Need a stable external drive for long-term archiving purposes
July 19, 2007 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest an affordable, stable external hard drive for archiving purposes?

Im not exactly a techie, so forgive me if this is a dumb question.

Im art director for a magazine and even tho we do a server backup of each issue, we want to cover our asses and get an external in case of fire, emergency, whatever.

We need to find an affordable external drive that is as solid as possible WRT data loss.

Are they all pretty much the same, or is there soemthing I should be looking for?
posted by Senor Cardgage to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a 250 GB LaCie and it's awesome.
posted by sneakin at 12:31 PM on July 19, 2007

If you're using Macs an Iomega Ultramax would work well. CMD Velocity backup systems are great, but expensive per GB.
posted by aerotive at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2007

Arg, CMS not CMD.
posted by aerotive at 12:39 PM on July 19, 2007

I wouldn't use hard drives at all for archiving. I wouldn't necessarily even count on them to survive a rough ride to offsite storage.

How much data per issue are you looking at? If small, DVDs; if large, tape.
posted by mendel at 12:56 PM on July 19, 2007

Ive been using Western Digital MyBook's. Not had a problem with them.
posted by gergtreble at 1:06 PM on July 19, 2007

The Mybooks seem to have somewhat less vitriolic customer feedback on Amazon and other sites.

But I think I'm with Mendel.
posted by selfnoise at 1:07 PM on July 19, 2007

Oh, come one. Hard drives are perfectly fine for archiving, especially if you already have professional redundant server backups. This application does not call for tape backup, and optical media are not are reliable as hard drives. The key with any hard drive backup solution is redundancy. So you should always have *two* backups (at least), made alternately and stored in different places.

There is no reason to prefer one hard drive over another, all specs being equal. People in the data archiving business (and I'm one of them) will prattle all day about whether Seagate or WD or whatever is the best drive. I am now sitting in a lab with 12 terabytes of hard drive storage. We've got several terabytes each of all the major drive manufacturers. Over years, I have not seen any predictable difference in reliablity between Maxtors, WDs, Seagates, and Hitachis. The brand of the *case* and bridge truly makes no difference, in any case. LaCie, OWC, ACOM, FD, etc. all make decent cases. It's the drive that matters. Or drives, since I am urging you to consider a dual drive redundant setup.

Currently, LaCie is now selling a 1TB NAS/firewire drive for $300, about the cheapest for a networkable drive of that size. I don't know what mechanisms they use.

If you are using an ATA/IDE drive (most likely), make sure it spins at 7200 rpm, has at least 16MB in cache, and treat it nicely.

Drives are commodities, within their price categories and application categories. Per gigabyte, hard drives are the most efficient and cheapest form of backup storage, and for data that changes regularly, amounts to less than a terabyte in total, and is not absolutely critical to the future of humanity, a pair of hard drives will do you fine. Just remember to back up regularly, on a schedule, to both drives, and keep them in separate places.

Almost any drive you buy will do the job. Personally, I like the enclosures and build quality on the OtherWorldComputing Mercury drives, which are quite cheap, mail order only. But Maxtor OneTouch or LaCie BigDisk, or Western Digital MyBook are all fine products.

Lay people should not bother with tape backup or complex incremental backups over networks. Complexity is the enemy of the most important part of a backup strategy: actually doing the backup. Invest in Retrospect or something that automates it for you for the most security.
posted by spitbull at 1:24 PM on July 19, 2007 [7 favorites]

In other words, they are all pretty much the same.
posted by spitbull at 1:26 PM on July 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks spitbull!

Above and beyond man, much appreciated.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:46 PM on July 19, 2007

"Ive been using Western Digital MyBook's. Not had a problem with them."

I have two of these 500 GB monsters and I put them through hell every day, all day long. I have had mine for almost a year now and have never had a problem with them.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 1:48 PM on July 19, 2007

I work at a professional video editing house and all of our editors use lacie drives. They are editing weddings so pretty critical. I personally use a lacie and it gets transported all the time and is fine
posted by DJWeezy at 2:00 PM on July 19, 2007

we want to cover our asses and get an external in case of fire, emergency, whatever

Are you already backing up your server? If so, what you want is off-site backup, not just "external". I agree that DVD is the way to go here.
posted by mkultra at 2:16 PM on July 19, 2007

Word to the wise: if you go the DVD route, ensure that you can read the goddamn things afterwards. Nothing is worse than going to restore from backup only to discover that your backup media can't be read.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:03 PM on July 19, 2007

You can read good and bad reviews of any of the hard drive models out there. The resident pro above points out that they're basically the same. But I still hunt around and look at people's reviews and then compare specs and pricing.

On that note I've had very good luck with two Iogear ION models: a little bitty 2.5" 40gb usb/firewire combo and a beefier 3.5" 320gb usb/firewire combo with included one-touch backup function. If I remember correctly, you can save a little cash by going only USB or only Firewire.

The little one has served solidly as my iTunes library and portable additional storage at work when neeeded for about 5 years now. My only complaint was that the wee end of included firewire cable fit too snugly into the receptacle and I was worried I'd break the receptacle away from the housing by pushing in too hard. I saw one or two other reviews mention that. Solved it by buying a generic cable whose wee end fit just fine. Recently it began to make some funny clicks so maybe it's time to replace it. Drives die eventually after enough use, they tell me.

The big one has served as my overall home computer backup for a couple of years. Solid, smooth, quiet, fast.
posted by kookoobirdz at 3:14 PM on July 19, 2007

No prob. And ditto about DVDs. They are *not* a reliable storage medium for backups, at all, ever. The world expert on this subject once told me he thought they were the worst medium of all, because of the amount of data per square millimeter they hold. The tiniest error in burning or flaw in the disc or scratch will render a DVD useless. No one knows the longevity of the medium.

If you must use optical discs, CDs are much more stable, and use archival grade Delkin gold CDs. But at this point, a pair of big hard drives is the best choice for most people.

But I cannot emphasize relocation enough. I have a friend who faithfully backed up years of creative work on an external hard drive he left on his desk next to his laptop. When the thieves broke in, they took the laptop, and the backup drive. He was devastated.

There are increasing numbers of firms offering substantial backup capacity over the internet as well. One that has gotten a lot of press for good service, low prices, and efficient interface is Mozy (

If you have only a gigabyte or less of incremental new data per day to back up, and a high speed internet connection, this could be a good choice and will keep your data somewhere far from your shop.
posted by spitbull at 4:00 PM on July 19, 2007

Thirding no CD/DVDs. Pressed ones are pretty study. Burnable ones are just a thin layer of film and a thumbnail scratch away from becoming useless.

Ideally you should buy two 250gig drives. Buy them on the weekend. Leave one at home and take the other to work on monday. On friday bring the first one home and take the second on monday. Alternate every friday. This way you always have last weeks data off-site and have a backup sitting in the office. You'll also be happier not lugging it around everyday.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:47 PM on July 19, 2007

@spitbull: I agree with everything you said, except "The brand of the *case* and bridge truly makes no difference, in any case."

I've seen some unventilated USB/Firewire drive boxes that just ATE drives alive. There are some really crummy, borderline-dangerous products on the market, mostly at the very low end. Perhaps if you've only been looking at decent hardware you haven't seen it, but there's some really crap being passed around, too.

You can put a real nice drive into a no-spin-down, unventilated, heavily-insulated enclosure, and induce failure in very little time at all under moderate usage. This sounds like a "duh" scenario, but it's exactly what happens with a lot of the bargain-basement, unbranded external HD cases.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:42 PM on July 19, 2007

Have you considered Amazon's S3 (simple storage service)? The price is $0.15 per GB per month. Compared with the current hard drive prices of $1/GB (very roughly), 6 months of service costs as much as buying a drive. However, since you will need to buy replacement drives every 2 years on average, and you need multiple drives if you want redundant storage, and you have to swap drives and keep them off-site against fire protection, etc, it starts to sound cost-effective.
posted by mediaddict at 9:19 PM on July 19, 2007

Kadin, I stand corrected. A quality enclosure is a must, but even the good ones are cheap. My lab uses CRU trays and enclosures, and we find them very solid and reliable.
posted by spitbull at 6:28 AM on July 20, 2007

get an 3.5 external enclosure by ultra (they have usb and firewire combo drives too) and any hard drive ( seagate recommended)..
It takes about 5 min to screw the hard drive into the enclosure and you are all done, and you will save money instead of buying one of those external hard drives

As far as backups go, try a software by Acronis, works very well
posted by radsqd at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2007

Mediaadict, hard drive storage is also well below $1/GB now. I just bought a pair of 500GB Maxtors for $200 each, brand new. La Cie, as I said, is selling a 1TB NAS unit for $300 (via, anyway).

You can pay $1/Gb for high end SATA in a raid enclosure, but not for bare ATA drives. More like 30 cents.
posted by spitbull at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2007

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