data backup project: backing up to an external drive and making it bootable

i love my data and information and would be pretty lost if my system did die on me. however, as a geek that sees and fixes a ton of computers that will die without any warning i always recommend that everyone should do a complete backup each month or so of any data that they believe to be essential. if you use it everyday, that is what i classify as essential (ie calendar, outlook pst files, favorites/links, music, papers/docs, program installation files, serial/registration info).

this weekend i finally decided to go and purchase a nice 500GB external HDD to do my monthly backups and archivals to. prior to this weekend, i was making 5 DVD backups of my personal data (no apps or music) and then storing them at my bank box in my parents town (remote location, another good thing to think about). however i realized that i have a ton of other ‘bulkier’ data that i wanted to archive/save but didn’t want to burn 100 DVDs to do it, thus the external hdd.

shopping for an external hdd is a pretty interesting adventure since well, there are tons of drives and none have a perfect track record. it used to be that Seagate hdds were considered among the most reliable but with the recent fiasco w/trojans/virus/malware being found a few thousand drives shipped from the factory makes one rethink that idea. so i admit it, i went with a Western Digital My Book Essential 500GB (USB 2.0). it was cheap and WD has a decent reputation as a hdd maker.

this drive is pre-partitioned into 1 big partition and formatted in FAT32 filesystem. it also contains some pre-loaded software for backing up and google tools. i immediately destroyed the partition and went a different route.

having an external harddrive is nice especially when you have to do a large harddrive recovery or perhaps even create an image of a setup you just got going. plus, how nice would it be to not just be able to use your harddrive as a backup device but also run a slim line Live OS on it such as Bart PE?

taking my knowledge of USB Drive booting from my past projects, i realized the problem i’ve been having w/PE2USB to work on my drives is that i’m trying to install it to a too big harddrive. my drive is a 500gb and i had broken it into 2 partitions in FAT32 filesystem (i’ll touch on FAT32 and big drives and how to format them later). however the PE2USB command would not format the drive due to it being too big, i resolved this problem by creating a 3 partition structure: USB (fat, 1gb), PARTA (fat32, 250GB), PARTB (ntfs, 200gb).

I then reran PE2USB to the USB Partition (which i also was sure to create first) and did not have any errors this time.

i then used a utility called FAT32Formater in Windows XP to format the PARTA partition into FAT32 (since i need it for other OS i run). XP by default will not allow you to format bigger harddrives in FAT32. also, if you put the FAT32Formater.exe file in you C:\Windows folder, you can call the app from teh commandline in any folder (ie C:\Documents and Settings\fat32formater.exe would still run it!).

finally, i started to manually do my backups. yes, i could go the automated route with this but i personally like to be able to see what i’m backing up to where since i treasure my data very much so! and also, i added back the western digital icon to show up when my drive does in Windows Explorer (looks nice and helps identifily quickly which drives are the external ones). (just create a file callted autorun.info, then in that file (open with notepad), add the below lines. then put both the .ico file and teh autorun.inf on the root of your external hdds partition/drive. once you replug it in you should see that ico appear!

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also, i get this feeling like my ext harddrive is learning everything it is about me and in turn will launch a Cylon attack on me. or perhaps i’ve stared too long at my computer today! :P

[youtube 3ZnmqmGHRfs]

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