You can buy a large-capacity external USB drive from Internet discounters for not much more than the cost of a tank of gas.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Disk cloners make backing up a simple chore

August 31, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   Backing up used to be hard -- so hard, in fact, that almost nobody did it.
   But computer backups have entered a new era, ushered in by the availability of cheap external hard drives. Plug one of these $100 USB drives into your Windows PC or Mac, click a few times and you're in backup land. It's literally that simple.
   If you haven't priced external hard drives lately, you're in for a pleasant surprise. You can buy a large-capacity external USB drive -- in other words, a drive already installed in its own small enclosure -- from Internet discounters for not much more than the cost of a tank of gas.
   My own buying experience probably is typical. A few months ago I bought a 500 gigabyte USB drive for $130. A few weeks ago I found the same drive selling for about $85, so I ordered another. (The brand is Cavalry, but you'll find similar bargains among many different brands; they tend to use the same parts.) Two discounters I trust are www.buy.com and www.newegg.com.
   Once you have an external drive with more capacity than your computer's internal drive, you can skip all the old-fashioned worries about backing up files. You simply back up your entire drive. You clone it, in other words. Your new external backup drive ends up being an exact, but-for-bit clone of your computer's internal drive.
   Each night, before you quit for the evening, you run your cloning software and have it update the external copy. When disaster strikes, you boot from a special CD (for Windows users) and then let your clone software copy everything back, or (for Mac users) you simply boot from the clone drive. (Macs can boot from any drive, internal or external.)
   I'm recommending two programs, one each for Windows and Macs, that create clones quickly and easily -- although "quickly" is a relative term if your computer has a humongous drive. Cloning can take a matter of minutes if you're copying a small internal drive, but big drives -- ones that are hundreds of gigabytes -- can take a few hours to clone.
   For Windows, Acronis True Image Home is ideal. It can clone basically any internal drive and offers extras you might find useful, such as the ability to locate and recover just a few files for those times when you've lost a couple of items and need them from your backup drive. It's available from www.acronis.com for $49.99. You can download a free trial version.
   For Macs, I recommend Super Duper, from www.shirt-pocket.com. The regular version is free, and a fancier version that allows automatic, hands-free cloning costs $27.95. SuperDuper -- the name actually has an exclamation point after it, like Yahoo does, but that's confusing in print -- is easier to use than Acronis True Image but lacks some of the extras of True Image. But both work superbly well.
   For Windows users who have to worry about damage and loss from trojans, viruses, worms and spyware, True Image can quickly provide a working PC after disaster strikes. For Mac users concerned about file damage from power brownouts or malfunctioning drives, SuperDuper can make sure you have a bootable alternative drive. In both cases, cloning makes perfect sense.