Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quick and easy hard drive cloning.

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It's not often you come across a piece of computer technology that serves dual purposes and does both of them well. That's the case with a new device from StarTech that serves as both a standalone hard drive duplicator and an external hard drive dock. So is this plug-and-play solution for storage and backups a good tool for your law office?

While you may not need a standalone hard drive duplicator very often or might wonder why you need an external hard drive dock, the StarTech SATDOCK22R USB to SATA Standalone Dual Drive Hard Drive Duplicator is actually a very useful tool and, even more amazingly, it's one that is extremely easy to use.

The device can be used as a standalone drive duplicator without a computer for drives up to 500GB in size. It can create an exact sector-by-sector image of an existing SATA, SATA II and SATA III hard drive or the new solid state drive (SDD) by cloning an existing drive to another drive that's equal to or larger than the existing drive. Then, voila, the new drive contains any partitions and boot sectors of the original drive as well as all your other data.

Let's take a look at how it functions.

Test-Driving the Duplication Process

The unit has two vertical hard drive slots on its top, which are covered by spring-loaded doors that fold out of the way when you insert a drive. You can insert desktop computer 3.5-inch drives as well as notebook 2.5-inch drives or mix and match them--the important factor is the storage size of the drives. And removing them is as easy as pushing the eject button next to the drive slot. That slot provides both power and data connections for the drives so no other cables are needed--just push the original drive into the Source slot and the new drive into the Destination slot. Push the power button and the Duplicate/ PC light should turn red, indicating it's ready to duplicate the inserted drive. If it's blue, simply push and hold the button for three seconds to change it to red. Then push the Start button and the SATDOCK22R begins duplicating the drive.

I tested the unit by cloning a 2.5-inch 320GB 5400 RPM notebook drive containing 96GB of data to a new 2.5-inch 320GB 7200 RPM drive. The duplication process took an hour and 39 minutes to complete. 1 put the new 2.5-inch drive into the notebook, pressed the power button, and the new drive worked flawlessly, booting to Windows and allowing me to work without needing to install or recover any other information. For a comparison, I repeated the process using an external backup drive with backup software, and the restoration process took 2 hours and 6 minutes to complete, which means using the SATDOCK22R was faster than using the software-based method.

Connecting the device to a computer using the included USB cable provides you with a dock for external drives that can be used just like any drive that's connected to your computer. (See below.) Since the device is plug-and-play compatible, all you need to do to install it is plug the cable into a USB 2.0 port and let Windows do the rest. (Note that the unit also works with Mac OS X and Linux.)

Once it's connected to your computer, turn on the power; drop in a drive or drives; and check to see that the Duplicate/PC indicator light is blue, signifying PC mode. The unit will now function as a dock to give you additional drive space for general storage or backup purposes.

While you can accomplish pretty much the same cloning function with software such as Acronis TrueImage and an external drive, if you need to duplicate a number of drives, using the SATDOCK22R has the benefit of not needing to be connected to a computer. It also allows you to use bare drives for storage or backup and swap them out as necessary. And bare drives are often no more expensive than buying a single dedicated external hard drive of the same size. If you need to increase the amount of external storage, just drop a larger drive into the device--now try that with a standard external hard drive enclosure.

Who's in Its User Group

The SATDOCK22R isn't for everyone. Unless you have a need for duplicating a number of drives, it may not be the best solution because there are other external hard drive and docking options that may be better suited for your everyday use. These other solutions don't require the same special handling that bare drives do (with no enclosure, you need to take special care when you store and transport these drives), and they can be connected with either a USB cable or using a dock. Also, while the unit copies partitions and sectors, it doesn't automatically proportionally adjust partitions to fill a larger drive. To make use of additional space on larger drives with it, you'll need to use partitioning software to make these adjustments.

All in all, though, the SATDOCK22R performs exactly as represented and for the price, which is currently $139.99, there is little to dislike and a lot to like about this unit.

SCORECARD With a maximum possible score of 20, here is how I rate it:

Ease of Use: 5
Quality of Materials: 4
Feature Set: 4
Value for Cost: 4
Total Score: 17
Nerino J. Petro, Jr. (npetro@wisbar.org), is a legal technologist and the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin. A former practicing attorney, he blogs on legal technology and practice management issues at www.compujurist.com.

Source Citation
Petro, Nerino J., Jr. "Quick and easy hard drive cloning." Law Practice 36.6 (2010): 17+. General OneFile. Web. 18 Jan. 2011.
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