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Paranoid about hard drive crashes? Just clone it!

Working in the help desk and computer support industry for past 10 years has taught me one important lesson about hard drives – they will fail! Some fail after 6 months, others take longer, but eventually that photo and music collection is going bye bye. Here’s what you can do to protect your stuff without a whole lot of effort.

Here’s the dilemma: With all the advances in computers, engineers simply haven’t figured out how to store large amounts of data on devices without moving parts cheaply. Think about it. The only parts in your computer that still have moving parts are the CD/DVD rom/writer, the fans and the hard drive. Eventually these disks will be replaced by very large capacity flash drives or SSD’s, but until that happens we’re stuck with a failure rate of about 1 in 5 within the first 6 months.

Fortunately prices on hard disks have been falling while capacity has been increasing, so the drives many use to store their photo & mp3 collections are now cheap enough to be used to store backups too. The only question that remains is what to backup and how to restore it in the inevitable event of a failure. Well, I say how about Everything! Just clone the drive. That way there’s nothing to re-install or re-configure. Here’s how:

  1. First go out and buy a replacement hard drive for your computer. My Dell notebook has an 80GB Hitachi hard drive, so the backup drive I bought was also an 80GB disk by Fujitsu ($58 bucks from Axiontech.com). If you’re not sure how much to spend on a new drive, keep in mind that Drivesavers.com will charge anywhere from $500 to $1000 to recover data from the average crashed desktop hard drive.
  2. Now you need some software. I recommend Acronis True Image 10 for $49 bucks. It has all the bells and whistles and clones fastest. hdClone from Miray Software is free as long as your source and destination drives are exactly the same size (not likely unless you purchase an identical drive). Ghost 10 from Symantec is priced at $69 bucks and also offers advanced features like a schedule to clone your drive periodically.
    Acronis 8 has also won the C|net editors choice award for 2005 Acronis 10
  3. OK. You’re almost there. If you have a notebook like me, you’ll have to buy a USB enclosure for your hard drive so you can attach it to your USB port in order to perform the clone operation. Mine was $22 bucks from Axiontech.com. The instructions are simple, put the drive in the enclosure and plug it into a USB port.
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  4. Now reboot your machine with the USB drive attached and start that Cloning software (Ghost or hdClone). READ THE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY making a mistake during the cloning process can wipe your source hard disk if you do it wrong. Make sure you set your current disk (usually the IDE disk) to the SOURCE and the new USB drive as the destination…not the other way around!
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  5. Start the clone. When it’s done you have a complete backup that you can store in a safe place and use to get up and running within minutes.

That’s it.

March 30, 2007

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