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 Post subject: On backups, blistering hot external hard drives, and eSATA
PostPosted: Wed Jan 28, 2009 4:16 am 
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Backup NOW!

I'm a sucker for backups. As far as I can remember, I was always fumbling with tape drives, DAT drives, or one kind of removable media or another.

Unfortunately tape drives are excruciatingly slow, tend to break down frequently (especially if you use them daily like I did) or get their read/write heads clogged with magnetic debris, and capacity was never able to keep up with hard disk evolution. Then you are left with a bunch of useless tapes that no other tape drive can read.

Still, if there is one thing you can be certain of, is that no hard disk will last forever. They will ALL fail - sooner or later. With luck, they will fail after having already been replaced with a shiny brand new disk two times faster and with ten times more capacity, but - sometimes - they fail while you are still using them to store your precious data.

Hard disks, even brand new ones, can fail for a variety of reasons: mechanical, electrical, thermal, etc... There are plenty of sad horror stories on the net about people who lost all the unique digital photographs of their new born babies, late parents, the book they were working on for over an year, etc, all due to an unexpected hard drive failure.

Your data is priceless. It is irreplaceable. Think about it: if your hard disk died right now, in this precise moment, and you had no backups, what would be forever lost to you? How important is your data to you?

I'm particularly vulnerable. If I lost all my source code, I could probably do it all over again from memory, but it would take me a long while to recover. Probably too long for Winstep to survive. Look at what happened to Netscape all those years ago: they decided to re-do their browser code from scratch and it took them so long that, by the time they finished, the world had moved on. User share of the Netscape browser had gone down from 90% to less than 1% and Netscape was never able to recover.

Even I, a backup fundamentalist, nearly lost all my data once: my DAT (Digital Audio Tape) drive was failing and, being sick of tape drive problems, instead of buying another one I purchased another hard drive and started cloning my primary hard disk into it using Norton Ghost.

Cloning a hard disk is great: it means that if your main drive fails you can be up and running again in minutes just by removing the dead drive and replacing it with the secondary backup drive.

Unfortunately, my PC case back then had a fairly restrictive airflow, and, without me being aware of this, my hard drives had been running way past or very close to their operative limits. High temperature can be a real hard drive killer.

My primary hard drive failed while still within warranty. I sent it back and started using the backup drive, figuring a replacement wouldn't take too long to arrive. It did. It took exactly a week longer than it should: the secondary drive failed too and this time I HAD NO BACKUP.

What are the odds of that? A second hard drive failing just a week before the replacement for the primary arriving? Had I truly believed Murphy's law ('If anything can go wrong, it will. And at the worst possible time') , I would have known that the odds are actually 100%. :wink:

I had a fairly recent backup of my source code on CD, and I was able to persuade my retired DAT drive to work just long enough to restore most of my other data from a tape that was, unfortunately, nearly a year old. I was lucky, I did not lose much.

In truth, make that double lucky, as some time later I managed to get the BIOS to recognize the failed backup drive and this time, after many Retries and Ignores due to an extensive list of bad sectors, managed to retrieve the rest of the missing data.

I learned my lesson.

Backup Strategies:

First of all, get some good backup software with task scheduling abilities. You want your backups to be as automated as possible, otherwise you WILL slack off and forget to make them.

These days hard drives are cheap, and much more reliable than tape drives. So it makes sense to use hard drives as a backup medium, but you have to be aware of a few gotchas.

Do NOT do like that poor sod who partitioned his hard drive in two (C: and D: logical disks within the same hard drive) and then stored a backup of his precious data on the secondary partition. One day his hard drive died, and, of course, both partitions went with it.

What you should do is have a secondary, physical, hard disk and use that for backups. This disk can be internal, but be aware that your system is still vulnerable to power glitches. If your Power Supply goes with a bang, it can take BOTH your hard disks with it.

An external hard disk, with it's separate power adaptor, is probably safe from (God forbid!) an exploding power supply. External hard disks have other problems though (will get to that later).

Ah, and if you're wondering what the odds of your power supply going bad on you are, you haven't been reading, have you? Remember Murphy's law? :wink:

It actually did happen to me once: one day I turned one of my systems on and this huge spark shot off the back of the power supply. No idea why that happened (cheap power supply?), but that bad PSU took out my motherboard and all the PCI cards along with it. It could easily have taken out the hard disks too.

If you can, get a good UPS. Good UPSs like those from APC can protect your system from surges and brownouts, besides preventing you from losing whatever you are working on in case of utility failure (funny how things are; while I was writing this article power went out - and I really can't remember the last time this happened! Anyway, my APC 1000 VA Smart UPS kept things running during the 35 minutes it took for the power to be restored. 10 more minutes and the system would have performed an automatic hibernation).

If you are really serious about protecting your data, there is something else you should take into consideration: fires, floods, natural disasters and burglaries.

If your house is on fire, believe me that the last thing on your mind will be saving your PC... and if your house is robbed, the burglar will probably take those precious external hard disks along with your system.

This is why off site backups are so important. Every so often (like a month or so) burn a DVD of your critical data and leave that DVD somewhere else, like your parents house or a safe deposit box.

Another thing that is important, is backup redundancy. Imagine your automated weekly full backup happened yesterday and you only noticed NOW that you deleted a critical file by accident a couple of days ago. That's right, even though you have a backup, that backup does NOT include your critical file anymore. It's gone forever.

This is why it's always a good idea, if you have the storage space, to rotate your backups so one of them is always at least one month old. This not only helps protecting you from the situation described above, as it helps protecting you from a corrupted backup. There is nothing worse than having your hard drive fail only to find out, when restoring, that your single backup is also inaccessible.

If you have two external hard drives, for instance, you can use one for a month and then swap it with the other that you have previously placed somewhere off site, and so on...

Data redundancy is also the reason why a RAID 1 disk array is NOT the same as a backup, unlike what some people seem to think.

A RAID 1 setup uses two identical hard drives. Data written to one of the drives is automatically mirrored in the other, and, if either drive fails, the other continues to function as a single drive until the failed unit is replaced. A bit like the hard drive cloning method I mentioned above, but in real time.

And the problem is precisely that this happens in real time. If your kid decides to format your hard disk while you are not around, or you delete something by mistake, the same action will have been simultaneously performed on your mirrored hard disk.

External Hard Drives:

External hard drives have two big advantages over internal ones: first, and most important, they are portable. You can share them between multiple computers and carry them around. Well, sort of... hard disk drives are sensitive things, and, just because a hard drive is inside an external enclosure, that doesn't mean you can drop, knock, crush or subject it to all manner of abuse and trauma. You must be careful when transporting those things, or I guarantee that your external hard drive won't last long.

The second advantage, as previously mentioned, is that having a separate source of power, they should not be affected if something so bad happens to your PC's power supply that it fries everything in your main system.

One of the biggest disadvantages of an external hard drive, however, (besides how easy they usually are to knock down, either by accidentally bumping into them or tripping on their power cords) is how HOT they usually run.

Most external hard drive enclosures are very tight, the drive itself barely fitting in there. Because of this airflow is minimal, even on some of the enclosures that feature active cooling (i.e. that have a small, usually noisy, fan).

Take the popular Western Digital My Book line of external hard drives. Their Essential and Home Editions have are passively cooled, i.e. have no fan to keep the air circulating. On a Winter day, with 19? C ambient temperature, it's not unusual for the My Book hard drive temperature to hover around 45? C, and this is while the drive is IDLE. Add 10? C more to ambient temperature when Summer comes and the drive will be running very close to operational limits (55? C), and that is just sitting there doing nothing. Now put it to work for several hours and watch the drive and its electronics slowly fry - no wonder external hard drives have such a high failure rate!

Some people use their large capacity external drives as their primary location for storing photos, video and music collections. If you want my advice, I wouldn't use them for anything other than backups and carrying data from one place to the other. They're just too easy to damage!

External Hard Drive Interfaces:

Most external hard drives (such as the WD My Book Essential Edition) feature a USB interface. Others (like the WD My Book Home Edition) feature up to three different interfaces: USB, Firewire 400 or 800 and eSATA.

When you connect a drive via USB or Firewire 400, data through-output is limited by the interface itself, not by how fast the hard drive is. Provided your motherboard supports USB 2.0, your maximum data through-output will be around 35 MB/s. To give you an idea, a 446 GB backup will take approximately 5 hours to complete.

Firewire 400 is not much better: around 45 MB/s, if that much.

eSATA is something else altogether. Having an external drive connected via an eSata cable provides the same through-output you get if the drive were connected directly to the SATA controller on your motherboard. The main difference between eSATA and SATA are signal levels, which are higher in eSATA to support longer cables.

With an eSATA connection, the limit is the speed of your hard disk. For instance, the 1 TB WD My Book Home Edition has an average read speed of 71.4 MB/s (measured with HD Tach). The same 446 GB backup now takes only 2 hours and 45 minutes - nearly twice as fast!

Unfortunately not all external drives have an eSATA interface. And, when they do, none of them come with an eSATA cable. USB and Firewire cables, yes, eSATA cable, no - you will have to purchase one separately. The cables are cheap, but apparently not that easy to find. Also, not all motherboards feature an eSATA port.

You will probably run into other problems if you decide to connect your external hard drive via eSATA instead of USB, and I'll try to explain what they are (and how I solved most of them) by telling what happened to me when I decided to purchase two external WD My Book drives for backup purposes last month.

My Backup Plan:

Up until December, I had 3 SATA hard drives on my system: a 300 GB Velociraptor, a 150 GB Raptor and a 500 GB WD hard disk.

I used the 500 GB hard disk to store non-important data as well as weekly and monthly full backups of my main system disk (made using Acronis True Image).

Every day a backup of my source code and Outlook personal data file is made to another computer on the network. Once a week, Acronis makes a backup of the source code (encrypted) and other critical files via FTP to a server in the US. Every once in a while, I backup the same source code and critical files onto a DVD and drop it off site.

I also frequently mirror my working environment into a laptop so I can keep on working without missing a beat whenever I have to travel somewhere.

Then, at the begining of December, the XP system that used to be my primary computer before I upgraded to Vista decided to give up the ghost. Probably the motherboard, but I didn't want to waste time troubleshooting. As I didn't really need that PC, I just took its two PATA drives (a 120 GB WD drive and a 80 GB Seagate Barracuda drive) and moved them to my current PC. I now have 5 internal hard drives for a total of 1.16 TB of storage space, although I currently only use around 300 GB of that.

Anyway, I decided that it would probably be a good idea to start backing up the whole system instead of just my primary hard drive, which prompted me to purchase a 1 TB external My Book Essential Edition (USB only).

I had no troubles with that one, except for the 5 hours it took to make each full system backup. Usually backups are made automatically when I go to sleep, but, since I work odd hours, sometimes the backup would start while I was still at the computer.

Acronis and Vista's Shadow Copy technology allow files to be backed up even when they are open, but I still don't feel very comfortable working while a full system backup is in progress.

I figured I could purchase another My Book 1 TB drive, but this time with an eSATA interface. I would use this faster external drive for daily backups, and the slower external drive for monthly backups. Having two backup drives would also increase my backup redundancy and the extra storage space meant I could free my internal 500 GB drive for other data.

That's when my troubles started.

The Western Digital My Book Home Edition eSATA drive:

Problem number 1:

So, I open the box and look for the eSATA cable (the very reason I purchased this drive and paid extra for it). Let's see, a USB cable, a Firewire cable, and... of course, no eSATA cable.

Lets put it this way: the fact that this drive didn't come with an eSATA cable ended up making me waste a whole afternoon chasing one. Nobody seemed to have them, not even the shop I brought this drive from. But finally, after many phone calls, I did find a place that had one (and only that one) in stock.

Problem number 2:

So, I connect the drive using the eSATA cable, turn it on, reboot the system and... nothing. The drive is not being recognized, not even by the BIOS.

I connect it with the USB cable, and, sure enough, there it is. Well, at least it's not a DOA drive problem. But connecting it via USB is not the reason why I bought this drive, so I search the net for a solution.

Turns out this is a known problem with My Books and normal eSATA cables (although you won't find a description of this problem, much less this particular solution, on Western Digital's Knowledge Base): the metal part of the cable's eSATA connector is simply not long enough to make full contact with the drive (although it appears to snap into place) because of the drive's enclosure. The solution is to cut 3-4mm of the plastic surrounding the metal part of the cable's connector with a razor blade. I did this and this time it really snaps into place and Vista recognizes the drive.

Problem number 3:

I soon find out that after 10 minutes of inactivity the drive's firmware automatically puts the drive to sleep. This shouldn't be a problem, except that the My Book takes too long to wake up, exceeds some eSATA controller (or Windows?) time-out threshold, and is hard dismounted from the system. In other words, it simply disappears from My Computer and the only way to get it back is by rebooting the system. Another common problem if you search the net.

The Marvell PATA/eSATA controller on my motherboard (a P5K-SE) does not support AHCI, which means I cannot hot plug the eSATA drive like I would a USB drive. I have to reboot to get it back. Since I plan to leave this drive on 24/24 (as is the rest of the system) and backups are automatic, this is a serious problem.

Turns out this is kind of related to

Problem number 4:

I use Everest Ultimate to monitor CPU, GPU and Hard Drive temperatures. It displays this info (along with other stuff like voltages, fan RPMs, etc...) on my secondary monitor on a nice little OSD window, which is updated every 6 seconds or so.

Hard drive temperature is collected by thermal sensors on the hard drives themselves and that information is part of the S.M.A.R.T. data passed by the drive. If the drive or the interface does not support S.M.A.R.T., you get no temperature read out.

The USB My Book never went to sleep, unlike the eSATA My Book. It's not difficult to figure out why: the simple fact that Everest queries S.M.A.R.T. info from the drive every 6 seconds fools it into thinking its not idle. Fine by me, as hard drives have a limited amount of times they can spin down and spin up again without the read heads and mechanical bearings starting to wear out.

The single time I connected the My Book Home Edition via USB, I could see its temperature in the Everest OSD. But when connected by eSATA, Everest was no longer able to retrieve its temperature.

In fact, none of the hard drive diagnostic programs I have, not even Western Digital's own Data Lifeguard, are able to retrieve S.M.A.R.T. data from the My Book when connected by eSATA, other than the simple OK or FAILED status.

This is rather weird, as I know that the drive inside the My Book Home Edition is a SATA drive, and proves that WD, probably to save some money, is using some 'intelligence'/bridge between the disk's SATA interface and the eSATA connector on the My Book enclosure. The stupid part is that this 'bridge' is able to pass S.M.A.R.T. data via the USB interface but not via the eSATA interface. Sigh.

Unfortunately, other than connecting the Home Edition drive via USB, there seems to be no solution to this problem.

On the other had, I solved problem number 3 by making a very small 'keep alive' applet that copies - and then deletes - itself to the eSATA drive every 5 minutes. This resets the drive's idle timer and prevents it from ever spinning down.

Problem number 5:

I can not get the Home Edition's drive temperature, but I can get the temperature of the Essential Edition drive that is connected by USB. And the temperature of the later would sometimes climb all the way up to 48? C, even when idle! Worse, by touching the enclosure of the eSATA drive I could feel it was much warmer than the USB drive.

I had to find some way to bring the temperatures of these drives down, so I came up with the idea of buying an el-cheapo Nox Sirocco notebook cooler with 3 fans and placing the external drives on top of it.

Made a small mod to the cooler and now the temperature of the My Book Essential Edition external hard drive is down to 28? C! That's even less than the temperature of most of my internal hard drives! :)

The following is a picture of the cooler:

Image

This thing has three 70mm fans enclosed in an hermetic structure, which forces the air to come out through the grill at the top. The following picture will probably help you to understand this better:

Image

What I did was to set the fans on max speed and tape shut all the grill holes around the two My Books, thus forcing the cold air propelled by the 3 fans to exit through the actual drives. I also placed a small object below the front of the cooler in order to turn it into a fully horizontal surface. The result has surpassed my best expectations! :)

If your external drives have passive cooling and are running way too hot, this is one possible solution. I guess it will work with any similar cheap coolers, provided the fans produce enough airflow.

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Jorge Coelho
Winstep Xtreme - Xtreme Power!
http://www.winstep.net - Winstep Software Technologies


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 03, 2009 1:56 pm 
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Here is a picture of the mod I did to the notebook cooler. I moved the eSATA 1TB My Book a bit to the side so you can see the ventilated grill holes right below it:

Image

My ASUS PK5-SE motherboard has a Marvell 88SE6111 controller to manage both the PATA and eSATA interfaces, and, until today, I was using Vista's standard IDE drivers with it. I decided to install the Marvell drivers to see if that made any difference to the missing S.M.A.R.T. data problem I was having with the My Book Home Edition, and, maybe, add hotplug support.

Well, the Marvell drivers did not help with any of these two issues. I got a blue screen when I turned off the external eSATA drive (there goes hotplug support!) and it made the SMART data problem worse, as now I don't even get the simple OK/FAIL status. The later makes all diagnostic utilities report that the drive failed the SMART test (not true, it's just not getting the data even though the drive reports SMART is enabled).

On the other hand, data throughoutput went from this

Image

to this:

Image

I always thought something was odd with transfer speeds on the eSATA drive prior to the installation of the Marvell drivers, as HD Tach showed a steady 80 MB/s data rate for the first 600 GB, instead of the usual progressively declining rate you can see in the second image.

Tuns out the standard IDE drivers were the problem, as they were not enabling the fastest transfer mode the Marvell controller is capable of and thus capping transfer speeds of the 1 TB external drive to 80 MB/s.

Pay no attention to the new burst speed, as it obviously has something to do with the controller and not the drives themselves (even the PATA drives now report the same impossible 2,182.2 MB/s burst speed, although their transfer rates were not increased in the slightest as their max speed was well below 80 MB/s to start with).

I verified that file transfers are now much faster by copying a large 3 GB file to the eSATA drive: instead of the previous 48.4 MB/s, I now get 72.3 MB/s. Not bad at all. :D

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 6:52 am 
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Western Digital released a Firmware Update on January 2009 for the My Book Home Edition drives that fixes the eSATA hard dismount problem caused by the drive taking too long to spin up when resuming from sleep mode.

I tried it, it worked and I no longer need to use the 'keep alive' utility I wrote to prevent the drive from going to sleep. As a rule of thumb I don't like to use APM (Automatic Power Management) to power down hard drives when idle as this causes unnecessary thermal stress as well as wear and tear on the head loading mechanism, but since this drive is external and only 'wakes up' once a day for automatic backups, it's ok.

This firmware update isn't for the drive itself, but rather for the Oxford Semiconductor chip in the enclosure that controls the USB, Firewire and eSATA bridges.

Be VERY CAREFUL when upgrading the firmware of an external My Book drive, as you can easily brick it. You can read some horror stories (as well as some possible solutions) HERE and HERE.

I'm not sure if Western Digital fixed the problem described in those two links in the January 2009 release, but essentially what seems to happen is that some of the Windows services (usual culprits are the Search Indexer, System Restore and NTFS Distributed Link Tracking service) lock the external drive, preventing it from being dismounted. You've probably seen this happen when you try to safely remove a USB drive and Windows tells you it cannot do that because some program is still using it (wouldn't it be nice if it also told you WHICH program is using it? :wink: ). Another possible culprit is Diskeeper, which likes to lock a drive even if you told it NOT to defrag that particular drive.

So, the firmware updater erases the EPROM, tries to dismount the drive in order to write the new firmware, Windows refuses and you are left with a strong headache and a 'Blank Oxford Device' in Device Manager instead of a working external disk drive.

Worse coming to worse, if this happens to you and you are unable to fix it, you can still remove the drive from the external enclosure and use it as a regular internal drive. It's the enclosure's chipset that gets hosed, not the drive itself.

Before upgrading the firmware, I first disabled Eset Smart Security (AV/Firewall, etc...) and then used a nice little utility called Unlocker to see what else was locking the drive. Ended up having to stop the Diskeeper service, Search Indexer service and the NTFS link tracking service. Only after doing this was I able to Safely Remove the drive without an error message, and thus proceed with the firmware upgrade.

I have to confess my heart was beating a bit faster while the upgrader did its job, though. :wink:

I also suspect I now know the reason why SMART data is not passed through when the My Book Home Edition is connected via eSATA. Seems the Oxford Semi controller has a built in RAID controller(which is put to good use in the My Book Mirror editions, check out the diagram in page 3 of that datasheet PDF). What probably happens is that this RAID controller creates a 'virtual' drive instead of allowing direct access to the single physical drive when in SATA mode (which would also explain why the drive changes its name from 'WD10EAVSxxx' when connected by USB to 'WD My Book' when connected by eSATA).

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 15, 2009 7:27 pm 
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Are you in here talking to yourself?? :lol:

I agree 100% on doing backups. I am a heavy user of imaging software. Acronis is my imaging tool of choice. I create full images of my OS drive, and store them on a 2nd internal drive.

While setting up Winstep Extreme, I would make a complete back ups after each set of tweaks that I would do with the software. Even though you can use the built in Winstep backup tool, I still like imaging my work. I can then totally mess around with everything and know with confidence that I have a complete safety net if I screw something up.........and I do tend to make a mess of things.

Good advice with your posts!!


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 20, 2009 1:41 am 
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Quote:
Are you in here talking to yourself?? :lol:


Apparently, lol! :D

Quote:
Good advice with your posts!!


Thanks! :wink:

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 22, 2009 6:34 am 
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I, like Jorge, have been a "sucker" for every type of backup...for the last 30 years. Also being a software developer, I realized how my drive content was my livelihood. For the last 5 years I have used the same strategy which has saved my butt more times than I can think about. For what it's worth, here is the backup strategy of a true [paranoid] software veteran:

Software:
1. Acronis True Image Home - full volume backups. Its ability to restore whole bare-metal machines as well as have the archives be "explored" covers all the bases. It has proven as reliable as any 3rd party software I have ever purchased.
2. Second Copy - configurable volume backup using file-by-file copies. With the right options, it keeps my backups in sync with the "live" volumes, as well as keeping optional "n" archives of files I have deleted. Second Copy is also really handy for copying to and from portable external drives like the My Passport, etc.

Hardware:
1. External eSata hard drive. Here I build my own to have full control over replacing what I need when necessary. I use a particular Vantec case that has these important features: a) eSata interface; b) a REAL fan (I keep my drive on 24/7); c) fits 2 different-sized drives and seamlessly adds their capacity together using only a single Sata port.
2. A PCIE eSata board. Although every motherboard I purchase has eSata, their interface is not always reliable. eSata boards generally plug directly into an on-board Sata connector...and the onboard Sata connectors generally always work correctly with the board's standard drivers.
3. An extra internal reliable hard drive.
4. A drive located in another PC on my network.

Strategy:
1. Daily backups using Second Copy. I have a networked PC with a drive large enough to contain all my volumes, with some extra space for a single archive of files that have been deleted from my dev computer. This Second Copy feature means that if I delete a file from Dev which it will delete from the main backup folder, it will save a copy in my chosen archive folder. Really excellent feature. Also, once the first "full" set of backups is done with Second Copy, subsequent full backups are much quicker since it only copies changed files.

2. Daily backups of my source code folders onto the extra internal volume.

3. Daily True Image backup of my entire Dev PC onto the extra internal drive.

4. 7 scheduled daily backups using True Image onto my external drive. I create one full backup for each day of the week scheduled weekly. This does require a large external drive. A pair of not-necessarily-the-fastest 1TB drives in the Vantec case does the trick for me. Now I can go to any day within the last week to get older copies of "stuff."

5. All my backups are automatically sequenced and scheduled to occur when I will probably not be working.


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 Post subject: external hard disk types
PostPosted: Sat Jan 23, 2010 5:47 pm 
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A lot of information, especially in the opening post. Do you see any real difference in backup procedures between the various interfaces that an external hard disk might use?

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:40 pm 
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Oh yes. eSATA is definitely the fastest and most convenient - and the most troublesome too, because of all the different motherboard chipsets that take care of the external eSATA ports and the 'bridge' chipsets in the external hard drive enclosures.

The Western Digital My Book external drives (one USB and one eSATA) have been nothing but trouble for me. The power supply of the USB drive just went bad, and the eSATA drive refuses to play ball with the Marvell controller in my new P6T Deluxe v2 *and* with the JMicron controller in my dual eSATA port expansion card.

I now have two LaCie d2 Quadras that work great with anything I throw at them - and they're super fast too! :D

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 Post subject: Re: On backups, blistering hot external hard drives, and eSA
PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2012 7:05 pm 
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Update:

The original article was written 3 years ago. Between then and now, a lot of things have obviously changed. :)

My system is now an Asus P8Z77-V Deluxe motherboard, Intel i7 3770K Ivybridge CPU at 4.5 Ghz (OC), 16GB RAM, two Samsung 830 256GB SSDs in RAID 0 (for system files) and two 1 TB internal hard disks (for data). One of the internal hard disks is a Samsung F3 and the other a WD drive that was previously an external hard drive.

Image

Image

For backups I now have two external WD 2TB MyBooks Essential connected via USB 3.0.

USB 3.0 is so fast that it essentially made eSATA irrelevant.

Current Backup Plan:

One of the drives is used for daily backups: a full backup is made weekly and every other day a differential backup. Every week, before performing the new full backup, the differential backup files are deleted and the previous full backup is renamed to FullBackupOLD.

This provides a degree of redundancy on the same drive (just in case one of the backup files is corrupted) and also a way to 'travel back in time'.

The other drive is used in pretty much the same way except the backup schedule is monthly and differential backups are made weekly. Again, for redundancy and the ability to go back two or three months in time looking for an accidentally deleted file.

In addition to this, I also regularly backup critical data (such as Source Code) to a 32 GB encrypted Pen drive I carry on my pocket at all times.

I can't stress enough the importance of encrypting the pen drive (in my case I use Window's own Bitlocker technology), lest your data falls into the wrong hands: I learned my lesson the hard way when I thought I had lost the pen drive - until I found it under the sofa a day or two later.

I was freaking out at the idea of someone finding it and posting the source code online.

3TB Drives and The Major Mistake:

You may think two 2TB hard drives provide a lot of storage space for backups (and they do), but, having two full system backups files plus differentials on each of the 2TB drives (one recent, another older) means there actually isn't much room.

Since data has a way of growing all the time, I eventually started running out of storage space for backups.

And here is where I made a classic rookie mistake: when that happened, I immediately went out and purchased two WD 3TB external hard disks - without doing my home work first.

The idea was simply to unplug the two 2TB drives and replace them with the two 3TB drives.

I entirely forgot about the 2TB limit for MBR (Master Boot Record) drives.

When I first plugged the drives in, Windows 7 64 bit immediately recognized and correctly mounted them. The problem only became evident when I tried to run Acronis True Image 2010 (ATI2010): it kept crashing.

You see, the problem is that to use hard drives larger than 2TB, their sector size, which is normally 512 bytes for drives under 2TB, has to be increased to 4096 bytes. Windows 7 64 bit has no problem with this, but my backup software does.

The only solution would be to change the disk's configuration from MBR to GPT (Guid Partition Table), so the Acronis Linux Recovery CD can see the drive, and upgrade ATI2010 to the latest version, ATI2013.

It's this last step I have a problem with - ever since the 2010 version, Acronis Backup software has been going down hill, fast. Bugs that never get fixed, bloating of the software with features nobody uses, new major releases where the only real changes are to the UI (but you still have to pay for the upgrade), puzzling UI, and, most importantly, lots of problems recovering from previous backups.

Backup software must be simple, robust, and *work all the time*. Otherwise what is the point of being able to make backups if you can't restore them later when disaster strikes (because of some bug that was reported many times but has never been fixed)?

The fact is that all versions of Acronis Backup Software since the 2010 version have been getting scathing user reviews. For now, I'm still looking for a reliable alternative.

The Temporary Solution:

With the quick fix to my backup storage woes gone, I now had to improvise.

I went back to the 2TB WD drives, added an extra 1TB WD MyBook USB 3.0 drive I had lying around, and split the backup in two, so files in the internal WD drive are backed up to the 1TB WD drive instead.

This is far from the ideal solution, but it will have to do for now, until I find a reliable alternative to ATI2010. Until then I have two external 3TB drives lying around that are not even being used. :(

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 Post subject: Re: On backups, blistering hot external hard drives, and eSA
PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:17 am 
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Location: Athens, Greece
Ever tried Macrium Reflect?

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 Post subject: Re: On backups, blistering hot external hard drives, and eSA
PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2012 7:28 pm 
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skagon wrote:
Ever tried Macrium Reflect?


Nah. Will read about it, thanks. :)

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