While cloud back-up is generally the smartest, cheapest and, in some senses, safest back-up for most small businesses and home users, it makes sense to store data locally too.
Drive-maker Seagate has a range of hard drives suitable for local back-up. I tested three distinctly different devices each with its own set of advantages. One or more of them is likely to meet your needs. The no-nonsense product names clearly describe what they do:
- A relatively low-cost network drive with vast amounts of capacity, the Seagate Central connects to a router and can be shared by everyone on the local network.
- Seagate Slim Portable Drive is the size of smartphone and will fit in your pocket.
- As the name suggests Seagate Wireless Plus will connect to devices without cables.
All of the Seagate devices were easy to use. You don’t need a lot of computer-savvy to get them working. In the case of two of them there was no need to consult the documentation at all. All three are nicely made and relatively inexpensive.
Seagate Central sits at the low-end of the NAS (network attached storage) market. NAS boxes act like servers, they often contain multiple drives storing multiple copies of data for extra safety. Central doesn’t go this far, it has just one drive. This makes for a simpler and more affordable back-up option.
Central is marketed as a drive for families allowing people store and share photos and media around the house as well as back-up data. It comes with options for streaming movies to TVs or other devices.
If you have business serious needs, you may find it too basic. On the other hand, it makes an ideal low-cost choice for small business offices to supplement online back-up. What you should not do is use Central to store the only copy of precious files – keep it strictly for back-up.
Prices start at around NZ$250 for the 2TB version. I tested the 4TB Seagate Central which sells for less than $400. You get everything you need in the box, more upscale NAS devices usually come without the drives – you have to add them yourself.
Physically Seagate Central is a flat, slab with flashing lights. It’s about the same size as a router, but because it sits flat on the desk takes up slightly more room.
I found it easy to set up the drive. You need to find a spare power outlet, then connect the device to your router using an Ethernet cable. Seagate provides its own software which you can choose to use, but most modern operating systems handle things just as well. So do some applications.
Minor Mac woes
While there were no problems connecting Central to Windows computers, I found my Mac would sometimes lose the connection. Seagate provides an application to ease the pain although I found I need to make a support call before everything was humming. On the plus side, it works out of the box with Apple’s Time Machine.
Seagate Central is slow compared with full-blown NAS, but speedy compared to other low-end single drive units. I got it writing data at around 40 MBps reading speeds are about double that. What does this mean in practice? You can write a movie to the drive in two or three minutes and transfer one from the drive to another device in a minute or two. It took the best part of a day to move 2TB of data from my old NAS to Central, which seems slow, but isn’t. It did that job without missing a beat.
Seagate Slim Portable
On paper the Seagate Slim Portable is the least interesting of the drives I looked at. In practice it is the most useful and the one that I return to most often.
The Slim Portable is a 500GB external hard drive. You can buy it in New Zealand for around $120. It comes in a black case with a single white LED. It’s about the size of a smartphone and at the heavier end of the smartphone weight range.
This portability is important. You can carry it in a shirt pocket. Stick it in a laptop bag and you may forget it is there.
It works out of the box with PCs and Macs. There’s no need to reformat the drive if you switch between the two.
Speed sets the Slim Portable apart from the pack. It comes with USB 3.0 which means fantastic performance. On my Mac I see speeds of around 110 MBps – that means I can do my back-ups in a few minutes. I use this as my Time Machine drive and it does an excellent job.
My only criticism of the drive is that while 500GB is plenty for backing up my work files and iTunes library, a bigger capacity Slim Portable would be nice for storing the movies.
Seagate Wireless Plus
As the name makes clear, the Wireless Plus is an external drive that doesn’t need wires. This does more than cut desktop cable spaghetti, it means the drive can be used with smartphones and tablets. You can use it to back-up the devices or to move files between them.
Physically the unit is about three times the size of the Slim Portable and close to twice the weight. You can still get it in a pocket, perhaps in a coat or jacket.
It comes with two leds: a green one shows when the device power is on. A blue one lets you know the wireless is working. There’s a button on the side to turn it on.
Expect to pay a little over $300 for a 1TB Wireless Plus in New Zealand.
The first time you use the Wireless Plus, you need to use the USB port to connect it to a computer for setting up. Once you’ve done this you can cover over the USB port keeping it out of sight or you can choose to keep the device as a dual wireless, wired back-up. This is reversible so changing your mind is not a problem.
Wireless Plus is one of the easiest ways to move or share files between computers, tablets and smartphones. In operation it is reasonably fast – although it uses the older 802.11n Wi-Fi standard which caps its performance.
I found it works over long distances. I could still transfer data when 25m from the unit. There are drop-outs, but nothing to worry about. Seagate says Wireless Plus will work with eight devices at any given time, I didn’t push that it in testing, but found it copes well with five or six devices at once.
Plenty of choice
Not backing up is the dumbest choice of all. It makes your devices, possibly your business an accident waiting to happen.
I recommend you use an online service for day-to-day files. The main free ones, Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive are perfectly adequate for most purposes. If you worry about security or have a lot of data to deal with then pick a paid-for service. There are plenty to choose from.
If your house burns down, the online back-up will still be there. The downside is online back-ups are slower and can get expensive when you add in data traffic costs. You wouldn’t want to use them to back-up your movie collection.
A local hard drive is always a good idea. They are good at doing bulk storage. Apart from anything else, a local drive will work when the internet doesn’t. Some, like the Wireless Plus, have batteries, others like the Slim Portable will use your computer’s power. Either way, if you have a laptop, both of these will work in a power cut.
Automating centralised local back-up to a network drive also makes sense.
Testing three different approaches to linking external hard drives to computers and other devices threw up some interesting comparisons. Without thinking about it too much, I found I turned to the simplest option, the Seagate Slim Portable, for day-to-day back-ups. It’s speed helps, but it is hard to beat the simplicity of getting the device out of the drawer, plugging it in for a couple of minutes and clicking one button.
Being able to swap files and back-up mobile devices is the rational behind the Wireless Plus while acting as an in-the-back-ground dumping ground for everything makes Seagate Central a good choice for a small office or digital family.
Whatever you choose, the important thing is to make plenty of back-ups. At the last count I found I now have seven copies of all my importing files. That’s probably overdoing it, but short of Armageddon, my data will survive anything.