June 07, 2005

Curious George: Back-ups. What is the best way to back-up the files on my iBook?

I use my G4 iBook mostly for school notes (Word documents), saving music files, and storing photos of family. Yesterday, after selling a bunch of used CDs that I burned onto my hard drive, I realised that if anything happened to my laptop, I would be out of a lot of important (to me) stuff. My question is, what is the best way to back everything up? Should I get an external hard drive, a DVD burner, zip drive? I don't want to spend too much money ($300 tops), but I would like to buy something that could have more than one use -- eg. DVD burner would allow me to make home movies for the distant family members,etc So tell me Monkeys, what's my best choice?

  • While I'm not a Maccie, I like the idea of an image of your hard drive as backup. I have a second hard drive on my desktop for backups, and I use Partition Magic to create a copy of my main drive and save it as a partition on the second. You could do something similar with a external hard drive... with the price of a 100+GB external hard drive about $100-$150 bucks, it's well within your budget. Plus, you can take your external drive with you and connect to other systems where you might need access to the data.
  • I was in a similar situation a while ago. My iBook is old and has a tiny 10 gig internal drive which meant that I couldn't hold much of my music collection or lots of games on it (especially now after installing 10.4). I figured that the next computer I bought would have a DVD burner and I didn't really have any pressing need to make DVDs right now, so buying a burner wouldn't be all that practical. I decided that an external hard drive was the solution for me. I used to have a LaCie 10 GB USB one that I took apart to swap into my mom's iMac and ruined in the process, so I went with a FireWire case and a plain 80 GB drive (it was big back in the day!). If I need to in the future, I can always swap out the drive and put in a bigger one without having to worry about ruining the case or drive. Are Zip drives even 1 GB yet? They were handy in the mid-90s, but even the iPod shuffle has cracked the gig barrier. If you have plenty of space left on your iBook and don't plan on getting a new computer any time soon, a DVD burner might be better for you, but otherwise I'd say get a dual FireWire/USB 2.0 case and as big of a HD you can afford.
  • CD/DVD burner and/or external HD. Those are the choices that are most cost effective and easy to deal with. Burning CDs is your best option; just make sure you buy good quality CD-Rs for long term viability. Quality CD-Rs offer excellent long term stability (comparatively), low cost, and excellent compatibility (just in case you need to use one on an entirely different computer platform). Burning DVDs offers similar advantages to CD-Rs, with slight trade-offs. DVD-Rs are much larger than CD-Rs, 4.7GB, which is useful since a lot of people have many times 700MB of data (CD size) these days. However, DVD-Rs aren't quite as compatible - they're not as standardized, though admittedly we're into paranoia levels of compatability here. DVD-Rs are also not considered as stable for long term storage as CD-Rs. There are apparently fewer manufacturers of highest quality DVD-Rs, and long term stability was simply not a big consideration when they were designed, unlike CD-Rs. DVD-Rs are, frankly, a bit of a kludge. CDs and DVDs also offer the advantage of being very light and compact to travel with, a very desirable feature for 'off-site' storage. If you're remotely serious about data backup, you should practice off-site storage of a copy of your backups. Whether it be leaving that copy at your office, parents' house, your weekend cottage, etc, off-site storage defeats one of the major causes of data loss - fire and theft. A fire proof safe is also effective for this same purpose, should you already have one. External hard drives are your second choice. The cost per gig is unmatched in cheapness and they are reasonably reliable long term, as long as you're dependable in only running the hard drive when you're actually backing up. Hard drives are rated for 'hours of runtime', so the less you run them the more reliable they are (generally). Because they're larger and heavier, external HDs are more hassle to transport to off-site storage. Many people with large music collections use external HDs for backup, because otherwise they'd have to burn dozens of CDs or DVDs. Then they store the external HD in a safe or off-site, and only sync it with their collection once every few months. In other words, they trade off a bit of backup frequency for cost and ease of use, because it's their music collection, not their financial records.
  • The other one to consider is the iPod. Then you get the added bonus of uhm, having an iPod. Here's a 30 gig iPod Photo for only $289 and you can sometimes find better if you can find the older, non-photo ones... How big is the drive in the iBook? (on preview - i don't know much bout this, but I hear that cd-r's degrade over time and you don't really know when. so one day you go to get the old wedding pics back to make some reprints and the cd is suddenly rife with bad blocks and corrupted pics of wifey with cake on her face. that said, the iPod also has a limited lifespan... )
  • I just went through this and my choice was cd/dvd burner. I can use cheep cd's or dvd's and watch movies. As far as long term stability goes use the right pen to mark them and no stickers (bad glue bad). Also dont forget to test those backups and redo them from time to time to preempt those bad blocks.
  • I would also recommend getting an external Firewire hard drive; they're reasonably cheap (a quick search on Pricewatch revealed a 160 GB drive for $95, which isn't too shabby), and you get to use them afterwards. You could probably go much cheaper than that if you just get a Firewire enclosure for an internal IDE drive and find a friend who has such a drive to spare. (I bought a 120 GB external from some small company through Pricewatch, and I have since upgraded it to 200 GB; while the process was slightly intimidating, it wasn't very hard.) They're also much less irritating than shuffling CDs through the burner all night. If you want to back up your entire system and not just a few files off of it, I recommend using Carbon Copy Cloner to do it. Then if something happens, you can boot off the volume that you copied to and use CCC from the other side to restore it to your computer. It doesn't do incremental backup, though. On preview: it looks like CCC doesn't quite work with Tiger yet. Hmm...
  • Lots of good advice here already. I just thought I'd point out that removable magnetic media (like Zip, mentioned in the OP, or Jaz, a similar, larger-capacity system) are expensive, bulky, and unreliable by modern standards. They really have no future. Even if you got a crazy-cheap deal (like say, free) on a Zip or Jaz drive, it would be a curse in disguise. Avoid avoid avoid.
  • I've got a few other computers on my home network - my main one is a laptop, and the secondary one I use as an mp3 player. Every now and then I mount the other computer and do a tar gzip which makes a compressed archive of certain important folders onto the secondary computer. I even wrote a script for the process.
  • Thanks for the advice everybody. I'll mull it over for a few days while I wait for my next financial aid check to arrive. Bananas for all! and back-up bananas too
  • If you're comfortable at the command prompt look at rsync for performing your backups to disc. If memory serves it comes as standard with OS X. If you prefer a more 'pointy-clicky' experience take a look at SuperDuper.
  • I second Carbon Copy Cloner and an external drive. It's cheap, easy, fast and reliable. CCC will even duplicate all the hidden files and whatnot, so you can clone a bootable copy of your internal hard drive. In the face of catastrophe you not only have a back up, but a whole hard drive you can use while waiting for UPS to delivery your replacement internal drive.
  • One post above mentioned using rsync. This was my choice too, until I heard that the Mac OS rsync does not play well with other operating systems. I recommend you do some research to make sure that you can safely rsync to Linux or Windows (or whatever the destination machine is running) and recover from this operating system, before relying on rsync. --Pat
  • I've used Qdea's Synchronize! X Plus, which works well. Their Backup Simplicity is a simpler, cheaper version. I don't think the disk space you get with Apple's .Mac is a good value, but it makes backups pretty easy.
  • As a friend of mine recently lost a windows install, it seemed like a good time to revisit this issue. They have a mac and a windows machine. I was going to suggest that they buy a firewire/usb external hard drive and partition it with one partition for the mac and one for the pc. I'm familiar with the options for free or cheap backup software on the mac end (I use LaCie's Silverkeeper myself), but I'm less clear on the pc end of things. Any suggestions for something similar to Silverkeeper or Synchronize X in the PC world?