Removable clone drives are hard to beat for backup

John McCormick

Early this year, a witchy combination of backup utilities completely ruined one of my PC hard drives [GCN, Feb. 19, Page 24]. Not wanting to risk anything like that again when I upgraded a 500-MHz Compaq Presario PC to accept interchangeable operating systems, I turned to Dirt Cheap Drives Inc. of Dickinson, Texas.

Three new IDE 20G Seagate drives cost me $85 each, a removable drive $45 and an extra pair of drive cartridges $21.

Although the Presario is only about one-third as fast as the newest gigahertz PCs, it's still plenty fast for its tasks, and I see no reason to move up to Microsoft Windows XP from Win 2000 at present.

Using Symantec Corp.'s latest Norton Ghost 2002 backup and disk-cloning utility, I set out to make an exact copy of the Presario's hard drive by cloning every file and driver.

I pried open one of the removable drives and plugged the power cord and IDE cables, in a proprietary connector on the case, into the hard drive. I snapped the case back together and slipped the empty metal frame into an open 5-inch bay. I connected the original drive's power and IDE cables to the back of the frame, which had its own fan.

That took about 10 minutes total.

The drive cartridge, once plugged into the frame, had to be locked in place with a key. That controls power to the drive and prevents accidental removal while the computer is on.

It booted up just fine, so I went on to install one of the new IDE drives on the cable's second drive connector. I also removed the default jumper that is present on most new drives to identify them as primary drives.

Next I installed Norton Ghost, which runs under MS-DOS to ensure that no Windows files are open and no .TMP files are active during a cloning operation. The installation went smoothly. I even watched the tutorial to ensure that I didn't goof and wipe the wrong drive.

Trouble arose only when I tried making a bootable floppy using the Ghost utility. The new boot drive wouldn't boot. The error code read, 'Bad or missing ohci.exe file.' That's a Universal Serial Bus driver.

I thought I was stuck until I could reach Symantec tech support, but I gave the Cupertino, Calif., company's Web site a try and found a problem database. For almost the first time since I started testing PCs two decades ago, the help file actually contained a file that helped. I commend Symantec, although it would have been nice if the documentation had mentioned what is obviously a common problem.

The database's recommended fix was to disable legacy USB drivers in the BIOS. I rebooted and discovered they were already disabled. Never one to take user manuals or helpful hints at face value, I turned the drivers back on and rebooted with the original Ghost boot floppy in place. And this time it worked.

Choosing the disk-clone option, I told Ghost to go ahead and clone the Win 2000 drive. That was a bit scary, because I couldn't see any way to verify that the default settings were correct and that I wasn't wiping out my good drive. Fortunately, about 15 minutes later Ghost claimed to have made an exact copy of the original drive.

Powering down again, I pulled out the new drive, replaced the jumper and installed the drive in a second removable case. With the power off, I swapped the original drive for the newly cloned one, which to all appearances is identical to the original.

I'm not clear how all this activity affects my Microsoft software license, but I doubt Microsoft will complain. Anyone without unlimited Windows licenses should check to see what's permitted before carrying out such an operation.

Removable clone drives are close to the ultimate in backup. My old hard drive now has gone to a secure storage place in another building.

The other new IDE drives will get Linux and Windows XP OSes so I can swap drives and cleanly boot a new system each time I test something.

You might think it was foolish to turn Ghost loose on my main system, but not so. The day before, I'd installed a $119, 20X CD-recordable/10X CD-rewritable drive from Acer Communications and Multimedia America Inc. of City of Industry, Calif., and backed up all my critical files to CD-R.

Years ago installing a CD-R drive involved SCSI cards, terminators and other complexities. Ignoring the documentation this time, I powered down the Presario, pulled the connectors from the existing CD-ROM drive and plugged in the Acer.

Wonder of wonders, Win 2000 recognized it. After a reboot, I was reading CD-ROMs in the new drive. I installed Acer's included PrimoCD Plus software which, though fairly basic, let me quickly select files and folders, run a test to see if the drive could record at full speed, and then burn 168M of data in about three minutes.

I've just described three major PC upgrade projects, completed with only one minor side trip to Symantec's help database. I don't care what anyone says'computers are getting easier to use. I may have to find another way to make a living.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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