By Cliff Edwards
The Good Compact system for recovering lost files
The Bad Initial setup was confusing
The Bottom Line Not sexy, but an essential for retaining valuable files
Let's face it, there's nothing sexy about hard drives. But as we load more and more vital information and digital mementos -- whether e-mail, music, or photos -- onto PCs, we need to find an easy way to back up those files in the event of catastrophic damage that no amount of praying will fix.
Enter CMS Products' ABSplus. This $319 device is strictly utilitarian. No one will ask you where you got it. Don't expect anyone to gawk over your shoulder or sneak envious peeks.
A BIT PRESUMPTUOUS. The 60-gigabyte drive I tested comes in a dull gray case the size of a PDA (1.1 x 5 x 3 inches, to be exact) and weighs 7 ounces. You plug the power cord in and connect the drive to your computer's USB 2.0 port, and a bright blue light in the upper right-hand corner lets you know you're in business. The drive works with Windows 98 (MSFT) and newer operating systems. A separate Mac (AAPL) version is also available.
The ABSplus includes software called BounceBack Professional, which installs from a CD-ROM. I had a few problems getting started, as the setup wizard seemed to assume that most people are familiar with the idea of backing up and partitioning a drive.
Even once you get your feet wet, the software still feels user-unfriendly in the initial stages of setup. ABSplus lets you schedule one-time, daily, weekly, and monthly backups, but the scheduling process certainly could be simpler.
AUTO SAVE. The backup interface looks like the work of a fussy engineer, with requirements that you first click on the source and file(s) you want to back up, then put in the destination. There are also a lot of little phrases that make you want to dig into the (shudder) manual -- or at least scratch your head. "Versioning for the backup set type" and "verify each file after it's backed up," for example.
Once you get through all that, the ABSplus turns into an elegant shoot-and-forget system. I scheduled daily backups on my Dell (DELL) test system for every file and bit of data. The ABSplus grabbed 97 folders, or 18,573 files, and 1.6 gigabytes of data in 11 minutes, 33 seconds.
That's with a relatively leisurely 4,200 RPM hard drive -- but quite respectable considering most people will be doing other tasks or scheduling backups when they're not working on the PC at all.
HITTING THE ROAD. The really cool thing about backup drives, though, is the fact that you can restore your files if disaster strikes. With ABSplus, you can drag and drop missing files to your PC from the hard drive.
Better yet, all you do is launch the BounceBack QuickRestore feature, which pulls up a list of all the files you've saved. You're given the option of restoring the files to their original location or in alternate locations. What's more, you can view them from, or add them to, another PC -- a nifty way to take your entire PC on the road (if you're amenable to recovering files on a foreign computer).
Even I have grinned sheepishly when some industry vet reminded me that I should be backing up my system. With the ABSplus, if you can just get through the less-than-intuitive setup, you'll feel confident that what sits on your computer won't disappear down a black hole if trouble arises.
Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau