Sunday, October 3, 2010

The inevitable happened - total data loss

You've heard it a thousand times. "Backup your data!" Well when you have a 400Gb harddrive filled and nowhere to backup to, you're screwed.

One fine day I figured I'd play with my BIOS settings for no apparent good reason. I'm searching around and see this nifty drive chipset setting that was disabled. The options were Disabled, RAID, and SATA. Well I had 3 SATA drives plugged in, so why is this thing on "disabled"... hmmm let me change that. I rebooted and my machine hung. I reset, my machine went a little further but kept complaining that a device was not ready "(Ready=0)". Well let me disable, I figured. I rebooted and again it hung. What I had done was mistakenly enabled SATA power to my drives when they already had MOLEX power supplied. It turned out that this can be (and definitely was) a very bad thing.

Luckily my 320GB drive that stored "My Documents" among other things was safe, but my drive containing 4 years of collecting Martial Arts videos was dead. I also had quiet a few CD backups (ISO) -- about 360GB of data is lost. I tried several software recovery options intermittently over a few days; however, it was a complete fail.  I checked into data recovery options and the rates are phenomenally and outrageously expensive. It's a "no go" -- I'm not paying a grand to restore what is 80% re-downloadable and truth be told, i'd never have the time to review all those martial videos anyhow. I'll just find the important ones again. Yes, some of the data is irreplaceable. I had a backup ISO containing files my father created. His "My Documents" and CadKey drawings. My father passed away in 2004. I backed up the data and wiped the computer. It was irreplaceable data that I'd preferred to keep.

So this post was written for two reasons: One, to frighten you into backing up your data! Two, offer some backup solutions.

I had, in the past, wanted to get a "real" NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. I had a FreeNAS running, which is very nice, but it required me to keep an old Pentium 4 1.2Ghz PC powered on 24/7 with only 80GB+30GB storage -- not nearly enough. I could have gotten a replacement drive, whether internal or external, but what happens when that fails? Total loss again -- and drives do fail. There is also services like offering unlimited backup for $55 a year, but how many continuous days do you think it would take to upload hundreds of gigs of data?

I was aching to get a NAS. There are many brands.  Some too cheap, some too expensive. I kept researching I had some limited experience with iOmega's ix stores.  Very nice devices, but they were a bit overpriced and I understood the drive replacements can only be bought from iOmega. I ultimately decided on a Synology product that had good feedback on and has some good features. The product I wanted had to have a high capacity and fault tolerance. I did not want a single drive solution. I wanted to mirror or RAID. I could have chosen a two drive solution for mirroring, but I felt that expandability was necessary. My final choice, although still very pricey, had room for growth and steered clear of the truly over-priced vendors.

My latest purchase is a Synology DiskStation DS410j. It is a 4 bay personal NAS unit supporting up to 8TB, yes eight terabytes by using four 2TB drives. Although in the past I've always opted to buy Western Digital drives, Newegg's customer feedback reported many dead-on-arrival WD's, and Seagate's, and just about every other brand. The best feedback for 2TB drives was for Samsung. I don't particularly like Samsung, but the feedback spoke for itself. My new drives are the Spinpoint F4 2-terabyte, eco-green, 5400, 8.9ms drives.  They are not the fastest, but i knew this was a for the NAS unit which was mostly limited by the network speed.  So I am a proud owner of a Synology 410j with two 2TB mirrored drives -- I just couldn't afford four drives. Of course, I can always add a drive or two, and as I understand it, seamlessly upgrade to RAID 5.  The 410j was discounted to $329 and the drives were $119 each. has a nice write-up on the DS410j.

For those of you that in no way can afford to drop nearly $600, I'll share some other options with you.  As mentioned prior, allows unlimited online backup for $55 with the caveat of requiring the time of uploading.  This can be hellish on DSL or cable.

For those wanting a free online solution, I found which allows 50GB of free online storage, with the caveat of uploading via a java interface on a web-page.  There is also with 50GB free online storage that also allows a browser toolbar or windows application for uploading.  Again, with these services, upload/download speeds are limited by your type of internet service.

The cheapest local storage option would simply be to purchase an external USB drive, but of course there is no fault tolerance.  Although unlikely both your computer's harddrive and your external drive would fail at the same time, it is possible.  But for that matter so is failure of both drives in my NAS.  For me, I am more comfortable with having a dedicated unit for backups.  It also allows me to setup my family's machines to auto-backup -- A great convenience to save invaluable information.


  1. Did you try recovering the data using Spinrite? It costs $89 and if the drive is still able to read the data you'll get it back, or your money back. It's worth a try.

  2. Wow....Thanks for the info...we always take things like this for granted, Like all of our life on the computer will "always" be there.

    Appreciate your wisdom !


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