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Storage and Backup Questions - What do I Buy?

by NorthBeachnik / May 2, 2007 7:22 AM PDT

I have a Dell Inspiron WindowsXP Service Pack 2, 80gb (really 70.2) with 44+gb available. I have more bookmarks than you can imagine which ae crucial for my research. I have lots of photos and also quite a few files of family trees (which are large like Photos and sometimes include photos, texts, etc.).

Most of my files were transferred from an old computer to this one. I have been completely derelict in backing up this laptop (although I used to be good about this). I was turned off when I has my old laptop's System Registry destroyed by a Sandisk USB2 jump drive which the salesman assured me would be backward compatible with my USB1. My Dell was destroyed and the Dell tech could not repair it. So I had to buy a new laptop prematurely. I haven't backed up since then. Sad

What do I backup my files with now? Any software and hardware recomendations? Should I get a MyBook or something like it for storage of my research bookmarks, files, photos, family trees, and word, Excel, Publisher, etc. files? Does one back up the entire harddrive on a MyBook with System files and all of one's software (MS OfficeSuite, Family Tree Maker, McAfee, etc.?

Thanks in advance for advise and recommendations!


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First thing I think of. . .
by Coryphaeus / May 2, 2007 12:03 PM PDT

is a burner. CD or DVD, external works for me. I just back up what I can't afford to loose, stuff like you mentioned. There's no need to back up the entire OS as it can be reinstalled.

If you have quite a lot of "stuff" a DVD burner should work nicely. Optical drives are simpler than hard drives and should work with USB-1. I know, you've heard that before, but an optical drive is nothing like a hard drive.


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by NorthBeachnik / May 2, 2007 2:52 PM PDT

Clarification: My current laptop has two USB2 ports.

I have in the past tried backing up to CDs. I found that the software flipped out when it hit the long names of my individual bookmarks. Also it took too many CDs. Wouldn't I run into this problem with the software stalling and stopping the backup process because of the name length while backing up to DVDs? And wouldn't it also take more than one DVD so that I would end up with split files? I really want to back up to one piece of storage, something that is not fragile like a small jumpdrive or given to breaking down like an external harddrive. I'm not going to rename my bookmarks with shorter names (or my lengthy Word or Excel names either). I just want a simple solution so that I can back up on a weekly basis after doing one big bakup of all my files.

I just can't figure out what to do? Optical drives? I don't know much about these. Are they more expensive than a MyBook?

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Optical drive = CD or DVD. . .
by Coryphaeus / May 2, 2007 10:41 PM PDT
In reply to: Clarification

Long file names are a problem with burning software (CD or DVD) as you've discovered. A CD will hold about 600 Meg, a DVD will hold over 4 Gig of data. A dual layer drive will hold over 8 Gig. But back to square one if you won't shorten the file names.

Why not just get an external case and an internal hard drive, and put the drive in the case? That's what I have. It's a Maxtor 80 Gig drive in a USB-2 case. Very simple and it works on my desktops and laptops. I seem to read about a lot of problems with the complete external units. I prefer to build my own.

But remember this. A hard drive will die. A hard drive is considered temporary storage.


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What kind of software do you use with your external drive?
by NorthBeachnik / May 3, 2007 1:25 AM PDT

Thanks for your reply. I've never had a hard-drive fail yet and I've had maybe a half a dozen PCs and lapptops since 1988. But I know it cn happen at any time.

More questions:

What kind of software do you use when copying files to your Maxtor drive in your case? How hard is it to build one's own?

If one went with an off-the-shelf product like MyBook how does one copy files? Does it come with software?

How difficult is it to copy material stored on external hard-drives back to a laptop?

I'm asking all these questions because I'm travelling in a couple of weeks across country to take a professional certification course and to see relatives who are fellow genealogists. I need to bring my laptop which is loaded with family history files, trees, photos, files related to coursework and, of course, files from writing projects I'm in the middle of. So I need to back up my files fast.

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Drag and drop. . .
by Coryphaeus / May 3, 2007 10:00 AM PDT

No software is needed, the drive shows up in Explorer as another hard drive with an assigned letter. You just drag and drop files and folders both directions. Treat it as just another hard drive.

Here is my case I actually have two, one with a Maxtor hard drive and another with a Sony dual layer DVD burner.

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WD My Book
by carl2171 / May 4, 2007 10:56 AM PDT
In reply to: Drag and drop. . .

About 3 weeks ago I bought a 160 GB external HD from to back up my files. I've been very pleased with it, the reviews on CNET helped me decide to go with it.

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Make it easy on yourself.....
by The Masked Villain / May 4, 2007 12:03 PM PDT

Buy your self an external USB hard drive (250GB or better). Then you can back up by simply copying your 'My Documents' folder, and your 'Favorites' folder, or invest in a full backup utility. The important thing is not to back up to CDs, or DVDs. To many people, including me, have had problems trying to restore from those media types. Whatever you do, once you have made your backup, unplug and secure the USB drive. Put it in a lockable, fire proof box, or store it off site. Then you will truly have a secure back up.
Good luck, regards,

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by maz109 / May 4, 2007 2:25 PM PDT

I have an external cd/dvd drive and I use NERO for backup. Both work great. I have had the hard drive crash, just got everything back together. It is not a nice ordeal to go thru. Most of my backup is done on DVD because they hold more.

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I went with out-of-box external drive
by dunstergirl / May 4, 2007 4:04 PM PDT

I can totally relate as a genealogist myself and since my computer also holds everything related to my two separate businesses etc. etc. And until a month or so ago I backed up only occasionally because it was a pain (multiple CDs, etc.) and knew I should do more and always worried. Towards the end as my old WinMe machine got less and less reliable I would copy absolutely critical files to a CD every day, but you unfortunately have to REMEMBER to do that, and who always remembers those things (not me)?

So when I bought a new system a couple of months back I decided it was time to go automatic and worry-free. I did look into building my own external drive, but a bit of research comparing prices of enclosures, drives, software (and possible tight fits of drive in enclosure, noise levels, etc.) convinced me to buy an out-of-the-box external hard drive for only a few dollars more.

I went with a Western Digital My Book Pro with USB and firewire 400 and 800 interfaces, and bought a firewire 800 card for the computer separately. This contributed a substantial chunk of the cost of the whole new system, but peace of mind is priceless (and no, Mastercard, you can't use my quote for your ads, even if I did use you to pay for it). The drive took forever to get here as the online vendor clearly doesn't keep them in stock, but it was worth the wait. The external drive came with Retrospect Express backup software, has MORE storage space than my internal drive (on purpose, so I can keep backing up multiple versions of changed files in case I ever really screw something up) and with the FW800 interface the backups are fast, but since it has USB also (and all the drivers and software are ON the drive itself) I can plug it in to any other machine and recover data should an emergency require it (I'm a copy editor, among other things, and loss of a major mostly edited file or even days to recover it would spell disaster). I can hear it (background hum) when it's active (when backing up or when I open up Windows Explorer completely to view files etc.) but it goes into "standby" within 5 minutes or so and then the only reminder that I have it is the cool blue light on the front.

It was a breeze to install the drive and set up the software and it now backs up changed files once a day, every day, without me even having to know about it (I have auto backup set for the middle of the night). The only problem I have had is when a power outage caused an unusual shutdown so the drive didn't shut off properly and then the computer didn't recognize the drive when I powered up again, solved by turning everything off and trying again.

I've had it barely a month so bear that in mind, but so far I am VERY happy and if backups are a critical issue for you I highly recommend the fully automated, hands-off luxury of external hard drive complete with software to make it work.

BTW, I did do one full system backup at the beginning (helps the backup software to know what has changed since, and even if you can't reinstall the OS or major software from a backup - unless you downloaded it to begin with and still have the installation package - you CAN recover corrupted files, etc., so worth the time and drive space IMHO). Also I looked into using eSATA as the interface but decided I wasn't technically competent enough to handle potential issues with that, so went with Firewire instead.

Good luck with your decision!


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Be safer and use more than one type of backup.
by beaulanger / May 4, 2007 8:47 PM PDT

I use the free online 2GB Mozy at
You can set the program to automatically back up or schedule it to do so. Works great.

I back up to CD-R programs, photos, spreadsheets, documents, etc.. For some reason I've had problems with one DVD+R.

I have a 2 GB USB flash thumb drive for data that changes often like my calendar, e-mail addresses, favorites, passwords, notes, etc.. I can also take this with me with my laptop when traveling.

You can even set up the free G-Mail to use your account space there for storage.

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by dickhob / May 4, 2007 11:29 PM PDT

Like you and a few others here, I was pretty sloppy about backup. Two weeks ago my hard drive TOTALLY crashed! Had to by a new drive etc. I'm still recovering from it.

I spent ALOT of time on One of the things I ended up with is a PASSPORT drive from Western Digitial. It is a usb2 external with NO power cable. It's small- like 3x5x.5 inches. It has some "synch" software (which I really haven't done too much with as yet). I bought an 80gb drive for $80 and backed up my 67gb of data in about 6 hours. If I understand the synch software, the next back will only deal with changed data, so it should run much faster.

Here's a link to check out the 5 drives at egghead-

If you can't get there with the link, do a search at egghead on hard drives, western digitial, passport.

I'm pretty impressed with this little drive. It sounds ideal for a traveler and a laptop.

If you're looking for software, I use something called Genie Backup Manager Pro. You can easily define what you want to back up and how often and wethere you want a full, differential, or incremental backup. The interface is very clean and clear.

I'm also looking a a product called Acronis backup which litally will make a bootable clone of your hard drive so you can recover in minutes. I tried it on another system I have with 139gb of data- the clone took over 12 hours and that was to an internal hard drive! In one respect too long, but then it sure beat 2 weeks of piecing stuff together to get back up and running.

Look at the Passport- I think you'll like it.

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External Storage Drive
by ghosty191 / May 6, 2007 10:59 AM PDT

I thought I was prepared when my laptop went haywire. It decided I needed a password to get into my system. I had never installed a password since I had owned it, so I was told by the technicians to wipe the hard drive and reinstall the OS. After doing so, I had a few discs I had made from the desktop system, to transfer the personal files and photos back into the laptop. No problem, but I wondered what might happen if I didn't back up the desktop system, with all the important stuff. I purchased a SimpleTech 120 gig external hard drive and started a routine backup at least weekly. I'm so glad I did, as not only did the hard drive on the desktop system crash (the internal mechanical parts broke), I might have lost everything because I had to send the whole drive in for warranty replacement. I couldn't even do a system recovery because the recovery drive was partitioned in the original hard drive. I had to purchase the recovery disks because I didn't back up the recovery partition. Luckily I had all my personal files, and the different downloaded programs, backed up. I synchronize the external drive every week, unless there are a lot of new files I deem important enough not to lose.

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