Mon, 07 Jul 2003

Genius devices to backup your valuable data

Zatni Arbi, Columnist, Jakarta,

Today, I am working on my old Pentium III PC again, and my daughter can smile again as she has got her PC back. Theoretically, my data, which is now stored on two mirrored SCSI hard disks, should be much safer.

As I wrote in this column last week, I also bought an external, USB 2.0/FireWire hard disk enclosure. It is a cute, beige plastic enclosure with a stand and an external power supply. Placing a 3.5-inch hard disk inside does not require the skills of a racetrack mechanic, and we do not even need a screwdriver to open the cover. I did not buy a hard disk for it, as I had a couple of old hard disks in my desk drawers that I could probably still use. The hard disk enclosure itself cost me Rp 750,000. The models that support only USB 2.0 or FireWire, but not both, would cost less, of course.

Incidentally, at home I also had a crippled PC that one of my friends had given to me when he bought a new one. For the past four years, that PC had been collecting dust in a corner next to my mountain bike. I picked up that PC, opened the casing and took its hard disk out. It was a 2 GB Quantum, which was known to be quite a reliable model. I was not sure whether it was still working, though.

To find out, I put it inside the enclosure, plugged the data and power cables to the hard disk, plugged the USB cable to my USB 1.1 port and pressed the power button. To my pleasant surprise, Windows XP immediately recognized the external data storage as a removable disk. After a few seconds, a dialog box appeared on my screen, just like when you insert a CD-ROM into its drive.

I then used Windows Explorer to check the contents of the hard disk. It turned out that its My Documents folder was still intact. I immediately copied all the files to a CD-ROM. When this friend of mine learned that his files had been recovered and saved on a CD-ROM, he was overjoyed. "You just do not know what it means to me," he said. Of course I do, as he is also a reporter.

Now, I am using an old 2 GB Seagate hard disk as my external hard disk. This hard disk may be a couple of years old, but it came from a Compaq Presario whose owner wanted a larger hard disk, so it should be a good one. Once a week, I copy all the contents of my SCSI hard disks to it as my second backup.

And, believe it or not, so far my files only take up around 142 MB of the total 2 GB capacity. It will be a long time before I need to replace the hard disk with a larger one.

The external hard disk uses USB 2.0, but I only have USB 1.1 ports on my three-year-old machine. It does not matter, actually, as the USB 2.0 is backward compatible. However, Windows XP will remind me each time that the speed will be limited if I do not use USB 2.0.

Several USB 2.0 cards are available at the stores. They are plug-and-play cards, and if you use Windows XP, you will not need to install the driver. There are also FireWire add-on cards that you can install on your PC to enable you to use the external hard disk or upload video files from your digital cameras.

If you need to access hard disks that other people think are already dead, I would really recommend buying this external hard disk enclosure. You can use it to test hard disks without having to open the casing of your PC, for example. In my case, I was also able to access the content of another friend's hard disk and save the files on a CD-ROM for him.


My study is quite small, actually. On my desk, I only have space for one keyboard and one monitor. During the weeks I was fixing the PC I use for my work, I had to continue working with the PC I borrowed from my daughter. To be able to work with both PCs using the same keyboard, mouse and monitor, I bought a KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) switch. Several makes and models were available at the stores, but I chose the one that could connect to four PCs. It cost me around US$85.

With the KVM switch, all I needed to do was plug the monitor data cable, the keyboard and mouse cables to the device and use the supplied cables to connect it to the PCs. No power supply was necessary, as the device drew power from the PCs.

Many years ago I bought a similar product, but that one still used a mechanical switch. Understandably, the product did not last long and I soon experienced short circuits that stopped my PCs from operating properly. With the new KVM switch, everything was done electronically. While there is a button on top of the device that we can use to switch from one PC to another, you can also use the hotkeys.

For example, if I wanted to connect my keyboard, mouse and monitor to the PC on port number three, all I will have to do is press the control key (Ctrl) twice followed by a "3".

One thing I found out later about the KVM that I had bought was that it forced me to slow my typing. Each time I typed too fast, some characters would be lost. Also, for some reason my Logitech cordless mouse did not work with my daughter's ASUS Prodigy when connected via the KVM switch.

* USB Flash Memory

As Chris, a JP reader, said in his e-mail to me last week, a much simpler -- perhaps the simplest -- way to backup your data today was to use the USB flash memory, also known as the thumb or keychain memory device. They are very small and light and come in various shapes and colors. They can store from 32, 64, 128, 256, 512 MB to 1 GB of data. The 1 GB version still costs Rp 2.5 million, though, while the 256 MB version now only costs around Rp 600,000.

If you have one of these tiny memory devices, all you have to do is plug it directly into one of your USB ports, and Windows XP will immediately recognize it. If you run an older version of Windows, you will need to install the software driver.

Stay tuned, as we will take a closer look at this and other types of flash memory devices in an upcoming article.