I like having a data backup that I can feel and touch. And when your talking about backup, redundancy is key. Redundancy is key. Redundancy is key. You can never have too many backups, only too few. For the past 12-15 years I have been using External Hard Drives to backup my critical stuff. Stuff that I would prefer to keep for the rest of my life, for my heirs to do with as they choose. These drives stood next to me on my desk at work, or at home, only being turned on when I was reminded to do a backup, or on occasion when I needed to retrieve something. So we can all agree, they saw light duty, compared to say my Micron/MPC laptop, a desktop replacement, that was typically on 12-15 hours a day, seven days a week (the owner of my company was very demanding). The first drive, a Maxtor, lasted a little more than a year (just out of warranty). At least it gave me a warning, literally grinding in its red plastic case. I was able to retrieve all of my data, backed up to my overworked laptop. I decided that backups were more important than money, and went for the Porsche of its a time, a LaCie Backup Drive. I think the first one was 80G, then 128G, then 256G. Yeah, each one of those nice looking aluminum babies lasted me about 4 years, despite never moving from the edge of the desk, always being in a climate controlled atmosphere, and only being turned on for a few hours every few weeks. My latest LaCie wouldn’t connect to my desktop a couple weeks ago. Generally an early warning sign to go out and spend another $150 ( more than $300 back then) on another LaCie. I was growing tired of backups that couldn’t reliably backup.
Knowing that the end was near, I started searching for a new backup drive, but after 24 years (floppys before that) I was fed up with mechanical hard drives. so I started searching for a solid state drive. The magical SSD. But to my dismay, I couldn’t find anyone offering an external SSD that would sit in an enclosure on my desk alongside my monitor as my LaCie’s have done for more than a decade. They were these portable thingys, about the size of a woman’s compact case that connected with a USB micro plug. I don’t want to carry my life’s stuff in my shirt pocket. I want it safely stowed where it has always been safely stowed. Then a coworker (an Apple guy, former Genius Bar guy) suggested I get an External Drive enclosure, slip an internal SSD in that baby, connect it to a SATA III port, and I would be golden. I could have hugged that evil Apple bastard. He had a good idea.
Finding the SSD was easy. My second Windows computer (the first was custom built – I think $2,800) was a Micron. Every subsequent desktop/laptop after that was a Micron, and eventually MPC. Everyone in my family used Micron/MPC (I bought most of them as gifts). I made my former employer switch from Compaq to Micron/MPC. My own business only used MPC. So I was either going to get a Crucial (Micron) SSD, or nothing. I settled on a 512GB, which was twice the size of my retired LaCie. My desktop hard drive is 1TB, which is much more than I will ever use or need, but that’s today’s minimum spec. I don’t save everything. I don’t ghost my drive. As mentioned, my backup is for irreplaceable photos and videos, some original music, downloaded programs that are hard to replace, financial information, and other things important to me. Everything else on my hard drive is only a few clicks away, thanks to the Internet.
The next step was to find a suitable enclosure for my 2.5” internal SSD. I knew that any enclosure would be for a full sized 3.5” drive, but adapter sleds are easy enough to find, so I wasn’t concerned. One of my requirements was to have the ability to turn the drive on and off, without having to plug/unplug a cable. I found several with internal fans. Not a critical requirement for a cool running 2.5” SSD, but still nice. Reviews were mixed on almost every model I looked at. Some were only USB 2.0 or SATA II. I finally settled on a StarTech USB 3.0 SATA III Upright 3.5” HDD Enclosure with USAP (whatever that is) and Built-In Fan. I also added in a StarTech 2.5” to 3.5” Adapter for good measure and clicked the Buy button on Amazon. Total of $274, about what I paid for my first LaCie. The StarTech has an on/off switch for the fan, as well as an on/off switch for the unit. I have something called a Kingston MasterPiecePlus that my monitor sits atop. It has four ports for three prong plugs in the back. So it’s basically a glorified power strip, but on the front there are buttons (and lights) to control each port. Think I have had this for about 20 years. They don’t make em’ like the used to. So I can easily turn my External Drive on and off without reaching for buttons.
After reading about SATA III PCI cards and how some drives work and some don’t with the cards, I decided to forgo the 1Gbit of speed and stick with USB 3.0 , which is already part of my Asus desktop (5Gbit/s vs. 6Gbit/s for SATA III). When everything arrived (don’t you love Amazon Prime) I was eager to get my new drive up and running. The day before I had already offloaded everything essential on my old LaCie drive, so it didn’t need to be turned back on. The StarTech opens with two screws. Some reviewers stated that a 3.5” drive can be a tight fit so you need to be careful when installing. But as I was using it with a 2.5” drive I had no worries. Looking at the 2.5” to 3.5” adapter I knew I had a problem. Although I could secure it in the enclosure and secure the drive to the adapter, the SATA plug would then be centered in the adapter, although the SATA port in the enclosure was bottom right. So I would need to use the heavy cable that came with the kit. Everything wouldn’t fit. So I tried sliding the SSD directly into the SATA port of the enclosure and it fit like a glove (much better than OJ’s). Now, my only challenge was to fill the void to make sure the drive would stay secure. Unlike a mechanical hard drive, nothing is moving or vibrating in the SSD, and the enclosure orients the drive facing down, towards the SATA port when standing up. So there was little chance the drive would work itself out, but I wanted to be sure. I cut a 2” block of wood for the back of the drive to keep it from backing out of the SATA port, and added some foam to squeeze the drive in place, so it couldn’t wobble. Plugged it in, configured the drive through Computer Management, formatted and I was good to go. The blue light on the front is super cool, flashing when the drive is accessed. When I power it on, it takes about 4-5 seconds for the light to come on and get the dingle from my PC that the SSD is ready for work. The fan sucks air into the enclosure, blowing across the drive.
I use a simple batch file for my backups, selecting appropriate folders from my C drive to backup. After the backup is complete I rename it to the current date, usually retaining the last two backups. Typically, I will do a backup once a month, Although Quicken might nag me to do one more often. After losing about 3 weeks of data when I crashed my very old MPC desktop, with RAID drives, trying to upgrade to Windows 8 in 2012, I never argue with Quicken and perform the backup to my external drive when asked (told) to do so. I moved all the files I had offloaded from my LaCie to the new Crucial drive and also ran a backup, although it wasn’t complete, as I missed a couple folders and had a typo for another. I did a second backup today; a full 71.7GB, 1,662 folder, 18,226 files in 11 minutes. Or about 890 Mbit/s, about twice the optimal speed of USB 2.0 (480Mbit/s). Yeah, I was happy. I now have a portable external backup drive that I can power on and off with the push of a button, and can snatch off my desk in case of a zombie invasion, or maybe a hurricane, in an instant. As it should be.
Not sure how long this little SSD is going to last. Some stress tests say several human lifetimes. Others say less than a conventional hard drive, although I find that hard to imagine. I’ll continue to do redundant backups for my most critical data, but I think I will sleep better tonight knowing that my stuff is safe and secure.