Network sync of computers
January 4, 2013 11:43 AM   Subscribe

It’s 2013 Mefi; how do you keep your computers in sync?

I have three computers running Windows 7, all living together on the same network. I am about to wipe them all clean and reinstall windows. While I am at it I would like to setup a way to keep the home folders on all three in sync. I have done some searching, and turned up plenty of ideas, but I want a recommendation before I try a program from a person/company that I don’t know. I read a few old mefi questions, but I would like to know what has changed in the last few years. Here is my ideal list of requirements:

-A Dropbox type solution, where the files are stored on each computer, and when a change is made it is propagated to the others (the only reason I don’t just use dropbox is lack of storage for free, and I don’t want to pay $20 a month if I only want local network sync).
- If I take a computer with me it needs to have all my up to date files without needing to connect back to my home network, so keeping one central home folder on a network drive won’t fit my needs.
-Simple enough that I can mostly set it and forget it. I don’t want to be constantly having to manually prodding it to work, or installing updates on a daily basis.
-Free, or a onetime fee for the software, I don’t want to pay a subscription fee.

More info:
-I have a Netgear router (WNDR3700), it has a USB port were I could attach a hard drive and have every computer sync with the hard drive on a schedule. But I was hoping for a more elegant or intelligent solution.
-Computers are: 2 laptops that move around a bunch and are asleep pretty often, and a desktop that is generally always on, living as a media center and Minecraft server.
posted by token-ring to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
the only reason I don’t just use dropbox is lack of storage for free

Huh? Dropbox is free for up to 2GB.

That, plus a few GB that I've obtained via referrals, is enough for my working documents. This is what most of my more tech-savvy friends do as well. It's not big enough to sync your entire music or photo collection, but it gets the important can't-go-without-it stuff.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry, I have Dropbox; about 8GB right now. But my home folder is upwards of 50GB and that would cost me too much over the course of a year.
posted by token-ring at 11:57 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is the free SyncToy from MSFT itself, which can be automated using the TaskManager. Here is a tutorial for that.
posted by KMB at 12:18 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

If the desktop is always on, and presumably doesn't leave the house (like the laptops may) - you don't need to use an external drive.

Use the SyncToy (linked above by KMB) to perform a 2-way sync from each laptop to the desktop. Once you've run the initial sync to make sure all three machines are fully synced, then you can automate using Task Manager on a weekly/daily/hourly basis. You can also set up conditions in Task Manager so the sync won't start (and fail) when the laptops are not on your home network.

In order to fully sync all three machines, you need to perform three syncs though, not just two:
-sync laptop1 to desktop (laptop1 and desktop are now in sync)
-sync laptop2 to desktop (laptop2 and desktop are now in sync; both now have changes from all three PCs)
-sync laptop1 to desktop again (laptop1 receives changes from laptop2, putting it fully in sync again)

Also be sure to leave enough time between the scheduled start of each sync so that the previous one can complete.

I'm not sure how gracefully the SyncToy will manage multiple changes to the same file on multiple machines, so you'll probably want to minimize editing the same file on multiple machines between sync periods.

You should probably continue to use Dropbox for storing actual documents, spreadsheets, etc and just use the SyncToy setup for photos, videos, music, and other files that don't really change other than adding to your libraries.

There are other apps, like SugarSync and SkyDrive that will do folder syncing, but I don't know if they allow unlimited folder size for sync, separate from the size of your cloud storage (dropbox and google drive don't) - but you can check them out as well.
posted by trivia genius at 12:38 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Might I suggest Cubby, a new service from Logmein. Beta price is 40% off: $3.99/month for 100GB. And you can start with up to 5GB for free. Seems like a darn good deal to me because even at full price it's probably cheaper than Dropbox and Box. And you can even do client-side encryption with Cubby if you want. Not sure if there's any limit on how many machines/devices you can sync.
posted by Dansaman at 12:51 PM on January 4, 2013

I don't store files locally. GMail for email, Google Calendar for appointments, Google Drive for data, documents, images, presentations, and the like. I imagine something like this would hit all of your requirements. 100GB of Drive space -- against which native formats do not count -- costs $5/month. 25GB is only $2.49/month.
posted by ellF at 1:31 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If nothing else comes along then I will probably set up a nightly sync with SyncToy to keep pictures, music, and videos up to date. Then keep using dropbox for documents. I was hoping some replacement for Windows Live Sync existed that could do pc to pc transfers.
posted by token-ring at 1:50 PM on January 4, 2013

What about CrashPlan? They offer both a paid subscription where you upload to their computers, and a free version where you can back up to your own computers. You'd have to setup the network stuff yourself and I'm not entirely sure how the syncing works. (The paid subscription model lets you download files from their server.)
posted by ethidda at 1:50 PM on January 4, 2013

Response by poster: I'm not sure if crash plan syncs both ways or just backs up from a computer to a local storage drive. I will have to look into that more tonight.
posted by token-ring at 2:02 PM on January 4, 2013

Dansaman: Might I suggest Cubby, a new service from Logmein.
Wow. Thanks for that, Dansaman; like the OP I occasionally sync multi-GB daily across my various devices.

This might be a Good Thing(tm) for me.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2013

Really, Dropbox is the solution. You can afford 33 cents a day. It's worth it.
posted by dmd at 2:55 PM on January 4, 2013

I haven't used it, but OwnCloud looks to be an open-source dropbox-alike. You set up one of your computers as the server and and the other devices sync with it in dropbox-like fashion.

Here's the setup instructions for Windows 7. It looks moderately difficult to set up but once in place it should be fire-and-forget like Dropbox is.
posted by JDHarper at 3:51 PM on January 4, 2013

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