Having given up on my attempts to fix my bad drive at home, I've decided to reassess my personal backup solution. Although my backups are quite thorough at work, my computers at home receive far less attention.

Previously, I'd used RAID occasionally. However, although RAID 1 creates a level of redundancy, it doesn't solve any archiving or offline backup. In fact, if I do something foolish on my main drive, with RAID 1, I will have done it instantaneously on my second drive.

Network Attached Storage is an appealing option if one has multiple points that require backing up fairly regularly. Attaching a device to your ethernet or wireless network to serve as a central storage repository, without the cost of buying a server, is a great concept.

When looking at one of less expensive NAS devices meant for home use be careful as may bring you to fits of frustration. About a year ago, I bought a Buffalo Linkstation Storage Center 250 (Model HD-H250LAN) that I decided to try out at work first. I was so disappointed that the device just started gathering dust in the corner of my office.

If you're looking at a backup solution, such as a NAS or external hard drive, consider carefully the types of backups you require, taking operating systems and frequency of backup. PC World ran an article on big hard drives and NAS solutions recently with prices running in the $800+ range.
Next, look at bandwidth, particularly for a NAS. If you are routinely performing large, full backups, you might want a NAS device that has Gigabit ethernet. In an external hard drive USB 2.0 and Firewire will speed up your transfer time.

If your looking at wireless solution, you can get a device that serves as a print server as well, but be sure to examine the level of security provided. If you're concerned about the security of your various computers on a wireless network, a wide-open NAS device that aggregates all of your files will cause you sleepless nights.

When comparing the backup methods, look for a device that uses a easy-to-use backup program, or none at all, depending on your level of expertise. Buffalo's HD250LAN used a proprietary backup program that appeared initially to have a small footprint. However, when I ran a backup it started to slow down the workstation. (Moreover, 9 times out of 10 the device would disappear from the network before my backup had completed — leaving me with nothing to show for my backup efforts!) More user-friendly solutions are Retrospect, formerly of Dantz, but now owned by EMC, and, according to several reviewers, Maxtor's One-Touch application bundle.

Average Requirements
Like many, I have a wireless network at home. However, I don't want to have a NAS sitting out in the open on it. Basically, I need:

  • Maximum throughput (because I don't like to wait);
  • Variety of connectors (e.g. USB 2.0, Firewire);
  • Archival capabilities;
  • Upgradability, or the capability of using the drive elsewhere at some point,
  • and, perhaps, thus, large capacity.

Additionally, I would like to be capable of taking snapshots, or images, of the drive for full restores as well as backing up the files individually, perhaps incrementally.

Because I want to have the option of using the hard drive in a desktop in the future, either for replacement of one of my current drives or using the hard drive in a new computer, I elected to buy a hard drive enclosure for a 3.5" drive. Hard drive enclosures are incredibly easy to use and are often times very inexpensive.

My favorite enclosure at the moment is the Coolgear HD35-KSDFT, which features external SATA, Firewire and USB 2.0 external connectors. The COOLMAX 15436 is an identical product sold through NewEgg. The enclosure costs about $70 , which is about $30 more than a Firewire or USB only drive. The external SATA interface is an added bonus. Moreover, you can put either a SATA or an IDE drive into the HD35-KSDFT, which is great because it allows for added flexibility and expands the upgrade options I have for my various computers.

For a hard drive, drives around 250GB capacity are currently a sweet deal. They're less than half the price of most 500GB drives and only a few dollars more than smaller drives. They come in around $.30/GB. The drives I have currently in the computers around the house amount to roughly 160GB. As I only wish to image one of these, a 250-300GB drive should be sufficient, for now.

Pricing this out:

$70 Coolgear\COOLMAX Enclosure
$75 250GB Hard Drive

That $145 is roughly the same cost as buying a complete external hard drive off the shelf, perhaps a little cheaper. However, the expandability, capacity and flexibility of the internal/external SATA support, coupled with the USB 2.0/Firewire combo puts this solution over the top.

This package doesn't include any backup software, but I'm fairly confident I can take care of that myself. (I'll look at personal backup software next week.)

Data Transfer Rates
As a wrap up, let's look at the throughput of the three interfaces:

SATA* 1200 Mbps
USB 2.0 480 Mbps
Firewire 400 400 Mbps

SATA is a step up from PATA, or Ultra ATA drives, which run between 264Mbps to 1064Mbps.

Megabits per second (Mbps) and Megabytes per second (MB/s) are two different measurements that are not to be confused. The abbreviations are just as important as the difference between "tsp" and "T". 8 Mbps = 1MB/s. According to Roadkil's Disk Speed, the internal SATA drive I'm working currently on has a read speed of 55MB/s, which equates to 440Mbps.

Since we know that the advertised data transfer rates are theoretical [think of the MPG rating on the sticker of a new car], it's rather clear that some bottlenecking will occur on Firewire and USB 2.0 transfers. (Here's a good illustration.)

* SATA II, or SATA 300, is delivers 2400Mbps.