In to every geek's life a little rain must fall. This month, that rain fell on my wife, Laura. 

Laura is a sort of right brained artist. She has a bachelors degree in applied mathematics from NCSU, and she's also a musician and an artist. Before our daughter Lorien was born, Laura drew a web comic. Most recently, she was getting into flash. She's totally awesome and I'm the luckiest guy in the world. But that's not what this blog post is about, so I'll get back to the story.

Since laura does a lot of content creation, she tends to spend a lot of time on her computer, which happens to be a MacBook a bunch of her friends and family pitched in to get her for her birthday last year. Since then she has worked on a few new comic ideas as well as a bunch of different flash projects. And getting things done while raising a baby and being pregnant with another child (due in March), it's understandable that backing up data (especially on such a relatively new computer) might not be a top priority. I'm sure you can see where this is going ...

So one day, Laura's computer just locks up while she's playing Civ 4 on the windows partition she installed. Of course, this isn't abnormal -- it is windows after all. But the computer won't boot up again this time. It spends some time trying to boot, but we get the blinking question mark on a folder indicating there is nothing to boot from, and the hard drive is making a very disheartening squeaking and clicking noise. 

That's right, mechanical drive failure. The worst possible thing that could happen to a disk, especially when none of the data has been backed up. For a year and 3 months. Oh yeah, did I mention it's just out of warrantee and we didn't pick up the Apple Care plan? That might not have been the best way to go. I'm more used to building PCs from components and warrantees on individual parts aren't that important to me, but I've decided that when buying whole systems (and especially notebooks) I'll be picking up what ever extended warrantee I can get my hands on.

So... yeah. That really sucked. Laura lost a bunch of data, and there isn't really anything I can do about it (we can't afford physical data recovery). We are going to hang on to the disk in case some day we are in a position to recover whatever data wasn't destroyed from physical damage. But for now, Laura has been quite upset about having lost the data and is a little hesitant about doing anything on the computer any more. Which is a shame, as she's very good and I hate to see her not able to enjoy the things she loves. But I know how upset I get if I accidentally lose something as trivial as a few hours of whatever final fantasy game I happen to be playing when my dog trips over the power cord.

Anyway, I'm trying to rebuild her trust in computers to the point where she doesn't feel nervous doing anything involved and creative. I'm going with a two fold solution. First, I'm trying to set up a cheap NAS device for both explicit back ups of her art and for her to use with Time Machine. So I picked up a 1Tb LaCie Ethernet Disk mini. 

I started with a WD My Book World Edition, but I had a bunch of trouble setting up Time Machine to work with SMB. I actually got it working, but it just wasn't as transparent or easy to use as I wanted, and I seemed to have some speed issues even over gigabit ethernet. The LaCie solution will work much more easily out of the box, and it also supports USB 2.0 which will offer easier recovery in the event of future catastrophic failure. 

I debated going with Apple's Time Capsule, but we've already got gigabit switches and an 802.11n access point. We also wanted to be able to access the drive from our windows based HTPC so we can store some video on it as well. The LaCie shares the drive using multiple protocols, so we can use it with both PCs and Macs. Which was nice.

Anyway, that's the first prong of the attack. After explaining it all to Laura, she asked: but the drive can still fail -- is there anything we can do to keep it from dying? And my reply was that she would want to use SSDs. And thus, some time next quarter we are going to pick up an SSD. The Intel drive is great, but even it is a little pricy and doesn't offer a whole lot of space. We are hoping that by holding out a bit longer we'll see better quality MLC drives from other manufacturers  that can offer some competition to Intel and help bring prices down a bit lower. 

I'll throw this out there: how many of you guys would have gone with an SSD first and a NAS back up disk later? Let me know in the comments.
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  • Iger - Thursday, January 15, 2009 - link

    Hey, I just wanted to say that last time my hdd dropped dead with quite spine-shivering noises, I was saved by GetDataBack. It mocked my HDD for 24-hrs straight, but managed to pull off a couple of gigs of most necessary data (the disc was like 10GB in total - so that was quite some time ago :) ). Have a look - perhaps you'll get lucky!">
  • Denithor - Sunday, January 4, 2009 - link

    Did you try this one? Often works for a "dead" drive, at least long enough to grab data onto a laptop.

    Put drive in ziplock back in freezer overnight. Plug in long USB & power cables, put back in freezer and try to access while it's in the freezer.
  • zOs - Sunday, January 4, 2009 - link

    ... you may try what I did. I had 2 spare 160 Gb Hdds and a 2.5" 80 Gb hdd, I bought an inexpensive ITX board (with celeron 220), installed XP on the little disk, patched it to support RAID in disk manager, then configured the 2 larger disks as raid 1. When I'm home and need to access my data I turn on the mini-pc, when I'm not I can turn it on by WOL (it should work over the internet as well, but just to be sure I use PUTTY to connect to my router and send the command from it). Works like a charm. Considering the board, the RAM, the 60W 12V power brick and the (cheap) mini-case I forked out about 150€. It may also work as backup pc and media-server (I installed twonky on it, works great). The only drawback is the 100 Mbit network adapter on board. I guess you may use the PCI slot for that if the case permits.

    SSDs are nice, but imho it's too early to depend on them.... It's true, there's no mechanical part in them but: what if they stop working anyway? I guess data recovery costs would go through the roof...
  • simonv - Saturday, January 3, 2009 - link

    Only a question on WD MyBook.

    Why didn't you use NFS functionality on it? I think that is a way to go on Mac. NFS is not enabled by default, but can be easily added. I did that on mine (I run Linux at my home mostly). There is a very good page on expanding MyBook functionalities at">
  • heulenwolf - Wednesday, December 31, 2008 - link


    My division buys us new Dell computers when the warranties run out (usually every 3 years). This summer, I requested a Latitude with the "Ultra Performance SSD" (Samsung FlashSSD SLC drive) and Vista. I knew I was going out on a limb in that almost no one else at the company (a medium-sized corporation) uses Vista or SSDs. This uniqueness means that support from both our Dell Certified IT folks and Dell itself has been a bit more laborious that usual. The first PC came with a stability problem. Dell tried to say that we'd configured the drive access in the BIOS incorrectly. We hadn't changed any settings in the BIOS so I knew that was bogus. Eventually, it crashed enough and we complained enough that it was considered a lemon and Dell sent a whole new system. We never did figure out what was wrong with the first one. Recently, on the new system only 5 months old, Vista reported that the drive was failing and that I should back it up before I lose everything. So, I backed everything up multiple ways since our automated backup system has had some restore issues. Drive access slowed to a crawl, peaking around 5 MB/s in Vista's resource monitor, and the drive access light always showed busy. Dell's diagnostic tests all failed immediately on the drive with similar messages about backing everything up before its lost. The drive survived all this backing up, diagnostic testing, and a few days of regular use without fail, however. I'm not convinced any of these diagnostic tools realize that the drive isn't magnetic. I'm guessing they're explicitly trusting whatever data the SMART system is providing in generating those errors. So, now I'm on my third SLC flash disk on my second PC in 6 months. This system has cost Dell a bundle and a half. I'll bet that if they simply had better diagnostic tools, they could have avoided replacing both the first PC (retail price around $2500) and the second drive ($600 upgrade retail cost). Today, when our tech went to wipe the bad drive for return to Dell, he was at a loss as to how to do it. Drive scrubbers are everywhere for magnetic drives but how do you scrub the data on a FlashSSD when the data recovery methods aren't even well understood, yet?

    The moral: Yes SSDs should be more reliable but the diagnostics and support aren't there for them, yet. Despite their extremely high cost and all the technical reasons why they should fail less, in userland, you may be trading the devil you know for the devil you don't.
  • subflava - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Sorry to hear about that Derek...same thing happened to our home PC a few years back. Lost all of our digital pictures. That's why I swear by RAID1 in my desktop now, but that obviously doesn't protect from accidental deletion, fire, etc. My current solution is a schedule/automated SyncToy job which copies the directories I care about once a week onto my HP NAS which also doubles as primary storage for media files. My NAS also came with some sort of "ghost" type of backup application that I haven't played with yet, but I suppose if you wanted to just capture an image of the drive then that would be the way to go.

    Although the NAS solves the problem of having multiple copies, I am a bit worried about having both sets of data in my house. Haven't decided what I want to do yet, but I'm leaning towards periodically pulling one of my RAID1 disks and storing that offsite somewhere (maybe a close friend's/family, safety deposit box, etc). Then I would just re-mirror the array with a 3rd disk. You could keep an rotation going indefinitely.

    FYI - I eventually paid to have the data recovered a few years later and it cost me about $1800. A big chunk of change for sure, but I learned my lesson. Also, if you do decide to have someone look at it and they tell you it's "not repairable", take it for a 2nd opinion. Took me 2 tries...first place I took it to said it was not repairable, but a 2nd vendor had no problems. Go figure.
  • Olyros - Wednesday, December 31, 2008 - link

    If I were you I'd look into Windows Home Server instead of NAS.
    It provides remote centralized storage, automated daily backups (it even wakes your pcs from standby and puts them back in sleep when it's done) and optional folder duplication for extra assurance.

    You can check this"> for a more detailed description.
  • Gholam - Wednesday, December 31, 2008 - link

    WHS is teh sexx0r. In addition to automated backups with bare metal restore capability, it also gives you secure remote (WAN) access to your data, acts as an RDP proxy for your other systems, and can do a host of other tasks.
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    First, I would like to say that I spent the better part of a year benchmarking every single 'shared storage protocol' that I knew of. This includes Samba, NFS, iSCSI, AoE, FTP, Windows standard file sharing, and a few others I am probably forgetting about. They are all slower than I personally like. FTP probably was the fastest I tested (~60MB/s), but like every other protocol, speed depends on disk block size vs the file size of said transfer. Disk setup made no difference, and even using a 4x RAID0 array made very little difference in performance. Keep in mind, I would never use RAID0 as a backup solution, but I wanted to test for maximum possible speed. At one point, I had iSCSI, and XFS setup on a Linux box that came close to ~55MB/s. Said install was too unreliable however, because of between the keyboard and chair error, or just OSS issues. What it came down to was that I was not seeing this marvelous speed increase from using GbE controllers. I tested all sorts of possibilities, including Intel GbE pro adapters, and had to finally call no joy.

    After having the above results put a damper on my ideas, I came up with 3 possibilities to achieve what I wanted. a) Buy an expensive SAS controller along with a few 'enterprise' grade SATA drives. b) Use eSATA in one of many forms, including port multipliers, or multi-lane singles. c) Put extra HDDs in my desktop system, and use these with some form of automated backup.

    Where I am currently at right now personally is 'c'. I have a total of 3TB of drives ( all Seagates mind you ) in my main desktop system. I use a program called DeltaCopy (freeware) which is kind of a Windows rsync port. Microsoft also has a similar tool called SyncToy. Anyhow, the idea here is that I get local single disk speeds, and I can use DeltaCopy to sync multiple target sources, to a single or multiple target backup locations. Also, I do keep all my data files under the 'My Documents' directory, but I have since moved this directory off of the main OS drive. With DeltaCopy backing up my important files to two other locations, this means I have 3 total copies of each said file. This means I could have two drive failures, and still an intact copy. Also since I am not using RAID1, this means I can use the rest of the drive(s) to store whatever I want; short term, or long term.

    Now thinking of the Macbook perspective, unless you have the funds, and ability to use an eSATA cardbus adapter, you're pretty much stuck with USB, firewire, or ethernet. USB, and ethernet are going to perform similar, so if you want the best possible speeds, firewire, or eSATA are your only two real options. Personally when given the choice between USB, or ethernet, I would use USB every single time just based on costs. Ethernet drives can come in handy however if you do not like moving an external drive around from machine to machine, but still that can also be an advantage.

    As for SSD's . . . they are cost prohibitive. Being a speed junky, I would be more than happy to own/use said devices for said purposes. Also, be aware unless you're using an external hardware solution, your speeds are not going to be any better. Reliability ? Seagate is still conducting their studies on them, so the verdict is still unknown.
  • CheapFlyer - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    WHS is the best $99 backup plan I have ever used. If you have multiple computers in the house this is a no brainer.

    Although you can restore any Windows based PC in short order, you can only use it as shared network storage on the Mac (as far as I know at least).

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