February 9, 2020 – I am an unashamed data backup fiend and proud of it!Once upon a time, well, actually twice, we experienced computer hard drive failures. Oh, the horror!

At those times, my local backup strategy was not fully formed. I was not safe and stood to lose all that was on those drives. Photos, music, old home videos converted to digital AND natively digital home videos, and all my personal data as well as Mr. Gadget work product created since the early 1980s.

If I was as knowledgeable all those years ago as I am now, I would not have needed to have had data professionally retrieved from dead hard drives at great expense. Fortunately, the good folks at DriveSavers are expert at what they do and saved me from catastrophe by retrieving the data on those failed drives and sending it to me on portable hard drives. The hard lesson learned was to BACK UP, and back up often, even constantly or at least every day or two in a three-tiered approach.

An approach that includes ONE backup is no backup at all. What if that ONE backup fails. Do not trust just one additional copy. Redundancy is the key. The more, the merrier, but not so many as to be intrusive and uncomfortably time consuming. Better to make the effort to back up than to suffer irretrievable data loss.

First, local backup. On my Macs I use Intego Personal Backup or their similarly named Backup Manager Pro product marketed by LaCie. I also use SuperDuper! These products allow me to create what I prefer and that is available ONLY on a Mac – an external bootable backup. What’s that?

Follow along on this, “OH, &%$*@#!” scenario. Time to start the day, so starting up my Mac is the first order of business. Press the power button and wait . . .

Only instead of the familiar Mac “Bong” startup sound followed by the telling progress bar towards complete boot up, I am greeted by a question mark to indicate that my Mac is not well, it cannot locate the drive or data on the drive to allow startup to take place. That sinking feeling is a dark cloud and that, dear friends, is the,”OH, &%$*@#!” scenario. Dead. Stuck. Nothing can proceed. Worse still, is the thought of losing my stuff on that drive.

As a Mac user, I fear if/when this happens differently than as my other computer user persona, a Windows PC user. An external bootable backup drive allows any Mac user to restart with the external bootable backup drive connected by USB. Restarting with the Option key held down as soon as the Bong sound is heard tells the Mac to find connected drives from which that Mac can restart, that is, boot up.

Seeing the external bootable backup as a choice means the user is but a few minutes away from starting as normal, starting as before the failure. Then, as soon as possible, get the drive replaced. In the meantime, the computer is booted from the external and work can proceed while in this fail-safe mode.

The external bootable drive is a mirror image, a clone of the now-failed internal drive, be it a conventional HDD, or Hard Disk Drive, or a modern SSD, Solid State Drive.

Every bit, every byte of data is on that external bootable backup. NO WAITING! Recovering from this calamity is the easiest on a Mac. Nothing is lost except the difference between the last backup and the failure.

Once the failed drive is replaced, it is a pretty easy exercise to restore to the new internal drive the contents of the external bootable clone. However long it takes to transfer from external to internal is the time it takes to be up and running again.

On a Windows PC this kind of backup with an external bootable drive available at the ready is not possible because Microsoft does not make it possible to start up a Windows PC from an externally connected drive. In order to benefit from a complete external backup from a Windows computer, sometimes called a bare metal backup, the external drive must be mounted inside the desktop or laptop. The failed internal drive must be replaced with that external drive removed from its case. Then, a new external backup must be created. Not quite as instantly recoverable as on a Mac.

That’s the short version.

The second and third part of the three-way data protection solution are online options. This means a “cloud-based solution” where data is sent up to that ephemeral cloud. The not-so-hidden gotcha is that the cloud-based backup solutions are not going to backup every bit, every byte of data from the main drive. Online backups store data. That’s documents and photos primarily, and maybe the user’s music library. Nothing is bootable, but the data is reliably stored.

Downloading ALL the cloud data back to the computer from whence it came or to a new computer can take hours and hours, even several days. Yes, days and days. Depending upon the amount of data that needs to go from the cloud and down to the new hard drive in the repaired desktop can take from one to three days, or more. Grabs you, doesn’t it?

The tradeoff is that the data is generally thought of as being securely saved.

Not automatically going to the cloud are all the applications, the videos, the settings, and ALL the personalization that makes that computer the owner’s. Recovering is a matter of following the prompts with the software used for disaster recovery.

Not getting that warm and fuzzy feeling yet?

I also use Apple’s long-in-the-tooth Time Machine locally, though this is NOT a bootable option.

And I also use somewhat redundant cloud-based backups, Carbonite, Degoo and soon, IDrive.

Oh, and Apple iCloud, Amazon photos with Amazon Prime, Google Photos with Gmail, DropBox and more, but who’s counting!

In my world, you can’t be too careful, but I digress.

Whatever your storage options and choices, be SURE to access and verify the integrity of the data saved outside of your computer, phone or tablet. If you don’t verify and validate its integrity, how will you be confident of its accessibility and retrievability when the need arises?? Hmmm? How will you?

No joke, folks. This is serious &%$*@#!, unless you don’t have data worth backing up, data worth saving.

I hope you have taken my tale to heart. And now, back to the point of this article.

The point? That it can take hours to do a local bootable backup OR a local backup capable of repopulating a replaced drive in a Windows PC. No one wants to or likes to wait.

As I experience the many full external backups, it is notable that they are taking longer and longer to complete.

My current Mac, a MacBook with a 512GB SSD inside, not a pokey slow old-school hard drive spinning at around 5400rpm. Why, then, does it take so long?

The external drives connect via USB 3.0 through the single multi-talented connector on the side of this laptop. It is notable that SuperDuper! is inherently much faster to do its job than Intego’s backup product.

I use inexpensive USB-powered rotating media Seagate and Western Digital (WD) drives from Costco and Amazon. I also follow the rule, my own, I think, to have at least four times the storage of the internal drive on the external backup drive. Why? So the drive is never taxed with getting close to its capacity. The closer it gets to being full, the more time it takes to do its job. There has to be headroom to swap all that data in and out. In my case, that means at least a two terabyte drive (2TB).

With only a 512GB internal SSD, I surmised a big part of the bottleneck is the slowness of data transfer from that old fashioned drives to the speedier SSD inside.

To test my theory, I asked my friends at Kingston Technology to send one of their reliable and speedy 2TB SSD with a case and power supply to use with it. For the purpose of this test, I wanted a drive whose performance and transfer speed capabilities exceed that of this and most other laptops.

For the past few months I have performed seemingly countless bootable backups with this drive as well as with the standard drives.

My takeaways – Kingston Technology SSDs are performance rockstars. Backups take far less time to perform. Booting from the Kingston SSD takes instead of as much as nearly nine minutes as little as about three minutes. Though my trials are not scientific, they represent real world verification and validation of the concept.

These evaluations also show that Intego has some work to do! I wonder why SuperDuper! is a speed demon performing the same end result as Intego’s product that consistently takes 15 or more times longer. Then, once completed, all SuperDuper! bootable backups booted my MacBook  much more quickly than did any Intego Bootable backup.

If it was just a matter of a few minutes difference in both backups and boot up, it would not be worth discussing. I value the time NOT spent creating regular backups, the time NOT spent waiting to test the efficacy of the backups by booting to them. Time.

We must test to be SURE the backups do the job for which they are intended. And all of this takes TIME.

SSD versus standard drives with rotating platters inside are more reliable as well as more expensive. Watch this video provided by Kingston Technology that highlights the benefits. For some users the added cost is worth the added expense. What value is placed in your time? Interested in standard, slow technology? You’re covered! Find Seagate 2TB drives and WD 2TB drives. Note the warranties, too. Warranty for linked Seagate drive is one year. For the linked WD drive, two years. For the Kingston SSD? A FIVE YEAR WARRANTY.

Just as an SSD will perform rings around a standard drive for external backup purposes, so, too will an SSD breathe new life into an older laptop or desktop computer that now has an old-fashioned standard HDD. I proved this point years ago when I upgraded my old MacBook from its slow HDD to a speedy Kingston SSD. Speed was better than when new.

You’ve got some choices and decisions to ponder.

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