Backup Your Windows PC For Free

It’s something we should all be doing but never seems important until it’s too late. I’m not talking about taking the dog for a walk or feeding the cat, I’m talking about backing up your PC. In the words of Joni Mitchell “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.” How would you feel if you never saw your data again. Family photos, years worth of e-mails, documents, music and videos all gone in the blink of an eye. This is usually where we come in with our data recovery process. But there is an alternative. Lifehacker has an excellent guide on using free software to backup your PC. The only prerequisite is that you purchase an external hard disk of sufficient storage capacity.

For Mac users there is a totally different process. If you are running Leopard (10.5) then take a look at Time Machine. (More on this in a future post)

Checkout Lifehacker for all the details

2TB WD Drive

Western Digital are apparently set to release a 2TB hard disk in the next week or so. With a 32MB cache and “Green” logo, this drive will spin down from 7,200rpm to 5,400rpm to conserve power. With capacities like this, the gap between SSDs and hard disks is still far from closing.

The Eight Commandments

1. Stop using the drive. Any mechanical faults can be worsened by using a failing hard disk drive.

2. Do not remove any covers or parts. Removing the top cover of a drive will introduce dust, particles, fingerprints and other contamination if not removed in a controlled clean environment. Some drives are also very difficult to realign once the cover has been removed.
3. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES PUT YOUR DRIVE IN A FREEZER! This dangerous myth has been doing the rounds for so long that it is almost common knowledge but unfortunately only a small number of drives respond well to such treatment. The risk of allowing moisture by way of condensation into the drive far outweighs the likelihood of it actually allowing you to get your data back. We have a high success rate and have never had the need to put a drive in a freezer. Recovery from a water / condensation damaged HD is likely to cost you a lot more than a regular recovery.
4. If you are going down the DIY software route, keep a very close eye on the process. Make sure you recover the data to a second (external if possible) hard disk. If the process stops at any point, or if it incurs hundreds of errors then it is best to stop the recovery and get the data recovered professionally. Also if the software reports that it will take more than a few hours for a drive under 1TB then don’t let it continue. There is likely some damage on the drive which will only get worse if the drive keeps being used.
5. Never attempt to repair a failing hard disk drive. Any writing to an unstable drive will not only fail to fix the problem but it could make the eventual recovery extremely difficult or even impossible. If you cannot afford professional data recovery then we suggest trying to backup the data first and then attempt to fix the drive without any fear of losing the important data.
6. RAID ONLY: Do not attempt to rebuild or reinitialise a problematic RAID array without first backing up the data. If the data cannot  be accessed then a data recovery professional is far more likely to be able to get the data before a destructive rebuild process. It is also important to note the locations and IDs of all drives and label them accordingly if the entire server or RAID enclosure cannot be sent for recovery.
7. Don’t run Windows Check Disk without first backing up your data. If you see the blue message for the first time that says something like:
Checking file system on C:
The type of file system is NTFS
One of your disks needs to be checked for consistency. You may cancel the disk check, but it is strongly recommended that you continue.
To skip disk checking, press any key within  7  second(s).
 Press any key to cancel the scan, you should then backup your data as soon as possible onto another drive, USB pen, DVD, CD or even Floppy Disk. Then you can safely reboot and run the check. BEWARE: The drive can be warning you that it is on it’s last legs. It could be just a one-off problem or the drive could be destined for the dustbin (after a secure erase of course).
8. Be very wary of any potential data recovery company. You will be trusting them with your precious data after all. Ask lots of questions and get some quotes up front. You should expect to pay between £250 – £750 for a single hard drive data recovery. This depends on factors such as drive capacity, failure type and turnaround time.

Toshiba 400GB 2.5" Drives

Toshiba have recently announced the new GSX series of hard disk drives. With 200GB per platter these 5400rpm drives should see the light of day by the end of the year. There are other notable features such as the new acoustic technology which aims to silence seek operations.

In addition to increasing areal density to 308 gigabits-per-square-inch, the 400GB MK4058GSX incorporates acoustic techniques that make the 5,400 RPM HDD nearly inaudible during seek operations.

Tosh have also announced the new GSY series of drives which will be a touch less spacious at 320GB but spin at a whopping 7200rpm with fast data throughput of 1020 megabits per second.

WD Caviar Black -FAST 1TB

Finally. A 7200rpm drive with 1TB of storage from Western Digital. (Didn’t we already have one of those?) Anyway, they are touting this as the fastest 3.5″ SATA drive on the market. It does have a 32MB cache and a 5 year warranty so it may be a good choice for those wishing to up their storage capacity. I am starting to warm to Western Digital as their recent offerings seem to be stylish, fast and stable. (And I have one in my iMac that i would hate to have a failure!)

The Little-Big Drive

Toshiba has just announced the 1.8″, 160GB, 5400rpm MK1617GSG drive. Apparently designed for netbooks and other such small machines, it’s a shame that this drive is a tad on the bulky side. at 8mm thick, this drive would be bulging out the sides of a current iPod or MacBook Air. With a SATA interface though, this drive could make for some fun embedded type devices or mods. I would personally love to see one squashed into an eeepc. I also bet that this little baby will be far cheaper than an equivalent solid state drive.

Fujitsu Encrypted Hard Disks

Fujitsu’s new 80-320GB “MHZ2 CJ” drives come with a nice added feature. Not only do they spin at a reasonable 7200rpm, they also have the ability to totally lock you out of your data (And throw away the key). With AES-256 encryption you you can be sure that a forgotten password would wave bye-bye to your data. Currently, AES has yet to be broken in a feasible way, leaving a lengthy brute-force attack as the only option. I question the implementation, as we have seen a number of problems with hard drive passwords which are stored on the drive in the service area. Quite often the passwords become corrupt leaving the user locked out of their drive.  The only way to overcome hard drive passwords is by low-level firmware repair, effectively removing the password. This is likely not an option with disk encryption as you would expect a much more robust system. 
Whichever way you look at an encrypted drive, it could  cause major problems to people needing data recovery. Is it just a clever marketing scheme in a paranoid market or is there some really secure basis for the new technology. I can’t wait to get my hands on one and find out.

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Seagate May Sue Rival SSD Makers

The next battle in the war on SSDs may have just begun. Apparently Seagate are convinced that SSD makers such as Samsung and Intel are violating some of Seagate’s (and Western Digital’s) patents. The wizardry which relates to the way a storage device communicates with a computer is at stake, even though Seagate themselves don’t appear too taken with an SSD based future. CEO Bill Watkins is quoted as saying, “realistically, I just don’t see the flash notebook sell.” I would have to agree with that at the moment. Cost per GB, reliability and speed are among the many drawbacks currently facing solid state drives when compared to traditional hard disk drives. Once these issues are resolved then the need for regular backups will become all the more important in my eyes at least. There are currently many ways in which we can resurrect a failing hard drive but next to no ways to recover a failed SSD.

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Hard Drives Vs Solid State Round 1

It seems the backlash may have already begun. As we expected the current batch of SSDs are no match for the long perfected hard drives. Reports of customers returning solid state laptops are apparently hitting the 10-20% mark. I would like to think that a new revolutionary data storage medium gets into the market place before SSDs really take hold. I have an SSD in my EEE pc which is fine but I can’t help thinking a 30GB 1.8″ drive would have been far more versatile. Let’s see what developments appear in round 2. Will the SSDs fight back? (I think not…)

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