New devices make backing up less of a chore

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2002 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #678  October 22-28, 2002 High Tech Office  column

    If Neil Sedaka was writing it, he might have said, "They say that backing up is hard to do."

    And while most of us have a little nagging voice, I suspect that even fewer of us are regularly backing up our data than before. Maybe that's because the hard drives that store our data are more reliable than they used to be. But today's huge multi-gigabyte drives are harder to back up than before.

    In 1989, I could back up my 40-megabyte drive on to a few dozen floppy disks, a tedious chore taking an hour or so. But a modern 40-gigabyte drive is a thousand times larger. While IT professionals may back up to tape across the network after everyone else has gone home, it's become so inconvenient for the rest of us that we just don't bother.

    Inconvenient or not, we still need to back up, however.

    Drives fail or computers are stolen. While operating systems and applications can (generally) be reinstalled, your data is often irreplaceable and probably worth more than your computer itself.

    It can be done and new hardware and software make it easier.

    I'm a big fan of the new high-speed connections, Firewire and USB 2.0 (also known as USB high speed) that are finally becoming more common on new hardware and affordable to add on to your existing computers.

    In my home office, my Apple iBook notebook has Firewire built-in (as do all Macs). I've added a Firewire PC Card to my Compaq notebook for less than $100 and an Adaptec DuoConnect card adding both Firewire and USB 2.0 to the desktop system.

    Next step was to purchase an empty Firewire case (about $150), letting me plug in a common, cheap CD-RW drive. The result: a high-speed recordable drive that I can share among all three computers, storing data on $1 (or less) blank CD discs.

    Backing up 700 MB on to a blank CD is fine for storing my data files. But CDs are still awkward for backing up an entire hard drive. Recordable DVD is slowly becoming more affordable and can store up to 4.7 gigabytes on a disc. That's seven CDs worth. Unlike earlier models, HP's second-generation drives now write to both $10 DVD-R (record once) and $12 DVD-RW rewritable discs. Their DVD200 series is available as an internal $700 drive and an external $850 model sporting both Firewire and high speed USB 2. It takes about a half hour to burn almost five gigabytes of data, music, or video. Once again, the external model can be shared among multiple computers, though HP supports Windows PCs only.

    HP includes software to create music and video DVDs, (no, you can't copy commercial video DVDs), and a simple backup utility: HP Simple Backup.

    A step up: Backup Now! 3.0 ($120) from Newtech Infosystems ( This back-up software supports all versions of Windows, and works with a wide range of CD and DVD drives. (The company also makes CD-Maker and Dragon Burn CD software for Windows and Mac. Check on their Web site to determine whether your model is supported.) Backup Now can be used to create images of entire drives, like the popular Symantec Ghost and PowerQuest DriveImage programs. But it also includes the features of back-up utilities, letting users choose to just back up files added or changes since the last backup. Its Easystep interface walks users through its many options.

    Unlike traditional back-up programs (such as Dantz Retrospect or Veritas Backup Exec), it doesn't support tape drives, though users can also back up to other drive partitions or network drives. A 10-day free trial version is available for download.

    Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator and computer specialist. He can be reached at

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan