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Need Help Chosing Paid Disk Imaging and Back-up Software

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#1 Slider51


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Posted 31 July 2014 - 03:22 PM

I read through this entire thread, but I'm still unsure as to what to do here...


Went through the traumatic, expensive task of replacing my small businesses two XP machines and lots of software a couple months back.  I bought 2 Dell OptiPlex 64-bit 3020's, running Win7 Professional SP1 "networked" with a router and added a Buffalo external HDD set up on a share with the two machines.  I put "networked" in quotes because the two machines are used for totally different functions in my business, we don't have shares set up between them other than mutual access to the Buffalo drive - they're only hooked together for internet access through the same router. 


Anyway, a bad case of procrastination has kept me from settling on and implementing a disk imaging (cloning) solution as well as a back-up solution.  (I know, I know - I'm crazy to be running unprotected like this).


Okay - the two machines came with Dell's basic Back-Up and Recovery software.  Doing some reading I of course find out that I have to buy their upgrade to do much of anything with the package.  Unfortunately the reports I'm reading online are bad enough regarding this package (and Dell's support of it)  that I don't think it's what I'm after.


I used to use Acronis, and it saved my bacon on a hard drive crash a few years back - but now the reading I'm doing is full of scary warnings about overly complicated interfaces, images that are bad, etc.  I don't know how it is now, but back then seemed like you had to buy the basic package plus the Recovery Manager plus something else to actually be able to re-mount images...(could be wrong ...that was further back than last week  :)


I need to make it clear that I'm in my 60's and I am nowhere near as up to speed as 99% of you reading this forum, so I unfortunately have to ask you to "dumb it down" a little for me.  The second machine is run by my wife, who keeps the business's books on hers, and while she's very good with the software she uses, like me she isn't a well-educated user.   We can learn to run whatever we buy, but we're not going to know much past what the software instructions tell us to do...


So, to cut to the chase.  I want to buy a full version program that will take complete snapshots of both our machines, backing up all our software, settings, files, Outlook e-mails, everything to enable us to be back up and running quickly on new hardware after a catastrophic failure such as a HDD crash , ransomware lockup, or other nasty problem.  Currently the plan is to add a second external HDD that will only be connected to the router long enough to receive the snapshots/backups for storage.  I'll keep the rescue disk  files on a stick drive and/or DVD if they'll fit.  We'll probably take new snapshots weekly as well as new full backups.  Our backups (a friend who helped us set up the machines did one Dell backup at the beginning) are not that large, and with terrabytes of storage available, we'll probably just stick with complete full backups each time, maybe erasing the oldest at 6 months old or something along those lines).


I am totally aware that "best software" is pretty much a subjective statement, but I'm asking for some of you with much more knowledge than me about what is available, is completely thorough, and most of all is user-friendly enough that dumber-than-average users like us can keep ourselves safer.  Free software is good, but I've always found you don't get something for nothing, most of it is stripped down or key features are only available through purchased upgrades anyway, so I'm fine with buying full versions.  We don't have huge archives, at least right now I have no interest in cloud storage (plus I'm old enough that the thought of all our data floating around out there scares me a little).


Could a few of you help us out with your recommendation as to which program(s) to buy - We also welcome any suggestions as to the best way to do the backups - in the past storage space has never been an issue, so I always just kept several full backups...the XP machines each had 2 hard drives, the second was used just for backup storage, and we cross-stored the back-ups as well (machine A backup stored on machine B and vice versa).


We're playing with fire not having a back-up or snapshot solution in place, and I need to get this done quickly so I can sleep better.  Please help if you can - looking for simple, something that clones everything, and free is not a requirement.  Thank you very much in advance for any and all replies.  

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#2 Scoop8


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Posted 01 August 2014 - 10:18 AM

There's another thread in this forum that may help with additional information for you.


The thread link:  What Backup Tool should I use


I posted in that thread on page 2  post 24 .


Regarding your post about Acronis, I've been using the 2011 paid version for 3 years without problems.  I'm not sure about the issues that you mentioned reading elsewhere, images not recoverable.  I've not experienced any issues thus far.


Cloning vs Imaging:  The words are often used synonymously although they are different processes that basically achieve the same results pertaining to full-HDD backups.


I prefer using both methods in my full-HDD backup routines, cloning my Desktop once every 2 weeks and (full-HDD) Imaging less frequently.


Paid vs Free backup programs:  Generally speaking, your reference is accurate (you get more flexibility/options with paid versions) but there are some good free backup tools that include some of the paid-versions, such as incremental/differential backup capabilities.


I've been using "Macrium Reflect" (free) for a while as my Imaging tool.  The free version doesn't include "chain" backups (incremental/differential).


Incremental and differential full-HDD backups are a good way to implement daily unattended scheduled backups but they require a continuously-connected storage device, unless the user manually launches the scheduled backups.


I like Macrium Reflect's user interface.  I've found that it's easy to navigate.


Here's a link that may help you decide on which paid backup software is best for your needs:





The main thing to keep in mind about this topic is that it's subjective, as you mentioned in your post, and diverse in opinions on what's the best backup software out there.


One feature that's a requirement for me is that the software includes both Cloning and Imaging options.  There are some programs that don't include cloning options.


I'd recommend Acronis for your backup program but that's based on the 2011 version.  I'm not familiar with later versions but I'd expect that they all include the same basic backup fearures.


I like Acronis since it's easy to set up an unattended scheduled daily specific-item backup task.  I'm running a twice-daily task which backs up my must-have items.  If I need to restore the complete HDD, I'll use my cloned HDD or restore from a stored Image.


For full-HDD backups, cloning is very easy.  I clone my Desktop HDD in about 10 minutes.


I prefer processing Clones and Images with the bootable media (CD or USB stick) but you can backup the HDD while remaining in Windows with many backup programs.



The following suggestions are just my opinion, as there are many about this topic. 


- Schedule a periodic full-HDD backup plan, either with a scheduled task or manual process.


- Schedule a frequent unattended backup task for those must-have items.  For me, those items include my Outlook *.PST data file, my Quicken data file, and a few excel files that are frequently updated.


- Maintain the above-mentioned  backup items in multiple locations.  This protects one from one of the ransomware encryption infection incidences.  I'm using a couple of flash sticks for my offline backup copies.  I have a continuously-connected USB HDD for storing the twice-daily unattended backup copies.


- Redundancy is important.  Once you have set up a periodic backup routine, maintain several full-HDD Images that are processed at various points in time on an external storage device that is connected only during processing.  From reading your post, you have a good approach about this idea.


- Use both Cloning and Imaging.  Here's where I've read different opinions about it.  I prefer both since I can install my cloned HDD within a minute and be running my PC normally after a malicious intrusion or other problems related to a failed HDD.  Restoring from an Image requires more time on my part.


If one if periodically cloning, they will have a spare plug-play HDD on the shelf.  That eliminates the requirement to purchase a replacement locally or online in the event of any HDD issue that is encountered.


Imaging provides storage flexibility.  That's why I use both HDD backup techniques.


- Hard Drives are inexpensive.  I mention this because I have the following:


- 2 spare internal HDD's.  I use both for periodic cloning.   When I want to test-restore a full-HDD Image, I can use my 2nd spare HDD and maintain my other recently-cloned HDD in the event of unforeseen issues that may arise with my "test" HDD.


- 2 USB portable HDD's.  I use the Seagate "Goflex" brand HDD's.  I use one for my continuously-connected automated twice-daily specific-item backups (using Acronis).


I use the other portable HDD for storing the same items that I back up manually every 5 days.  The HDD remains offline (disconnected from my PC's) except during the actual file-copying process.  This HDD is primarily maintained to protect against a delayed threat, ie, "Cryptolocker", etc.


To minimize the time that this HDD is connected, I use a file-copy script to eliminate the requirement to manually drag/drop, copy/paste,etc,  those items onto the HDD.

#3 Slider51

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Posted 01 August 2014 - 12:52 PM

Thank you very much Scoop8.  I appreciate the time and effort you put forth to help me figure out what I need.


I reviewed both the thread link and the backup software comparison - all great info. 


Like anybody in business, time is in short supply, so my overall back-up plan needs to be something that is reasonably quick and easy to do.


I had some additional questions for you.  Since a clone is literally my entire computer in a box or on a stick, wouldn't it just make the most sense to clone the machines weekly as our back-up plan in its entirety?  Why would I also need to do full or incremental back-ups?  I'm sure the answer is obvious, but digesting all of the great info you've been so kind to give me has my head spinning a little.


I reviewed the back-up software comparisons, and for no other reason than Acronis saving my tail once before, theirs is probably the software I'll buy.  In reading the specs on both I can't figure out what the difference is between "Acronis Back-up and Recovery" and  "Acronis True Image"...Can you fill me in on the difference?  Do I need both?


If I'm reading this list correctly, these are all back-up software packages.  Looking at the function descriptions (many are like reading Greek to me) I didn't see anything that sounded like "cloning"...can you take a look and tell me if either of the Acronis products do the cloning?  Is that what True Image does, or do I need an additonal program to handle the cloning?


You mentioned having a cloned plug n play HDD at the ready all the time - love the idea - what are the mechanics of that?  Are these HDD's one of the two spares you have onboard?  (Trying to understand how to do a clone to a HDD laying on my desk.  The good news is that what you're describing is EXACTLY what I want - I'm working along, suddenly one of our machines becomes toast, I pop the case open and swap out the HDD and hit the ON button, the machine boots, my old familiar desktop comes up on the screen, and I go back to work - maybe losing a few hours of work at most... I work in blocks of time - might work 7-10 days straight creating and updating data files, and then it can be weeks before I do anything except access those files, send and receive e-mail, etc. 


Next question - I mentioned our old XP machines had redundant HDDs in them - if we do the same thing with these new machines and add a second HDD, is that F:/ drive or whatever we name it susceptible to ransomware?  Are these extortion scripts smart enough to look for additional drives on the same machine and embed itself into the additional drive?


Last thing I can think of for now - our "network" is routed using a low-tech D-Link 4-port router.  I obviously need to upgrade the router to have enough ports for the second external Buffalo drive.  The guy who helped us set up the machines mentioned our old router has the "slow" connections or ports - apparently there is a faster type of router/port that we should upgrade to, especially if we're transferring entire cloned images around, etc.  What type of router is it that I need to go to to get (1) maybe 6-8 ports (2) that uses the "fast" USB connection and (3) is affordable....I looked online at Provantage, and immediately had no idea what I was looking at, as well as losing my lunch at the prices of some of these routers (thousands?)  Can you make a router recommendation for me - I don't do wireless anything (scares me securitywise) and are these routers pretty much plug n play?  Much more than that and I'll have to hire somebody to set the thing up for me - I'm just not that comfortable in my abilities to install a lot of the hardware I see out there...doesn't have to come from Provantage, that's just where I normally buy hardware.


Scoop, thanks ever so much for stepping up and helping here - I realize it's probably a pain dealing with someone with so little computer knowledge, but I reached the point of the technology starting to fly right over my head at least 5 years back... (I started on an 8086 with a single floppy drive and DOS).

#4 Scoop8


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Posted 02 August 2014 - 11:43 AM



You're welcome :),  I'll try to clarify some points you asked about here.


I'm not sure but there may be questions about cloning.


When you clone a HDD, you are making an exact copy of the Source HDD at the time that the clone process completes.


For example, I'm using identical HDD's on my Desktop PC,  Seagate Barracuda 1 Tb  drives.  When I clone, I'll install the cloned PC in my Desktop PC.  I have 2 Sata "Hot Swap" racks Kingwin KF-1000 installed in my Desktop PC tower.  They are great time-savers when installing/removing HDD's on a Desktop PC.


Once the cloning process completes, I remove the newly-cloned HDD (usually referred to as the Target HDD), and put it away on my shelf until the next time I clone, usually for me in 2 weeks.


From the time I place the cloned HDD on the shelf until the next time I clone, I'll have a complete bootable spare HDD to recover from virtually all malicious issues as well as any HDD issues that may arise with my Source HDD.


Since the cloned HDD is a snapshot backup of the entire HDD performed at a specific point in time, any changes that have occurred since the clone was processed won't be backed up.


This is the reason that I'm also backing up my frequently-edited/updated items, twice-daily using "Acronis".  This way, if I need to restore the complete HDD with my cloned HDD, I'll copy those items over to the replacement HDD and then I'll have an up to date replacement HDD.


This is the benefit of periodic cloning since it provides a complete physical HDD that is ready to plug-play and return the PC to normal operating status.


You mentioned cloning with a HDD on the desk.  I think you may have misunderstood my earlier post although, interestingly, you can do that :).


What I was referring to earlier, is that, after I have cloned my spare HDD, I'll store that HDD on the shelf/desk.  It's not attached to the PC once the cloning process completes.


You can also clone a HDD using an external adapter, such as an "Enclosure" device.  I have a Rosewill USB 2.0 Enclosure that I use to clone my Laptop 2.5 HDD.  I like these Enclosures since you can attach both size Sata HDD's, 3.5 and 2.5 .  Enclosures are mainly sold for the purpose of using them as external storage devices but they are also useful as a quick way to attach internal HDD's to PC's via the USB port.


There's also another way to have real-time HDD backup capability.  The process is called "RAID", acronym for "redundant array of inexpensive disk".


Running a RAID array is a great way to recover from a failed HDD since the 2nd "mirror" HDD is copying everything from the Source HDD in real-time.  However, the drawback to RAID setups is that if the PC is compromised by malicious items, those same items will be copied to the mirror HDD.  I used to run a RAID 1 array in my Desktop PC but I discontinued it after I had a problem with it that was requiring too much time to identity and repair the issue.  I also decided to discontinue RAID since it's not a good option for recovering from malicious content since that same content will be copied to the mirror HDD.



This may help, I'll explain my current Desktop PC HDD configuration:


I have a Desktop PC tower that has a 5-bay expandable capacity (for installing 2 Optical Drives, HDD's, etc).


- one Optical Drive


- 2 HDD's.  One is my main "C" HDD, 1 Tb Seagate HDD, containing the OS (Win 7) and most of my personal data, ie "My Documents" folder, etc.


- My other HDD is a 500 Gb Seagate HDD.  I keep my video files (DVD files, etc) and most of my photo files on this HDD.  I recently moved those files from my "C" HDD for a couple of reasons:


   - I'm using "Macrium" as my Imaging tool and it doesn't compress video/photo files efficiently.  By relocating those files to another HDD, I reduced my Imaging time significantly.  This also reduced my "C" HDD cloning time (using Acronis 2011) from 40-45 minutes to about 10 minutes.


    - Generally speaking, with conventional HDD's, they operate faster when they aren't approaching storage capacity.  By relocating those video and photo files to another HDD, this greatly reduced my storage amount on the "C" HDD, thus reducing my cloning and imaging process times.


There are many users at this forum that are going a step further, being more efficient, by dedicating their "C" HDD's to boot/OS drives and storing all of their personal data, and in some cases, programs, on another HDD.  I haven't set up my PC's yet this way.  I'll probably do that when I get the next PC.... Win 9, probably.



So, here's my cloning procedure:


- Attach my shelf clone HDD, before cloning, to my Desktop PC via my Enclosure adapter.


- Open "Disk Management" Console in Windows.  That can be accessed via the Start Button\Computer, etc... or from the Control Panel\Administrative Tools.  You can launch the Console faster from the "Run" dialog screen  <win>r   and then enter  diskmgmt.msc    in the dialog field.


- From the Console, I then delete the partitions on the cloned HDD.  This isn't necessary prior to cloning but I like to do this to eliminate the possibility of cloning in reverse, from the cloning software's user interface dialog screens.  By deleting the partitions on the Target HDD (the one that I'm preparing to clone), that HDD will appear as "unallocated" in the cloning software's setup dialog screens.  It's a fast way for me to distinguish between my Source and Target HDD's before starting the cloning process.


With Acronis, the setup is automatic if the Target HDD is unallocated, since the software recognizes this and logically selects the Source and Target HDD's automatically.


- Load my Acronis bootable CD into my Optical Drive.  Wait a minute or so to allow the CD to be mounted (recognized in Windows).


- Shut down my PC.


- Remove my 500 Gb HDD, my video/photo storage HDD, from my 2nd hot-swap rack.


- Install my Target HDD, the previously cloned HDD that's been stored on the shelf after the last time I cloned, in the same rack.


- Boot up the PC.  When my PC displays the "POST" screen (BIOS screen), I'll tap my F8 key continuously until I see a "boot priority" menu appear.  This menu is accessable from PC's differently, depending on the PC manufacturer.  For example, with my Toshiba Laptop PC, it's the F12 key.  With my Mom's HP Desktop PC, it's the <esc> key.


- From the Boot Priority Menu, select the Optical Drive as the first boot device.


- The PC will then continue the boot sequence, this time booting from my Acronis CD.


- Once Acronis loads into memory, I'll select the "clone disk" option from the Tools & Utilities Menu.


- Begin the cloning process.  After it begins, I'll check a box to "shut down the PC when completed".  Most cloning and imaging software programs provide similar dialogs.


- After the cloning process completes and the PC is shut down, I'll remove the newly-cloned HDD from the 2nd rack and re-install my video/photo HDD in its place.


- Turn on the PC.  Boots up as normal, resume PC activities.


If I want to verify that the newly-cloned HDD works ok,  I'll sometimes do so by:


- Instead of removing the cloned HDD, I'll leave it in the same slot but remove my Source ("C") HDD from my 1st rack.


- Turn on the PC..  It will boot up on the cloned HDD.  I'll verify that it booted up ok and usually do a quick check, launch the browser, e-mail, etc.


- Shut down the PC,  Remove the cloned HDD.  Re-install my video/photo HDD.  Re-install the Source ("C") HDD. 


- Turn on the PC.  Boot up and resume PC activities.



I verify cloned HDD's only occasionally since, after 3 years of periodic cloning, I've yet to encounter any problems with cloned HDD's booting into Windows and running normally.



Imaging essentially accomplishes the same result but the process is different than cloning.  Imaging will process a complete backup of the entire HDD but it's processed in the form of a file, usually compressed from the original size of the HDD.  This file can be stored externally on a USB HDD, for example.  Imaging's big advantage is that you can store redundant multiple Images elsewhere, without requiring a replacement internal HDD.


The reason I mentioned "incremental" and "differential" backups earlier is that those are ways that you can maintain more up to date HDD backups with the Imaging process.


Incremental imaging will backup all content that's been changed, or new, since the last imaging process performed on a HDD.


Differential imaging will backup all content that's been changed, or new, since the last full imaging backup.


These are sometimes referred to as "chain" backups, since they are being stored as multiple files but all associated to the "parent" image.


I'm currently not using chain imaging since it's not required with the way that I backup my HDD but it's a popular and efficient way to schedule image backups on PC's.


The only thing that you may want to keep in mind about chain backups is that, if one backup in the chain is corrupt or otherwise rendered unretrievable, the complete chain won't be recoverable in the event that a restoration is attempted.


While that scenario is rare, it's something that you may want to consider when planning your HDD backup plan.



Your question about multiple HDD's connected on the same PC, and if they're vulnerable to malicious intrusions... that answer is "yes", unfortunately.  This is how "Cryptolocker" and its variants, operate.  It can encrypt certain file types on your other HDD's, rendering them useless, unless the PC user pays a ransom fee to obtain the "key" from the cyber criminals to unlock the files.


This is why it's recommended to have a backup plan in place that maintains multiple copies, one or more of which is stored on an external device that's only connected to the PC during the actual backup processes.



Routers, this is an area that I'm not familiar with but perhaps I can help a little here.


Most Routers, perhaps all, should be "plug-and-play".  My 'net provider is Verizon FIOS and I've replaced Routers with no problems.


One thing that's important is to change the Router password once it's installed.  This is usually easy but I would ask your provider for assistance if needed.


My Router is accessed by entering    into the browser address bar.  I think that works universally to access all Routers but I'm not certain about it.



About your question with Acronis products, referencing the comparison link ealier:


I haven't looked at Acronis products since 2011 when I bought mine, but I looked at this briefly and here's what I see when comparing the "True Image" and "Backup" products:


- True Image provides a virus scanning feature that operates in conjunction with backup-restoration processes.  I'm not sure how efficient that feature is in real-life recovery scenarios, but it's available with this product.


I have the "True Image" 2011 product.


- "Backup and Recovery" product doesn't have the virus-scanning feature.  This product seems to be geared more toward the business buyer vs home PC users.  It allows system administrators to remotely schedule backups.  When I looked at the comparison checkmark chart at that site, I noticed that this feature is also checked for the "True Image" product but in the detailed product description section, it's not.


If you're interested in Acronis, you'll be ok with the "True Image" product.


Cloning, I also didn't see that word mentioned in this listing but both products include disk cloning.  Since I'm not familiar with the current product versions (2014), I went to one my old forums, the Acronis Forum, and looked around for a while.  From reading the member posts about the 2014 products, cloning is included.


I did notice that these software products often omit the "clone" word when reading their published product descriptions.  They'll usually refer to cloning as "backup entire HDD" or "copy HDD", etc.



My bottom line advice about this topic is that you always want to have multiple backup approaches.  In other words, don't rely on only one aspect, like cloning or full-HDD Imaging alone.


For those items that you referred to earlier, editing/updating/creating files in that 7-10 day time period, those items should be backed up independently of cloning or full-HDD Imaging.


If you decide on going with the chain Imaging plan, that's one advantage since it will backup everything that's new or been changed since the last image processed.


I imagine that you have several of those "can't-lose" items/folders, etc.  I have the same, and this is why I have those items backed up in several locations.


For example, I have a Laptop PC that basically serves as a backup PC in case my Desktop PC goes south.


I have both PC's connected via the Windows "Homegroup" network, from my Router.  This allows me to copy those items to my Laptop from my Desktop PC.


I'll also plug in my Flash Stick once a day or so, and copy the same items to that stick.   In addition, I have that disconnected USB HDD I mentioned earlier, which I copy to that HDD.


My Acronis Scheduler is backing up those items twice-daily automatically to my continuously-connected USB HDD.



Bottom line advice about cloning:  If your PC's (Desktop's) have bay-expansion capability and you decide to install a couple of the "hot-swap" racks that I linked earlier, this rule is important:


Don't boot up the PC with 2 identical HDD's installed in SATA (or IDE) ports.


This could result in "disk signature conflicts" and can cause problems.  You can connect a cloned HDD in Windows once the HDD has booted up and is running Windows.  You don't want Windows to "see" 2 identically-connected (internally with SATA or IDE) HDD's when booting into Windows.

#5 Slider51

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Posted 02 August 2014 - 08:15 PM

Lots of great info Scoop, I'm very grateful for your help.  I assume you installed 2 Kingwin Hot Swap Racks because you're running 2 hard drives to start with, am I correct?  Reason I'm asking is I pulled the side panel off one of these Dells and I have only one full height bay left, directly under my optical drive.  If I understand your system the way I think I do, I should only need one hot-swap rack per machine, is that correct?


The machines each have one 500GB ATA drive. The HDD lives down in the bottom of the case without external access or a removable access plate.  If I install one hot-swap rack I in each machine can clone weekly or monthly, whatever, to a second ATA drive per machine (maybe buy 2 more and rotate them or double-clone for added redundancy, store one each off-site).  If the cloned drive is ever needed, of course I'll need to pull the side panel and replace the drive.  But I love the convenience and quick access of cloning using the hot swap rack. 


I had an idea for the backups, The two machines are in different rooms.  We like the convenience of the External Buffalo HDD for transferring files from machine to machine, plus we store our photos on it, so I wanted to leave that on the router and use the share.  If I bought another Buffalo external HDD, I can set up different folders on it for my machine and my wife's.  My plan would then be, at back-up time, to connect the new Buffalo drive directly to the machine via the front USB port, instead of running it through the router.  Run the backup. Copy the backup file to a flash drive for redundancy.  Then move to the computer in the other room, rinse and repeat.  Unplug the drive and put it in our fireproof safe, send the flash drives to work with my wife so they're off-site. With terrabytes of space available, we can also periodically just do a copy of our photo folders from the networked Buffalo drive to the one that will sit unhooked.


This plan doesn't have provisions for scheduled or unattended backups, but as long as it's this easy we'll make it a habit and I think we'll be good.


This sound like a workable plan?  If so I'll get the hardware on order.


I sent you a PM - please review it and let me know.  There's a 3rd machine involved that I can't quite figure out what to do with yet.  Due to Win 7 not running AutoCAD (except in in virtual XP machine and that's rife with problems) I had to retain one of the XP machines, (both actually) kept strictly stand-alone and offline, and used for all my CAD work.  I have it set up on a monitor/mouse/keyboard switch.   Part of what I was asking you about in the PM is kicking around some ideas to keep this 3rd machine running  - there are a total of 4 HDDs in these 2 machines...I just have a few questions about what's possible and what isn't.

Edited by Slider51, 02 August 2014 - 08:21 PM.

#6 Scoop8


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Posted 03 August 2014 - 12:54 PM



Right, I'm running my Desktop PC with 2 HDD's installed.  The 1st Rack contains my "C" HDD (Windows OS, programs, my personal data).  The 2nd HDD is used for storing my video & photo files.


With your Dell PC, you should be able to install a hot-swap rack in the unit.  I forgot to mention earlier that there's another brand of these racks that I'd prefer if I hadn't previously purchased the Kingwin brand.  The Kingwin's are working fine but I think the design of the Orico racks have a better design, my opinion.  They provide a front panel power switch for the HDD and the tray door locking mechanism appears to be a little more robust design.


The main reason that I installed 2 racks is actually not for the main purpose of the racks, which is fast HDD install/removal for additional storage capacity.


The reason I installed 2 racks is to facilitate fast and easy cloning utilizing SATA III so that I can run the cloning process with my Source and Target HDD's via the internal SATA connections instead of cloning with the Target HDD externally from my USB 2.0 port speed


With that comes the added benefit of avoiding accessing the internal PC area to remove/install the HDD's.


Regarding your 2nd paragraph, there would be no need to access the internal PC to replace your HDD if you wanted to install the cloned HDD.  You'll have the rack installed in the Dell PC so that prevents that requirement when installing the cloned HDD, or replacing your original "C" HDD for any reason.


In other words, the rack is installed and you'd be running the PC with your "C" HDD installed in the rack.  If or when you'd want to replace the "C" HDD with the cloned HDD or in the event of your "C" HDD encountering problems, you'd be able to replace that HDD in seconds due to the rack being installed.


Your idea with the external USB Buffalo HDD's will work.  You have the right idea.  The only things I'd recommend, if budget allows, would be to provide dedicated external HDD's for each PC.  It's not really needed but it may reduce the chances of transferring potential malicious presences from one PC to the other PC.


That could occur with the Router/share HDD.  Then again, you may never encounter a situation where the external HDD's are infected by malicious *exe launchers.


I'd recommend using the scheduled unattended backup tool (Acronis, etc) in addition to the approach that you mentioned, manually backing up the items.


I mention this because for most safe surfers and protected (up to date AV's, etc) PC users, the frequency of malicious infections where you'd be required to restore, install the cloned HDD, is relatively rare.


For example, you may not be affected by malware, etc, for the next 2-3 years or longer.  If something happens before then, you'll be prepared with your offline manual backup activities.


I have 2 friends that have not yet been affected by malicious intrusions in many years of 'net connectivity.  There's another member at this forum that's been infection-free since 1995, if my memory's right.  That's an amazing record :) .


My track record's not that good :), compared to the 2 friends.  However, it's been a while since I was last affected, November 2012 was the last time that occurred.  Prior to that, I was affected about once every 1.5 years from 2004 to 2012 but that includes a couple of incidences back in the days where most malicious intrusions weren't too difficult to sanitize.


That was also before I was running a dual-layer AV/antimalware preventative setup on my PC's (I'm running Norton AV and MBAM Pro on my 2 PC's).


Based on the odds of your PC's not being affected most of the time, that's why I'd recommend both an automated and manual backup plan.  The chances of you needing to use the manually backed up items for recovery are going to be, for most PC users, very low.  Meanwhile, you'll have the convenience of daily automated backups to have for peace of mind and recovery from non-malicious situations, such as user mistakes.  Believe me, we're all susceptible to those mistakes :)


I forgot to mention one aspect about the basic concept and implementation of these SATA hot-swap racks.  The idea of the design is to allow the removal and installation of SATA HDD's without shutting down the PC, ie, with power still applied to the HDD's.


This works, providing you're running an OS that supports "AHCI"  (Advanced Host Controller Interface) mode.  It's also necessary to check the BIOS setting to see if the storage mode is set to AHCI or the older IDE mode.


I've kept my BIOS setting to IDE mode for a couple of reasons.  One reason is that some bootable tools, ie, HDD utility tools, etc, won't boot in AHCI mode.


Another reason is that, if possible, it's best to set the BIOS storage mode to AHCI mode at the time of the initial Windows OS install.  You can change it after the OS has been installed but, occasionally, some programs may encounter issues with that scenario.


The other reason why I've left my Desktop PC in IDE mode is that I'm shutting down my PC before cloning anyway, in order for the PC to boot up on my CD drive.


I've read some about the AHCI vs IDE mode topic elsewhere and there are different points of view on it.  The main benefit of running in AHCI mode, in addition to enabling SATA hot-swap capability, is that it's generally agreed upon that the PC performance will improve with AHCI mode.


However, I've read (at the Win 7 forum), that some PC users have run PC performance comparisons with AHCI vs IDE modes on their PC's and the differences have been negligible.  The reason for that could be due to numerous variables as PC's are as diverse as opinions :)


It's another one of those diverse PC topics, I guess :)

#7 Slider51

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Posted 03 August 2014 - 01:58 PM

Haha we crossed messages - Your PM answered most of the one I just wrote in this one...


I get what you're saying about not replacing the trashed HDD and just running from the cloned HDD in the hot swap rack, but then that ends my capability of cloning doesn't it? - the rack is being used for the replacement HDD.  I definitely will be running the Acronis clone software from the optical drive - in fact, my machines have always had the BIOS set up to first boot to the optical drive - these Dells are the first machines that I haven't changed the boot sequence.  Makes so much sense not to boot Windows first when cloning.


I'll consider a second (third actually) Buffalo drive - you make a good point.  Depending on your thoughts as to buying 4 new HDDs for cloning, or 2...the bill's already getting pretty high.  Id hook them up directly to a USB port, leaving the router out of the loop.  The scheduled running backups will require a habit change for us - we still shut our machines down whenever we're not using them - guess I've always worried about leaving a computer on 24/7....


Thanks - it's so good having someone to bounce things off from and who (trust me) knows 10 times what I do about these black boxes that run (ruin?) our lives....

#8 Scoop8


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Posted 03 August 2014 - 08:10 PM



The hot-swap rack won't prevent you from cloning (or Imaging).  It's just a quick-connect tray that allows HDD's to be installed and removed in a way that's similar to loading and unloading a CD or DVD from the tray on a player.


For example, if your Desktop PC tower only has room for 1 SATA hot-swap rack, as I'm thinking this is the case, then you'd be cloning with your Target HDD installed in an "Enclosure" device or a SATA/USB Cable.  The "C" HDD (the Source HDD) remains installed in the hot-swap tray during cloning, as it would be during daily PC usage.


The advantage with the rack is that you could install the newly-cloned HDD in your PC in seconds, instead of opening up the PC case and spending time with screws and cable connections.


Regarding booting into the Acronis CD, or another cloning/imaging tool's CD, you're right, your PC's boot order is set up to boot from the optical drive first so you're good to go there.


Regarding cloning outside of the OS, it's not necessary for the most part since many of the cloning and imaging products will use the Windows "Shadow Copy" service, also known as VSS (Volume Snapshot Service).


The advantage of this, is that the PC user can continue using the PC interactively while running cloning or imaging operations.  I prefer to clone and image from the boot media (ie, Acronis CD, etc) since, by doing that, the user is verifying a "worse-case" scenario with the PC. 


For example, it's verifying that the boot media loads into RAM ok, and the user is restoring the PC independently of the OS, simulating a situation where the user has had to wipe the Source HDD, or is restoring the PC using a new HDD.


Regarding unattended backups, the options vary with the user.


My Desktop PC is in "sleep" mode instead of turned off, when I'm not using it overnight.


I use Sleep mode since I run my overnight unattended AV and MBAM scans at that time.  I prefer that since the PC's not running those scans when I'm using the PC.


I do the same with one of my unattended Acronis specific-item backup schedules.  Acronis has a built-in "wakeup PC" feature.  It wakes the PC, then runs the backup.  After that's done, my MBAM scan runs.  Then, my Norton AV scan runs.  When the Norton scan completes, Norton has a nice option that will return the PC to Sleep mode when the scan is completed.


I have an "insurance" wakeup task that I use, just in case Acronis doesn't wake the PC before the backup job starts.  I wake up the PC with the Windows Task Scheduler about 2 minutes before the backup time is scheduled to start.


The advantage of using Sleep mode instead of shutting down the PC overnight is that the user can run various tasks at a time when the PC isn't being used interactively.


Thanks for your words, but I'm no guru :).  Believe me, most of the regular posting members here are as far ahead of me with this PC scene as Earth's current distance from the "Voyager 1" space probe, which is currently far beyond Pluto's orbit at 128.5 AU's , or  1.199129914e+10 miles  :).


About the black boxes.... "let the user control the box, not the box control the user"   2hpuctt.jpg

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