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Old 01-05-2017, 12:55 AM #1
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Default Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

I'm looking to buy an external (usb) drive to store some backups once in a while, but actually use rarely (perhaps weekly to monthly to store a backup, hopefully never or only once to recover one).

I only need it for fairly critical data so it need not be very large (100 GB woud suffice, 200 would be nice).

What do you guys think would be a good choice here? I could get a standard 2.5" harddisk in an enclosure with plenty of space quite cheaply. I could also get a 128 Gb SSD external drive for a reasonable but higher price.

I wonder if the SSD would be more reliable if i left it unused for a long period of time. I've had 2.5" spinning external drives give me problems in the past: At times i left them for a few months after which i tried to access them again and they no longer worked. Mostly this came up when i wanted to create and additional backup, not recover, so it has not caused major problems but still is a bad thing.

I do have multiple online backup solutions so it's not mission critical that this works 100% of the time, but i wonder what would fare better over a period of several years with irregular use: ssd or hdd.

Also i want to store the data on these drives in truecrypt containers/partitions so that there is no problem if they are even stolen or lost. I'm not sure to what degree that factors in to things, but perhaps it's important.


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Old 01-05-2017, 03:06 AM #2
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

You might be surprised how good a simple large capacity USB drive will do. I store my entire data library on a 256gb USB 3.0 speed drive, and the only thing on my pc's hard drive are the OS and programs. And on some USB drives you can even hack the controller firmware to have it be recognized as a fixed drive as apposed to a removable drive, being able to create different partitions on it.

I haven't touched the firmware on this drive though, but I have encrypted it with Windows' BitLocker.
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Old 01-05-2017, 04:58 AM #3
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Exclamation Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Benm View Post
I'm looking to buy an external (usb) drive to store some backups once in a while, but actually use rarely (perhaps weekly to monthly to store a backup, hopefully never or only once to recover one).

I only need it for fairly critical data so it need not be very large (100 GB woud suffice, 200 would be nice).

What do you guys think would be a good choice here? I could get a standard 2.5" harddisk in an enclosure with plenty of space quite cheaply. I could also get a 128 Gb SSD external drive for a reasonable but higher price.

I wonder if the SSD would be more reliable if i left it unused for a long period of time. I've had 2.5" spinning external drives give me problems in the past: At times i left them for a few months after which i tried to access them again and they no longer worked. Mostly this came up when i wanted to create and additional backup, not recover, so it has not caused major problems but still is a bad thing.

I do have multiple online backup solutions so it's not mission critical that this works 100% of the time, but i wonder what would fare better over a period of several years with irregular use: ssd or hdd.

Also i want to store the data on these drives in truecrypt containers/partitions so that there is no problem if they are even stolen or lost. I'm not sure to what degree that factors in to things, but perhaps it's important.

I'd be erring on the side of caution using SSDs as a form of backup and this is due in part by the fact that SSDs are more suitable for storing your OS on (as a high speed primary drive rather than a storage for files).

4 things to consider.. you probably already gave some thought to this... but for anyone else viewing this thread.

1) SSDs DO NOT like to be re-written to multiple times, doing so dramatically shortens their lifespan
( can be under 2 years when used like this). SSDs have come a very long ways in their write/re-write capability..

2) HDDs are more suited to be used as a continuous backup. ***I'm not sure how valuable your data is..

3) Cost per GB. HDDs are still cheaper though this line is blurring more so now.

4) SSDs are not susceptible to magnetic degradation/demagnetization over time. They are FAR more sensitive to ESD.

Pick your poison. Both storage types come with their benefits and shortcomings.


Yes an External USB drive, Sata III or Thunderbolt will also work well too.
Personally I have a LaCie D2 Quadra that I use as a backup for my files that plugs into
a Thunderbolt port on my hackintosh.


Going back to irregular use thing... what do you intend to back up exactly? Are you cloning ?
In terms of encryption both kinds of storage devices work fine with FDE. SSDs, especially those manufactured by Samsung and Intel
are capable of FDE by themselves without any external software and are very fast at running in this mode.
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Old 01-05-2017, 03:20 PM #4
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

This is the problem indeed.

There will not be many write cycles to the drive (perhaps one a week a most). Speed is not really important either. Having the data is very valuable, but this will not be the -only- backup, it's just another redudancy.

Cost per GB is a factor, but i don't need that much storage so it's not overly imporant.

One thing i noticed is that many of the typical 2.5" external harddisks break down at some point, even with very little use, no mechanical abuse and no external magnets and such. This happened to me twice, and all i did was unplug the drive, put it in a closet, and plug in back in a month later or so. Many friends also had problems with them, various brands etc. No idea why, the exact same drives work for years in laptops that are used daily.

A big USB stick could be a solution, but has some problems:
- making partitions is tricky, if you make a custom one windows will offer to format the drive when you insert it (!), i presume click 'yes' will destroy all data.
- keeping the existing filesystem, usually FAT32, limits file size to 4 GB each, which makes it impossible to create a .tc file container the size of (almost) the entire stick.
I presume that the same problem would arise using a large SD card though that at least as the lock thing on it.
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Old 01-05-2017, 05:53 PM #5
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Benm View Post
A big USB stick could be a solution, but has some problems:
- making partitions is tricky, if you make a custom one windows will offer to format the drive when you insert it (!), i presume click 'yes' will destroy all data.
- keeping the existing filesystem, usually FAT32, limits file size to 4 GB each, which makes it impossible to create a .tc file container the size of (almost) the entire stick.
I presume that the same problem would arise using a large SD card though that at least as the lock thing on it.
Not sure what you mean by your first point, I've never had windows offer to format a drive unless it has an unrecognized file system.

You can format any drive that's >64gb as exFAT or NTFS iirc. This eliminates FAT32 limitations, and you can practically store any file size (well, there's a limit but it's probably way past imagination).

That lock thing on a large SD card is the read only feature. All data is still accessible you just can't change it or write any new data.
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Old 01-05-2017, 11:30 PM #6
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

If you're going to be rewriting all of the data on the drive frequently, go with the mechanical HDD.

SSD's really don't suffer that much or that quickly from regular rewrites, and they'll do much better than the lower-end flash in SD and Thumb Drive storage.

Personally, I keep my backups on an NAS with WD black HDDs. Anything critical that doesn't get rewritten often stays on my assortment of 64gb USB3.0 flash drives.


Now, going off of what you've said, I'd say your choice might only be between mechanical HDD and SSD. If you're going to bring it around with you and move it about, go with the SSD for more reliability. If it's going to sit around on a desk or in some storage without much risk of physical damage a good mechanical HDD will be more economical.
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Old 01-06-2017, 12:26 AM #7
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

I actually have a 64 gb flash drive that i take with me when travelling as an extra backup device. I formatted it NTFS and works fine so far (transcend usb stick). But i've had one of those fail on me too: no way to access what was on it at all.

Transcend has this lifetime warrantee thing and they made good on that, i sent the broken one in and got a brand new one free of charge. This is nice but does not recover the data obviously.

As for the backup solution i'm still in doubt between SSD and HDD: it's not likely to see mechanical abuse, though i may store it at a friends place from time to time when i'm out of the country for a while in case something happens like my house burning down. I'll not be throwing it around in a backpack or anything like that.

I guess there is the price factor though, for the cost of a 250 GB external SSD i can buy 2 or 3 500 GB HDD's. Putting those in a RAID system would be more reliable even, but that would not be as compact as i'd like it to be.

In case i opt for the external HDD, the main brands offered are seagate and western digital. Would there be any reason to prefer one over the other (prices seem about the same).
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Old 01-06-2017, 01:02 AM #8
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

So you want a reliable backup. The most reliable backups are actually backups of backups. So just use 2 or more USB sticks in a RAID 1. "manual" RAID 1 if necessary. They're cheap enough.
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Old 01-06-2017, 03:55 PM #9
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

Yes, redundant backups are always the better solution, and i use those, including remote offline backups in 2 different locations. One of these locations is my hosting provider that also backs everything up in their secondary data center, so if anything goes wrong there it's probably my fault Having the backup on a harddisk can be convenient though due to faster transfer speeds.

For critical data, only a few GB, i put an additional copy on another computer, and usually on something like an SD card as well (doesn't take too much space on a 32/64 card in a phone or camera).

I guess it's best to have it spread across physical locations in any case, things like house fires do happen and usually take out all backups inside.
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Old 01-07-2017, 06:39 AM #10
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Lightbulb Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ElectricPlasma View Post
Not sure what you mean by your first point, I've never had windows offer to format a drive unless it has an unrecognized file system.

You can format any drive that's >64gb as exFAT or NTFS iirc. This eliminates FAT32 limitations, and you can practically store any file size (well, there's a limit but it's probably way past imagination).

That lock thing on a large SD card is the read only feature. All data is still accessible you just can't change it or write any new data.
I couldn't agree more with ElectricPlasma. If it were me I'd format into exFAT. NTFS might be a good idea if you ONLY use a Windows based architecture, whereas exFAT is cross platform 100%. It will work with any modern OS, even Linux. Yes, I know MacOS will read NTFS volumes and with Tuxera NTFS will R/W and repair NTFS volumes....
The striped Raid idea as purposed later on in the thread is by far the most solid of the solutions.
Raid 10 is probably the best suited as it combines mirroring and optimization for fault tolerance.
This is done with 2 or more drives of the same physical volume size.
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Old 01-08-2017, 12:49 AM #11
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

A bare truecrypted drive is an 'unrecognized file system' to windows. You can mount such a partition with truecrypt if you know the password, but windows just 'thinks' it is an unformatted drive and asks you to format it.

As for NTFS/exFat: Using NTFS is no problem for me as i only need to use it on windows systems. That said it can still be readonly accessed from macs, and work perfectly normal on many linux systems, so no worries there.

RAID would be a good solution but i need this to be compact and cheap, just a backup drive you put somewhere in case all other backups fail.

Back in the days i'd write the files to dvd, but i don't have a (frequently used) system with an optical drive anymore, and the capacity of those things is so small it becomes problematic as well.

Anyway, considering everything, i'll probably just go for the single HDD solution and hope to never need it. I wonder how long it'll take to fail, and just hope it doesn't when it's the only copy remaining.
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Old 01-08-2017, 01:09 AM #12
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

Benm, have you ever considered using BitLocker? It's built into straight into Windows and is treated as just a locked drive which isn't accessible until the keyword is entered. It's hands down the best USB encrypting software I've used, and I believe TrueCrypt is outdated/discontinued.

The only disadvantage to BitLocker is you need Professional or Enterprise Editions of Windows to actually encrypt the drive but it's readable from any modern Windows-based machine.
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Old 01-08-2017, 01:27 AM #13
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

I am familiar with bitlocker, but the problem is the license indeed. I have windows licences that came with my computers that do not support creating bitlocker encrypted drives, so it's really no option for me.

As for truecrypt: It has been anbandonded by the original developer, but it still widely available and afaik has no proven serious vulnerabilities. There are some development efforts to a next version based on the original source code, but that seems to progress slowly.

As things are, however, it seems the best solution for me that does not require upgrading my windows licenses. Upgrading windows would be extremely expensive if done with a legal license, sadly you cannot just purchase bitlocker for a small fee or something like that (and i'm not 100% sure it can be trusted either).

For those reading along: I also use 7zip to make backup files of important directories, which also supports good encryption. This is all fine, but the problems arise when the total size exceeds 4 GB. Splitting things into 7zip chunks would be an option to a certain point though.
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Old 01-08-2017, 08:42 PM #14
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Exclamation Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Benm View Post
I am familiar with bitlocker, but the problem is the license indeed. I have windows licences that came with my computers that do not support creating bitlocker encrypted drives, so it's really no option for me.

As for truecrypt: It has been anbandonded by the original developer, but it still widely available and afaik has no proven serious vulnerabilities. There are some development efforts to a next version based on the original source code, but that seems to progress slowly.

As things are, however, it seems the best solution for me that does not require upgrading my windows licenses. Upgrading windows would be extremely expensive if done with a legal license, sadly you cannot just purchase bitlocker for a small fee or something like that (and i'm not 100% sure it can be trusted either).

For those reading along: I also use 7zip to make backup files of important directories, which also supports good encryption. This is all fine, but the problems arise when the total size exceeds 4 GB. Splitting things into 7zip chunks would be an option to a certain point though.
Honestly I'd stay away from 7zip as much as possible. FDE is the way to go and is available on virtually all modern HDD and SDDs. FDE is a hardware based encryption based method and is widely used by industry.
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Old 01-09-2017, 12:20 AM #15
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

I would agree with that, but 7zip has it's uses, especially when you cannot control encryption on the other end.

For example, i store backups via ftp on my vps, as well as to a mass storage server.

If i want to backup some important work files that total a few GB, i prefer to make a password protected 7z file out of them. In case for any reason the files are compromised and downloaded by a third party they'd still be unusable without the password.

Given serious effort the password might be cracked and what not, but if someone is just scooping up data from a leak in a big storage provider they'd probably to for the unencrypted files.

People often overlook the risk of what can happen if others get their hands on their data, and just throw broken computers in the trash with all the data on the harddrive intact or recoverable. You can sort of imagine what can happen to you some nigerian kid picks those out of a local e-waste landfill.

Those enrypted 7zips are a lot better, i'm fine with even putting them on a friends computer as temporary backup when travelling or such.

FDE is important for protecting your computer in case it gets stolen and such though, since you cannot destroy the drive like you would when discarding one. FDE is not always a hardware solution, at least not in the sense that it -requires- specific hardware. Things like truecrypt and bitlocker run perfectly well on any processor. They do run a LOT faster on modern processors that are optimized for cryptographic instructions (like all/most modern intel core i processors).
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Old 01-09-2017, 04:09 AM #16
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Default Re: Good external drive for backups, but rarely used.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Benm View Post
I would agree with that, but 7zip has it's uses, especially when you cannot control encryption on the other end.

For example, i store backups via ftp on my vps, as well as to a mass storage server.

If i want to backup some important work files that total a few GB, i prefer to make a password protected 7z file out of them. In case for any reason the files are compromised and downloaded by a third party they'd still be unusable without the password.

Given serious effort the password might be cracked and what not, but if someone is just scooping up data from a leak in a big storage provider they'd probably to for the unencrypted files.

People often overlook the risk of what can happen if others get their hands on their data, and just throw broken computers in the trash with all the data on the harddrive intact or recoverable. You can sort of imagine what can happen to you some nigerian kid picks those out of a local e-waste landfill.

Those enrypted 7zips are a lot better, i'm fine with even putting them on a friends computer as temporary backup when travelling or such.

FDE is important for protecting your computer in case it gets stolen and such though, since you cannot destroy the drive like you would when discarding one. FDE is not always a hardware solution, at least not in the sense that it -requires- specific hardware. Things like truecrypt and bitlocker run perfectly well on any processor. They do run a LOT faster on modern processors that are optimized for cryptographic instructions (like all/most modern intel core i processors).
Yes, while FDE is slower is also very secure. Truecrypt is no longer a supported encryption and bitlocker is a Windows OS (soft) based encryption tool.. There is potential for exploits ..key loggers etc..

FDE is considered a hardware solution under definition as it encrypts via the chipset on the disk. It is also shipped on most SSDs and can be enabled to create an (SED) Self encrypting drive, especially those made by Samsung and Intel.
2 phone makers use FDE on their phones btw. Vertu and Apple. both use 256 bit hardware and firmware based encryption methods.... But good luck trying to afford a Vertu.
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Last edited by Seoul_lasers; 01-09-2017 at 04:17 AM.
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