AMITIAE - Wednesday 2 April 2014

Backing up on a Mac - External Hard Disks, Bangkok Post, Life

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


I have one sure way to make my students laugh. I ask if they have backed up their computers. There is silence, then a slight giggle, then the class breaks into laughter. With all the work they put into classes and their projects, they risk losing all: either by theft, loss, hard disk failure or software problems. My teaching colleagues admit to backing up once a month, or less: maybe more when running a project. It took a burglary and the loss of a Mac with all my photographs for me to take backing up seriously.

When a disk failed on a 15" MacBook Pro that was under warranty, I picked up a MacBook Pro 13" as a short-term replacement and used Apple's Time Machine to make the 13" Mac my new main machine. When the 15" Mac was returned with its new disk, I transferred all data (including what was created in the interim) back to the 15" machine.

The process took around 45 minutes in both cases. A disk needs to use an OS X Extended (Journaled) partition and Time Machine is set up in System Preferences. I have information about this on my website in an A - Z List of System Preferences.

I use two disks to back up with Time Machine: one at work and one at home. The office disk uses USB, but the other disk has a Firewire cable. That was used with my previous MacBook Pro. The newer machine has Thunderbolt ports for fast data transfers. I bought an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Firewire adapter (1,090 baht - $29). I added a Thunderbolt disk this week.

Backing up
Time Machine Backup Disks: Firewire 800, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt

As well as using Time Machine, I use the Finder to transfer certain irreplaceable files directly to a hard disk. I also use cloud systems for some backups, although have yet to find one that suits me perfectly.

Backing up
Western Digital and LaCie Backup Disks

Despite the use of Thunderbolt ports on all new Macs, it is hard to find an external hard disk that uses a Thunderbolt cable to connect in Bangkok. Most disks here use USB 3.0 and are priced in the region of 2,500 for a 1 TB disk. I like LaCie disks, although also use a 2 TB Western Digital My Book Studio. I have a couple of Imation disks too.

Backing up

A look on the LaCie site showed me a number of disks with Thunderbolt capabilities. I also saw that one of the authorised distributors here was iStudio (Copperwired), so I called in to the Siam Discovery store early last week.

There were no Thunderbolt disks. I was particularly interested in a new disk that used a 1TB SSD drive. Its small size, 1 TB capacity and speed made this attractive. The $1299 price, was less endearing. I saw that the LaCie disk I have currently has been updated to Thunderbolt and larger capacity (3, 4 or 5 TB) and starts at a more accessible $299.

Before asking the iStudio staff, I loaded the page on my iPhone which I showed to the helpful "Dech" (Narudech). He told me they had something similar but these were out of stock (order about 2 weeks). He made a phone call to the main office and enquiries were under way. When he phoned later in the week, the SSD disk was not available (sold out in the USA too) and he estimated that the price would be around 40,000 with VAT.

Backing up
LaCie Little Big Disk

He also told me on the phone that they did have another LaCie Thunderbolt disk. When I looked on Saturday, this was less than the 14,000 he had suggested. It was 11,990 baht and I bought this. I checked transfer speeds on all the disks I had using a 1.56 GB MPEG test file:

  • 500 GB Imation with USB 2.0 - 36.43 seconds

  • 1 TB Imation disk with Micro-B USB 3.0 - 17.28 seconds.

  • 500 GB LaCie Big Disk with Firewire 800 and Thunderbolt adapter - 23.86 secs

  • 2 TB Western Digital My Book Studio disk with Firewire and the adapter - 24.53 seconds

  • 2 TB LaCie Little Big Disk with Thunderbolt - 9.61 seconds

Hard disks are fine, until they are not. Most churn away for years: note that disk makers usually give 3 or 5 years warranty, while some disks have only a year. There may be some warning if you are lucky; and a check of the S.M.A.R.T. status (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) using Disk Utility, could help. I have additional utilities, including CoreCode's SMARTReporter which is now on the Mac App Store.

If your computer has gone or the disk has failed, so too has your data. It may be possible for the police to find a stolen device; or for a recovery service to retrieve the data from a dead disk, but the risks are too great to leave to luck.

Backing up
WD My Book Studio, LaCie Big Disk and Little Big Disk

Additional Note

Western Digital has just announced its My Passport Pro: a 2 TB and 4 TB solution with Thunderbolt cable that does not need a separate power supply.
WD My Passport Pro
WD My Passport Pro 2 TB

External Links:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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