It happens to the best of us. You wake up one sunny morning ready to check your e-mail, and your personal computer emits a cheerful bleep, accompanied by the delicate clicking sound of your hard disc drive handing in its notice.
It's easy to forget just how fragile the mechanisms that store all your personal digital data can be. A computer hard disc is merely a spinning magnetic platter that more or less resembles a vinyl record. At the incredible speeds they run at, and the absurdly high tolerances they demand for reliable operation it is no surprise that they often fail.
And if they do go kaput, there goes your music, movies, and perhaps most important of all, your memories. The laptop computer that this article is being written on might be a relatively extreme case, but nevertheless it stores over five thousand songs and almost twelve thousand digital photos, almost all irreplaceable.
Until now, backing up has been a laborious, inconvenient affair. It would take dozens of CDs to back up the average computer, so making it easier for the consumer has become the preoccupation of computer manufacturers. Microsoft includes more backup features in its Vista operating system, and Apple is attempting to make backing up "sexy" with the Time Machine software included in the Mac OSX Leopard update, due in October.
Professional backup tape drives are not a realistic option for most consumers, and CDs and DVDs lack capacity, so that leaves computer users with two options: external hard disc drives, or backing up over the network.
Icy Dock MB663
NT$1,110 excluding hard drive
You can safely assume that the floppy disk drive bay present in most desktop computers is redundant for anything more than the most basic word document. Much akin to the Iomega Zip drives that were all the rage five years ago, the charmingly named MB663 slots into the 3.5 inch gap where the floppy disk drive used to go, and instead gives you a hot-swappable 2.5 inch hard enclosure, into which you can pop the hard drive of your choice.
With the latest notebook hard drives now available at capacities up to 250GB, this solution is probably adequate for most people, barring the heaviest downloaders of music and movies. The trick in the design comes when you pop the button and out comes the enclosure. On the back side of the drive is a standard USB cable that can be connected to any other PC - very neat. Should disaster strike, and your house is flooded, you then have the possibility of conveniently storing data in more than one location - one of the Golden Rules of backup strategy.
The concept is a winner, but after ejecting a number of times, scratch marks were visible on the lid of the drive and the ejection action is none too smooth. However, if you have a desk top computer with a spare drive bay, this is a neat and convenient way to make your data safer.
Macpower Pleiades NDAS
NT$3,200 excluding hard drive
The Macpower Pleiades sports a larger 5.25 inch enclosure than the Icy Dock, and packs an interesting addition alongside the USB port - an ethernet connector. NDAS technology, or "Network Direct Attached Storage," allows you to connect the device to a home network - even over a wireless connection. Once the driver software is loaded, it simply appears like a normal hard disc, and the user is free to drag and drop files between their computer and the device.