A while back I wrote about Using SATA drives with a MacBook Pro, and I also compared MacBook Pro external drive performance using SATA, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800. Today at the Boston Media Makers meeting I discussed my solution for cheap backup and archiving: bare SATA drives, this is attractive when you consider that Seagate 500 GB SATA drives are now down to $120 and come with a 5 year warranty. Other backup and archiving options like DVD-R or Blu-Ray disks takes a long time to burn and LTO3 tape systems are expensive. Hard drives offer a fast and cheap solution (but with the caveats I mention later).
There are lots of external SATA enclosures available from Granite Digital and other fine vendors, but my topic of discussion in the meeting today was my approach for connecting drives in the raw without an enclosure, if you’ve got lots of media files to archive, the enclosures start to pile up, why pay for an enclosures and power supplies for each drive? I like to use hard drive mechanisms as removable disks for backups and archiving.
Here’s what I use for backing up and archiving with my Mac Book Pro (I also have a SATA interface card in my Power Macintosh G5 for use with both internal and external SATA drives which I discuss in my Media storage expansion options for the Power Mac G5 post):
- SATA Interface Card: as I discuss in Using SATA drives with a MacBook Pro
- Power Supply: FLY36-5-12 AC to DC PSU 4-Pin Power Suppy (available from CoolerExpress for $8.50)
- Power Connector Adapter: since most new drives now come with a slimline power connector, you’ll need to get a 4-Pin PC power to SATA Power Converter Cable ($6 or so, I got mine from Micro Center in Cambridge).
- Data cable: eSATA Type “I” to Internal SATA Type “L” Cable, easily found from a variety of suppliers for anywhere from $6 to $10. Depending on which cable you purchase, it might be a tight fit with the power connector, I had to trim mine with an sharp knife so the two connectors would fit properly side-by-side.
For video editing I do use a couple of drive enclosures, it’s my archive and backup disks I keep in the raw. When I’m done with a project I remove the disk from the enclosure and pop in a new one for the next project. I’ve got a a bunch of Western Digital drives right now but I like Seagate’s reputation and longer warranty, so I’m probably going to purchase Seagate drives next time I buy them. So the cost of your first drive is the cost of the interface and power supply (and possibly a drive enclosure) but the beauty of this solution is now additional drives are $120 bare or $150 with a SATA enclosure, and you get to choose the drive mechanism.
I always thought it was crazy to buy drives from manufacturers who repackage drives and give you a warranty of one or two years, when there are drives that come with longer warranties! So the benefits of this DIY approach is not just saving some money, it’s also using drives with longer warranties. THe 5 years is an eternity for hard drives, within 5 years I hope there’s a better archiving solution available. But for now, byte for byte, hard drives are much faster and cheaper than tape backup, though as electromechanical devices, they do fail, so make sure you’ve got two backups of anything that’s important.
One important caveat when working with “bare drives” is that you should handle them carefully, the drives have exposed circuit board you should avoid touching. I suggest handling them by the sides and avoid shocks and static (ground yourself first by touching the surface your going to put the drive down onto or your picking it up from. Don’t walk around with the drive in your hand on a cool dry day. Take it out of the static protection bag it came it while grounded to the table surface and place it on the surface you are going to operate it on (which should be non-conductive) . Make sure to disconnect it before you move it. Drives can handle normal handling and movement and even mild bumps as long as they are not spinning and actively reading or writing. Also, be careful when connecting and disconnecting from the drives, the internal SATA connectors are not as robust as FireWire or USB connectors. When you are done with the drive make sure to properly unmount the drive from the desktop and store it in the anti-static bag or packaging that it came in. One more thing: you may need to restart the Mac for it to mount it, so don’t be alarmed if the drive does not appear on the desktop right away.
This allows me to do fast incremental and full backups of my work and to practice the rule of threes: critical data should always be kept in three different storage devices, and one of then should be off site. For a video project, I’ve got 1. the original videotape, 2. the working copy, and 3. a backup archive. For stuff shot with P2 cards, that means I need to create an equivalent of the tape archive, so that’s another drive or so. This approach is not for everyone, but if you’re into the DIY aesthetic, you’re going to have fun with this. It’s really important to make sure you have multiple copies of critical media, as hard drives, I can’t stress this enough, will fail at some point. It make take hours, days, weeks, or years, but at some point, they will fail. Data recovery services are very expensive (can run thousands of dollars) in the event of a drive failure, and they are not always successful. At $120 per 500 GB, it’s never been more affordable to protect your data and make backup copies of your media on bare hard drives.