Hard Drive - 2 Flash/Brolly
Creative Commons License photo credit: geerlingguy

In the last big part of this series, we talked about working drives — the various options and their strengths and weaknesses. In the next few sections, I’ll be diving a little deeper while discussing various options for your backup hardware. Once we make it through the hardware, we’ll talk software. And finally, we’ll finish off with a discussion about strategy.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
TOC — PHOTO BACKUP GUIDE
BACK — WORKING DRIVES
NEXT — EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE

Our options for backup hardware is much the same as the working drives, but we have a few other options too. To kick off this section, we’ll go over the use of internal hard drives as backup hardware.

The PC under the MiniMac
Creative Commons License photo credit: veeliam

THE BASICS

An internal hard drive is simply a hard drive housed within your computer case and attached to its power and data connections. All computers have at least one internal drive to run the operating system, but an internal backup drive is one separate from your main drive. Simply creating a copy of your data on the same hard drive won’t give you much data protection. On that same note, most computers have more than one power supply cable and hard drive data connection, so installing a second, third, or even fourth drive should be no problem.

Hard drives come in all different flavors. Common form factors include 3.5″ (commonly found in desktops) and 2.5″ (commonly found in laptops). Let me just interrupt the flow to state that this article is based on the assumption that you’re using a desktop computer with 3.5″ drives — laptops don’t usually have too much extra space for additional drives. Hard drives also come in a multitude of disk interfaces (or the shape of the data plug). The SATA interface is most common today, but some computer are still supporting the old ATA drives. SCSI (pronounced “scuzzy” if you’re a geek) is not terribly common, but some people still use them. And I’m sure that by the time I publish this article, the next best thing will have obsoleted the SATA drive.

So my point is this: make sure you know what type of drive you can plug into your computer. Don’t jump on that ATA drive because it’s cheap, only to find out that you can’t even plug it in. Also beware of differences within a particular interface — for example, we’ve got SATA 1.5 Gb/s, SATA 3.0 Gb/s, and now SATA 6.0 Gb/s is in the works. So again, figure out what you need before you buy.

BACKING UP

Internal hard drives can be used as backup drives a few different ways. The simplest method is to install the drive as a secondary drive, or extra storage space, and use some type of software backup utility to make a copy of your chosen data from your main drive. We’ll talk about software options later, but most operating systems (excluding Vista) give you the ability to make backups of specific files and directories.

Another method is to use the drive as a mirror, or RAID 1 configuration. A mirror is simply a disk that is a duplicate of another disk or portion of a disk (like your photos), usually updated in real-time. For this, you’ll either need a piece of software or hardware (like a RAID controller) to manage the mirror operations.

The last major method of internal drive backup I’ll talk about is a full-blown RAID 5 configuration. This method will require at least 3 separate internal drives and a RAID controller to work (though I believe that some distributions of Linux can do this via software). A RAID 5 setup utilizes these 3 or more drives as a single drive with the data split between them in a manner that allows one drive to fail and your data to remain in-tact (of course the failed drive has to be replaced though).

Lucha Libre
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian Auer

STRENGTHS

Internal hard drives are fast, cheap, and they stay out of your way. They won’t clutter up your desktop or get knocked off the printer stand because they’re bolted to the inside of your computer case. They also have fairly high capacities given the cost — 1TB drives are not so uncommon. Drop down to 500GB or so and you can pick one up for much less than $100.

WEAKNESSES

still fighting the burger wars
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sumit

Well… for starters, it’s sitting right next to your main drive. This means that you’re not protected against theft, fire, lightning strikes, computer viruses, and spontaneous combustion. If something happens to destroy your main drive, it’s probably going to destroy your back up drive. It does protect against a random hard drive failure though, which is more common than most other catastrophes. The other downside to the internal drive is that you can’t pack it up and move it around or store it off-site without lugging your whole computer along or ripping it apart.

CONCLUSIONS

Extra internal drives can be a very feasible backup solution. They’re certainly better than nothing, and you have a couple of options for how you set up the drive to interact with your other internal drives. If you do choose to go this route, I’d strongly suggest a secondary backup plan (which is something I’d suggest anyway). Just don’t get stuck in the notion that you need an external hard drive to backup your photos — which is what we’ll be talking about in the next article for this series.

PRODUCTS

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A correction; RAID 0 will “span” the data across two disks giving you the total capacity of both drives with no redundancy. You’re after RAID 1, which is the real time mirror of another disk; this gives you the total usable capacity of the smallest disk, and allows your data to survive the failure of one disk.

Also, Windows can create software RAID5 volumes using “Dynamic Disks”; how reliable Windows software RAID is is another discussion entirely :)

October 23, 2008 2:27 am

Another great series Brian:

For all your readers, please keep in mind that with all hard drives it is not IF the will fail but WHEN.

I have over the years have had 5 hard rives fail. Because I maintain at least 2 backup copies, (I have 5 levels) I have never lost any data.

Niels Henriksen

October 23, 2008 7:28 am

@Greg Thanks for catching that — I’ve fixed it up. Not sure why I put a zero in there…

October 23, 2008 9:43 am

Thanks for another great article, and for dealing with this subject in a way that isn’t too frightfully technical ;-) Most people tend to not really think about backups, and have a lot of excuses to “postpone” setting up a good backup plan. It’s much better to do this *before* you have problems.

October 23, 2008 9:53 pm


Called in via problogger – valuable blog – I enjoyed the portrait techniques post. Cheers

October 25, 2008 3:47 am

You have convinced me. I currently use an external drive, but am going to add another internal one for backups. I may still use the external once a week to capture snapshots of the main drive.

October 25, 2008 3:59 pm

Your strategy makes a lot of sense. Since I travel frequently, i feel the RAID is best for me.

October 28, 2008 1:57 pm


If you are using Windows, you can even set up your computer to automatically run data back up for you. Just set the specific day in the week, month, etc and the time on which you want the back up to run. Vista even changed its data back up process to help “not so technical” people navigate it easily. You can find the data back up option in the Back Up and Restore section of Control Panel.

Additional tip:
If you don’t really have a large amount of essential data to back up, you won’t even have to purchase an additional hard drive. you can opt to back up your files to a CD/DVD or USB flash drive. :)

April 29, 2009 4:28 am

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