Review: Highly Portable Backup Solutions for on the Road
If you travel as frequently as I do, you've probably learned a few things about life on the road, tips that help you avoid problems and ensure that fluffy pillows are the biggest complaint you have, not lost data or crashed laptops.
One of my favorite tips, one that I have seen people ignore with really terrible results more than once, is to never apply a security update, patch or other system change when you're away from your office. If it goes wrong, you're in big trouble and you don't have your local geeks around to help recover things.
The second rule of thumb is: back up your critical files before you leave on your trip and again at least once while on the road. Just in case.
That's why I was glad to have an extended trip to Hawaii as an excuse to try out a few different approaches to data backup. The candidates: A Corsair 32GB flash drive, a Western Digital 160GB Passport drive and Memeo's LifeAgent Internet backup system, all connected to my trusty MacBook Pro.
Each of these has different capabilities and strengths. The Internet backup solution seems like it should be the most transparent and if you're already using a 'net-based data backup solution in your office or home it should invisibly travel with you on the road too.
Unfortunately, while I have found Memeo's LifeAgent a good solution for local network disk backup in my office (I have a 1TB drive plugged into my wifi router) it didn't perform properly with Internet backup. In fact, I filed a bug with Memeo and they're debugging the app to try and figure out why if the program couldn't get to my network drive why it couldn't nonetheless proceed and utilize the Internet backup device too. No word yet, but I have a feeling that'll be quickly solved.
The biggest annoyance I had with the Passport was that it required me to carry a separate mini-USB cable. It came with one, about 6" long, but given the lovely design, it wasn't at all clear to me why they couldn't have tucked a tiny 3" USB jack into the device itself. Okay, it'd be a tiny bit larger, but the convenience of never having to dig through the inevitable rats nest of wires to find the mini-USB would be a big win. Indeed, I envision something like the Flip with its flip-out USB jack.
Street price for the 160GB Passport is about $90, so that's about $0.75/gig, which seems pretty good to me, considering I remember buying 20MB external drives for my first computers (yeah, and they were more than $90, I'll tell you that!). They also have a 320GB drive with the same slim form-factor if you need even more space.
It's yet a different sort of device, but I have to say that I really like the Corsair 32GB Flash Voyager drive. 32GB isn't as big as the Passport drive, but for a device that's no bigger than your pinkie, water resistant and doesn't need a separate cord, it's pretty darn sweet.
I have written before about Corsair flash drives, actually (see Corsair 8GB Survivor Review) and like the product line. In fact, given that I can still vividly remember thinking it was trés cool to score a 128MB flash drive from Microsoft a few years ago at the Consumer Electronics Show, multi-gig flash drives are rather amazing, and 32GB is huge!
Whether I was using the WD drive or the Corsair thumb drive, however, I found one thing frustrating: my MacBook Pro would slow down to a virtual crawl when I was copying large amounts of data, to the point where I basically just let it copy without intervention and resumed my tasks after it finished up. The Mac supports USB 2.0 and I experimented with both of the USB ports, without seeing any meaningful difference in performance. Copying wasn't too bad but I think that both devices are best used for copying, not as live drives that you're working on directly.
I also found that copying data off the devices was considerably faster than copying it onto the device, which is common with devices that have faster read speeds than write speeds (e.g., most hard drives). If you are going to use these as master copies for data or to distribute large datasets, performance will definitely be less of an issue than if you're constantly writing data onto them.
Nonetheless, with the above caveats, I would still recommend both the Corsair 32GB Flash Voyager and the Western Digital 160GB Passport devices if you're looking for a highly portable backup device that can easily travel with you. Once Memeo irons out the glitches with LifeAgent and network drive space, I expect that'll also prove a good solution, though I cannot recommend it yet as I haven't seen it work reliably.
Do you do backups on your travels? And if so, to what device?
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