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Dude, Dell does backup

Desktop with redundant hard drive aims to protect files and may signal a future of PCs with automated backup and recovery. Photos: Dell's 'DataSafe'

Worried about losing files or photos? Dell says it's got your back.

The Round Rock, Texas, computer maker on Wednesday announced upcoming features to its PCs, including an automatic backup system that rolls back the clock to a time before a virus infection or accidental clearing of the Recycling Bin.

The technology, dubbed "DataSafe," is part of Dell's revised Dimension E310 desktop, which costs $599 and is due out in November. Dell said the DataSafe system is a good "set it and forget it" alternative to external hard drives or non-automated backup software.

Dell computers

While all the major computer makers let customers add a second, third or even fourth hard drive, Dell's redundant hard-drive system is part of a trend by PC makers to automatically install multiple hard-disk drives so consumers don't have to fiddle with external devices.

"The problem that we've heard is that consumers have inadvertently erased something, and often times, the answer is that you are not going to get that back," said Ketan Pandya, a senior manager with Dell's Dimension group.

The backup technology combines Symantec's Ghost 10 data backup software and two hard-disk drives that mirror each other through a level 1 RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) configuration. Dell is also preparing to sell the DataSafe system on its Dimension E510 and XPS 400 systems, which are also due out in November.

"The second drive is exactly the same as the first one, so what customers are buying is a safety net," Pandya said. "When you buy an E310, you get a single 80GB hard drive for storage. The second 80GB hard drive acts as a real-time redundant backup."

While Dell markets the PCs with just a single drive, the second drive is not completely invisible. The computer assigns the main hard drive as the C drive and the backup as the D drive. The backup technology also works with two 160GB hard drives or two 250GB hard drives, Pandya noted. A PC enthusiast could wipe out the RAID configuration, scrub the second drive and end up with an entry-level computer with a 160GB hard drive for less than $600, Pandya said.

Eventually, Dell is expected to use the backup feature in its laptops and other computing devices, Pandya said.

The No. 1 computer maker also said it will ship its second XPS-branded notebook--the M140--for $999 next month. The computer is Dell's first 14.1-inch wide-screen notebook and features technology that lets users access digital photos, music and videos without having to start the operating system.

The M140 is also Dell's first system, corporate or consumer, with support for a PCI Express Card. The PCMCIA developed plug-in is smaller and requires fewer components than current cards and is believed to allow for smaller notebooks with card slots in different places.

Dell's tactics are not new to the industry. Lenovo, through its Think brand, has rescue and recovery software that sets aside a portion of the hard drive for backup purposes. Hewlett-Packard also uses backup software from Symantec. Both companies also support Express Card technology.

But Sam Bhavnani, an analyst with PC industry research firm Current Analysis, said Dell is potentially planting the seed for a future where PCs, as a rule, come with automated backup and recovery systems.

"Wi-Fi did not take off until it was integrated in notebooks," Bhavnani said. "The same with 3G (third-generation wireless technology)."