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Pimp Your RAID: PopDrive’s Dual-Disk Desktop Backup

Two backups are better than one. It’s the only principle geeks follow more closely than the Prime Directive.

Back up your data to one drive, and make the second drive into an exact duplicate of the first — voila, a backup of a backup. In IT parlance, this is known as a redundant backup, and the most popular system for handling it is called RAID, or Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

The PopDrive from DHK Storage intends to be one of the first inexpensive, consumer-level RAID drives. It comes with two separately packaged, Western Digital 2.5-inch hard drives, like those found in notebooks. The package with two 500-GB hard drives will cost you $250, for two 750-GB drives, you’ll pay $350.

You also get both a USB 2.0 cable and an eSATA cable. The drives, which pop into the two retractable slots on the PopDrive’s aluminum case, are hot swappable when using the eSATA cable, but not when using USB. Unfortunately, most computers these days don’t have the faster eSATA ports, but for those that do, the throughput performance is blazingly fast — you’ll get 3 gigabits per second over eSATA versus USB 2.0’s 480 megabits per second1.

While the idea for the PopDrive is simple, setting it up is not. In fact, setting up the PopDrive is like getting stuck overnight at the airport in a blizzard. Even by the DHK Storage’s own admission, the process takes a plodding 10 to 15 hours. It took me 12, mostly while the drives mirrored and verified each other for the first time using the included, enigmatic SteelVine Manager software. The virgin discs then needed to be formatted and partitioned; another hand-holding exercise, but this time using native Windows or Mac utilities. Fortunately, the illustrated step-by-step guide that came on the install CD guided me through the process, but I kept wondering why a product aimed at consumers would come loaded with highfalutin’ mumbo jumbo. Like furniture from Ikea, the package should read “assembly required.”

But once this excruciatingly slow exercise is complete, the PopDrive is ready to rock ‘n’ roll. To prevent any confusion, the PopDrive sets up with just a single drive letter. We only backup to one drive anyway, the second drive being merely a slave of the first.

With the price of external hard drives in the 500-750 GB range now well under $100, what’s the big deal about the PopDrive, which costs about three times more? For one thing, while external hard drives are cheap, they offer no security if they crash or malfunction. You’re still left without that “fail-safe” backup. The PopDrive always contains a second, exact duplicate drive. And if one drive dies, you can easily stick in another one by popping open the door. The PopDrive accepts virtually any 2.5-inch hard drive, be it new or one from your notebook.

The real expense of the PopDrive is the effort it takes to get it up and running. Past that, it offers the peace of mind that the backup of your data has a just-in-case twin.

WIRED A portable consumer version of IT-style RAID drive with a set of two hard drives, one backing up the other simultaneously. Aluminum construction is light — about a pound — but sturdy. Works with either USB or eSATA, both cables included.

TIRED Spending half a day setting it up using an obtuse utility will try your patience. You could build your own for cheaper if you have the smarts.

Photo by Jon Snyder/Wired

1: The original version of the review misstated the speeds of eSATA and USB, citing gigabytes instead of gigabits, and megabytes instead of megabits.

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