Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seagate Replica Review

Backing up your computer has never been as easy as it should be. This is a primary reason why most computer users tend not to do much more than occasionally rip a DVD or copy a few important files to an external USB drive drive… if that. Things like automated backups and the mirroring of drives might be available but they haven’t been accessible and it is only recently that we are seeing solutions like Apple’s Time Machine gaining any considerable penetration. Companies like WD and Seagate have had tools available, but the (often clunky) backup programs bundled with their external storage products seemed to often fall short–either for being too hard to setup for casual users or not robust enough for more demanding ones. Many of them just weren’t automated so while they worked well enough people just didn’t remember to use them.

Seagate’s Replica is designed to be a consumer backup system that is as simple as possible. That is to say, easier than plugging in an external USB drive and setting up the included software (presuming you can figure out how it works). The Replica is a dedicated tool that should continuously backup data without any setup, customization and minimal installation. Additionally it will included a user’s operating system and program data so in the case of a failure there will be as few headaches as possible. The goal of the Replica is to backup a computer with save points so that if anything happens with your system you should be up and running, exactly where you left off, in as little time as possible… and you won’t have to be an IT pro to do it.

The Replica is packaged in two varieties, a multi-PC version and a single PC version. Seagate is doing their best to keep the consumers out of the technical aspect of the storage and trying to keep thing as simple as possible, but if you know a little about hard drives, you might want some more information. The two versions of the Replica are 500GB and 250GB and both use 5400RPM 2.5-inch drives. The device itself is a small, fanless enclosure with dual USB connections and a small dock. In the dock the Replica can be placed almost anywhere as it is just 5.6×4.49×1.98-inches and weighs about half a pound.

Here are Seagate’s highlights about the product:

  • Effortless, automatic backup for everything on your PC, including the operating system, programs and settings.
  • Simply plug in a single USB cable, click OK, and you’re backed up — no tedious installation, nothing to configure.
  • Drag-and-drop from your backup copy to effortlessly retrieve accidentally deleted files.
  • Easily recover from a PC crash by restoring your entire system.
  • Password protection ensures that only you have access to your computer’s backed up files.
  • Automatically removes the oldest backed up versions of files to free space for newer versions.
  • Multi-PC version includes a convenient vertically standing dock.
To work with the Replica users will just need a Windows computer running XP (SP2 or higher) or Vista with an open USB port, 200MB of disk space, a 1GHz processor, and at least 512MB of RAM. With your computer running as normal you just plug the Replica into a USB slot and install the software that lives on the drive. After pressing “OK” and “Yes” a few times the software will proceed to mirror your computer onto the Replica. File by file your system will be mirrored (you choose which drives are copied) and the end result is a perfect, up-to-date backup of your computer. There are very few settings and features–the whole point of the Replica is to take the guesswork out of the process.

The operating system and all your other files are included on the Replica (not just your standard music, videos, documents, and images) so at any time after the initial backup you can restore your computer–in full, with the OS–to the state of your last backup. By the same measure, individual files can be restored if you accidentally delete or copy over something. This is drag-and-drop easy because your computer recognizes the Replica as a USB device and inside it your entire file structure is maintained (as opposed to having a single compressed archive). The Replica is not viewed as a system disk or removeable drive, so you won’t accidentally treat is like another USB flash drive and delete a file, or start moving stuff over to it. This means you can’s backup single important files if you are trying to just drag them to the Replica.

The Replica’s hardware is as simple as can be–it’s a 2.5-inch drive in a small, fanless enclosure. The on connection on the device is USB (external power is not necessary) and are are no buttons or power switches. The device is very thin and flat, so it can live on top of your computer, on a bookshelf, or wedged behind a printer. It includes a dock, which does not have to be used, that places the drive enclosure upright, like an oddly-shaped shark fin. There is a single blue LED activity indicator along what is the top (in the dock) or front (lying down) edge. The LED light seems to blink continuously, so you’ll probably want to put some tape over it, or keep the Replica out of sight.

During day-to-day operation it’s like the Replica isn’t there. Seagate’s goal was to have something that you plug in and forget, and they accomplished that. The only evidence that the Replica is doing its job will be an “Other Device” icon in Windows “My Computer” and an icon in your tool tray. This icon will allow the user to safely disconnect the Replica, set a password for it, remove a PC backup from it, select which drives are backed up, and update the firmware (if available).

Operation was generally as simple and easy as billed. The backup of a notebook’s C: and D: drives consumed around 60GB of the Replica’s capacity (it was running Vista Home Premium). While the initial backup took some time the later incremental backups could be handled much more quickly, but this didn’t really matter because unless I was checking the software there was no way to know that the Replica was doing its thing. This is to say that the backup is basically a transparent process that runs in the background and the user doesn’t have to worried about it until there is a problem. The duration of a backup might only be an issue if you are using the Replica for multiple computers and transferring it between them, but it is better suited for use with a single machine.

During use it was immediately clear how to restore single files, what wasn’t quite so clear was how I could restore my entire hard drive in the case of a failure. This turned out to be a relatively streamlined process–basically you can create a recovery CD and boot from it with the Replica connected to the computer. The instructions will then run you through the process of restoring your computer from the last recovery point. Because the Replica works continuously while connected to your computer that point should not be very far back. At the same token, you’ll want that aforementioned problem to be a failed hard drive, because if it’s a fried motherboard a mirrored hard drive might not be as useful (though you’ll still have your important files) and if it’s a virus or malware, you’ll be carrying it over.

Overall the Replica is a product that is worth knowing about. Simple mirrored, automated backup is something that has been too rare in the consumer segment and this is a step in the right direction. After the initial setup it’s painless to operate so long as you let the Replica do its thing and you remember to keep it plugged in. The software is extremely simplistic and limited by design, so advanced users might value the ease-of-use, but they also might want more options (as you would find in a NAS device, like the Seagate BlackArmor). My only frustrationa with the device came when I was doing some tinkering that I shouldn’t have and I decided to do something like remove a PC backup (which takes a few hours). Along the same lines though, I pulled out the USB cord mid-backup and the Replica was able to resume it without incident when I put it back in.

For $129 (250GB) and $199 (500GB) Seagate’s Replica isn’t the cheapest consumer backup solution on the market, but if the user knows enough to understand the difference between a mirrored drive and a bunch of videos, music, and photographs stashed away on a DVD then it might very well be worth it. Ideal applications could be simple backup for a student’s laptop, easy backup for mom and dad, or a painless solution for a home business computer.



Chris said...

Problem with Replica is if you don't intend to keep it plugged in at all times- the computer loses a lot of energy trying to find it and is constantly pinging and beeping telling you it can't be found while the software looks for the hardware. The program can't be stopped at any point, saying that it's in use by some other program, and it's an annoyance unless you're sitting at your desk with the hardware plugged in.

andifox@rogers.com said...

My grievous problem is this:
I cannot find my way in to my Seagate Replica to even see, much less or drag out any of my files.
I keep getting a "Set up Backup" message from my Windows 7 Action Center.. When I try to do so it says it has failed.
When I try to do a System Restore from one of the many Restore POints shown, I get a "failed" & "Catastrophic failure" message.
In both cases, a message says "Cannot find that sector."
What gives??
And how can I access my Seagate Replica again, to check that it has been continuing to back up files up to the present- or not?
I want to take this decrepitating WIndows 7 desktop in to get service, get formatted & get restored to like-new factory state, software-wise.But cannot,if there is no files backup on the Seagate.