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The Options and Benefits of Portable Storage


Portable Storage has many benefits - it enables you to work in multiple locations, it provides a valuable backup option and it can add convenient storage to computer that is getting too full. Now that costs are coming down ($26 to $217) and USB 2.0 makes it easy and fast to transfer files to them, you should probably give portable storage serious consideration.

Hardware wise, I would reccommend that almost anyone would find a thumbdrive useful, which now start at $26 for 128mb. If you want capacities above 1gb, then I would reccommend a 2.5 inch laptop hard drive in a USB 2.0 enclosure - the 80gb version is still only $217. There are other options, including GMail Drive - over 2gb of free storage on the internet that you can access from a drive letter (e.g. G:) as if it was another hard drive.

In addittion to the hardware, you should consider using some software to make you your portable storage even more effeective. Much of this software is even free. Security software ensures that sensitive data can only be used by people with your password. Synchronisation software can be a godsend if you are tryting to keep two copies of your work (e.g. one at work and one on the portable storage) identical in both locations. You can also use synchronisation software as a backup solution, or use dedicated backup software instead.


So, what you want is a 2.5 inch laptop hard drive, placed into a USB 2.0 Caddy/Enclosure. Sometimes they are sold as a combo ready to go, sometimes they are sold as parts and you plug them togeather (or I could help if you like).

I would usually reccommend 'Dragon Computer Supplies' for general computer stuff - good service and great prices.


You can buy online (with free shipping) and there are three branches:

211 Wainoni Road, Avondale 388-8585

5 / 29, Acheron Drive, Riccarton 341-8880

2A / 105, Gasson Street, Sydenham 366-6621

Note the unusual hours: Monday - Friday: 11:30am to 7:00pm. Saturday & Sunday: 12:00pm to 4:00pm.

But for this particular neiche, their selection of 2.5 inch Laptop Hard Drives is not so good, so I would actually reccommend FlashCards in this instance (see info later), as they specialise in portable storage. If you don't like the look of the FlashCard enclosure, then the following ones at Dragon look a bit nicer, but cost a bit more:

Generic USB 2.0 External 2.5Hard Drive $35.79 4(Avondale), 1 (City)
Vantec NexStar 2.5" External Enclosure $45 1(Avondale)
Vantec NexStar 3 Aluminum 2.5" enclosure (Red Color) $55.17 1(City)

Ok, so as mentioned, FlashCards, www.flashcards.co.nz are even better for this kind of thing (portable storage etc). I got mine from there. They have good service and can be cheaper than Dragon. You can only buy online, but they are in Chch and are fast to deliver. Id reccommend the:

USB 2.0 2.5" External Hard Drive Enclosure $25, with either the
Samsung 40GB 2.5" 5400 RPM Notebook Hard Drive $130.00, or
Samsung 80GB 2.5" 5400 RPM Notebook Hard Drive $192.00

If you want it pre-made, its $30 more at http://www.flashcards.co.nz/catalog/index.php?cPath=55_85

The rest of the email is the stuff going on the Resources section of my website (www.mindspacesolutions.com/html/resources.html). Its more than you need to know, but you you should take a look at "Taking Care of Portable Storage" below.

Storage Options:

Seagate (and a few others) have a 5.0Gb Pocket USB 2.0 hard drive that is only about as big as an eyeball (http://www.dragonpc.co.nz/p.aspx?37170), but at $220 it costs more, for less storage.

Thumbdrives (also known as PenDrives or FlashDrives) are smaller in size (about the size of your thumb), are now also USB2.0, are almost impervious to heat, shock and magnets - I have literally seen them run over by cars and thrown into a boiling kettle. Their disadvantages are that they store less (up to 1gb affordably, but up to 4gb is money is no object), so cost much more per gb, though the smaller storage sizes are cheap enough for almost any budget (from www.flashcards.co.nz as of May 2006):

128mb is $26, 256mb is $39, 512mb is $63, 1gb is $104.

For those of you that already have/need Flash Storage Cards (CF, SD, XD etc.) then it is often cheaper and more convenient to simply buy a small Flash Card to USB converter, so you can read your Flash Cards as if they are Thumbdrives. The converter will generally cost about $25 at www.flashcards.co.nz and prices and sizes of of the Flash Storage Cards are about the same as the Thumbdrives outlined above.

GMail Drive is an interesting, free alternative that gives you a free folder on the internet that can hold over 2gb of data (www.viksoe.dk/code/gmail.htm). They way it works is you set up a Google Mail (www.gmail.com) account, which gives you a free, webmail account with over 2gb of storage, then you install the GMail Drive software on any computer you wish to access the data on - GMail Drive makes a virtual folder on that computer, which transparently hooks it into your GMail account. The result is that you can copy data to and from the folder, from any computer with an internet connection, with no need for any physical devices. Bear in mind it is beta and an unofficial tool, so GMail could theoretically block its use, but rumours are that Google is making its own GMail Drive tool, more simply called GDrive.

Taking Care of Portable Storage:

- The hard drives solutons contain moving parts, so if you drop them, they could be dammaged. They are pretty robust when not being used, but far more sensitive when powered up.

- The hard drives solutons use magnetism, so don't leave them near any strong magnets (like large speakers) or you may loose data.

- For all portable storage, before pulling it out of the computer, left-click on the little, green, 'Safely Remove Hardware' arrow in the system tray (bottom-right of screen by the clock) and click on 'Safely Remove ... Drive'.

- Bear in mind the smaller the storage, the easier it is to accidentally leave it behind. That may not have been a big deal with a CD, but can be a costly mistake with new portable storage, and can also pose a security risk. See below.

Securing Your Data

If sensitive data is left on the portable storage, you can protect that data so that only someone with your password can view it.

The simplest, but least effective way is to compress your files as a zip, and add a password to it. Compressed Folders support is built into Windows ME and XP, and a guide to password-protecting them is here www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,110663,00.asp. However, there are two big problems with this. The encryption used is weak, so there are a number of software tools available that can break the encryptions used on these zips. In addittion, you can only read a file while it is in a zip (you cannot write to it), so it can be a hassle to take a file out of the zip, edit it, then put it back in the zip. Finally, every time you add new files you have to un-protect and then re-protect the zip to make sure all files are protected, which is a hassle and can lead to accidental lack of protection.

While Windows XP Pro comes with folder encryption (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/308989), it only works with NTFS formatted partitions, so its not always useful for portable storage. It does not come with Windows XP Home and it is purported to bind itself to your user profile, so if Windows becomes corrupted, or you reinstall Windows, you may not longer be able to access your encryped folders! This also means you probably cannot take encrypted folders off the original computer (e.g. onto portable storage) or email it to a friend.

Many people, including myself would reccommend the free and Open Source AxCrypt http://axcrypt.axantum.com - it is very easy, fast and secure, is integrated directly into Windows Explorer (as a right-click on any file or folder) and once you have entered your password you can even edit the encrypted file - it will automatically re-encrypt it when you save. AxCrypt can create self-decrypting files, which are very useful for emailing to users who don't have AxCrypt installed. AxCrypt can create a Key-File - a super-password stored in a text file that you should store in a different location to the EnCrypted data. AxCrypt can optionally remember you password or Key-File location to make life easy, then you can clear its memory of this when you are finished.
AxCrypt uses algorithms, which comply with the US Government, which is good if you want to obey their laws, but may mean they are very slightly weaker (as the US Govt only approves encryption that it can break). AxCrypt can encrypt whole folders (including subfolders) but will encrypt each file within separately. This is usually beneficial, but it means that if you need to open a network of files, when you open the first file, that file will not be able to automatically open other files it is dependeant on. If this poses a problem, you can decrypt the whole folder while you are working in it, or you can compress the folder into a zip and encrypt the zip, but as described above, it can be a hassle to take a file out of the zip, edit it, then put it back in the zip????????????????????.

If it is very important to you to open entire encrypted folders for access simultaneously (without decrypting everything) and you cannot or don't want to use Windows XP Folder Encryption, then TrueCrypt (www.truecrypt.org) may be for you. TrueCrypt is another Freeware, Open Source project that creates a virtual, encrypted disk drive (e.g. T drive) which refers back to a single, encrypted file that can reside on your computer or your portable storage. That encrypted file can be made to look like any type of files (zip, bmp etc), which gives you plausible deniability - if someone had a gun to your head to make you give them sensitive data, you could plausibly deny that that data even exists on your computer (unlike AxCrypt, which would show a telltale 'Secrets.doc.axx file). If you are serious about encryption, it can also encrypt an entire real disk partition. While TrueCrypt is reccommended by many people and has more advanced features, it is harder to use than AxCrypt, with more options and settings to get farmiliar with, so is probably not for novices.

There are numerous commercial tools available for under US$50, many of which will encrypt complete folders. I have not tried any of these, but Cryptainer (US$29.95 at www.cypherix.co.uk/cryptainerle/index.htm?adv=enc_ef) and Folder Lock (US$35 at www.newsoftwares.net/folderlock) are highly reccommended and both let you use them for free for up to 25mb of data (although Cryptainer may be better in that it allows multiple 25mb folders and will not nag you to buy).

Backing Up Data:

These portable storage solutions make of cheap, fast, portable backup solutions. I should not need to emphasise how valuable backups are. If you have never experienced a technology failure, burgulary, power surge or natural disaster, then count yourself lucky BUT expect that luck to run out eventually. There are a lot of backup solutions out there, a relevant selection of which are described below:

Windows XP comes with 'Backup' (Start Menu -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Backup). This uses 'Volume Shadow Copy' which backs up a snapshot of the files at a given time, and can backup files that are open and in use. It is essentially free, supports sceduling, can do copy, normal, differential and incremental backups. But it has many limitations listed below.

Cobian Backup (~www.educ.umu.se/~cobian/cobianbackup.htm) is also free, and comes highly reccommended, as it can do all of the following things that Windows XP Backup cannot do: it can compress and encrypt the backup (the best that 'Backup' can do is backup files that are already compressed and/or encrypted, which is very limiting); it can backup to ftp site; can do differential and incremental backups to open file formats like .zip or standard windows folders (windows uses its proprietary .bkf file format); it can do live backups (backup every files as soon as it is created or changed) and works on Windows 95*,98,ME,NT,2000,XP,2003. The only disadvantage I can tell is that it cannot backup all files that are open with exclusive share access, but the FAQ area offers some solutions for this (for example, automating the closure of any applications that have files open). I assume this problem also means it cannot backup all system files, but I have not tested this.

If it is an insurmountable problem to not be able to backup all files that are open, and you find Windows XP Backup too limiting, then there are other solutions available, at a cost, like Double Image-O (US$99 at www.hostinterface.com). Retrospect Professional (US$119 at www.emcinsignia.com) comes highly reccommended and it looks like it can backup open files too, as it 'Protects servers, business-critical applications, desktops and notebooks', but it would pay to double check.

Depending on how you intend to use your remote storage, synchronising may actually be a more convenient solution, which also acts as a backup - see ‘Synchronising Data’ below. In fact, SyncBackSE (US$25 from www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/syncback-hub.html) is actually a synchronisation tool that doubles as a very competent backup tool, with the ability to also copy locked or open files, copy to a FTP site, use encryption, enable a 'Fast Backup' option, offer easy and expert modes, with many options to control and permission to use one license on 5 personal computers. Its smaller brother is called SyncBack, hass less features, but is freeware and can reportedly handle open files.

Synchronising Data:

If there is any chance that you will make changes to both the data on the portable storage and the data on the original computer (taking work home etc), then I strongly reccommend you use a synchronising solution. Synchronising ensures that a set of files, in two or more different locations, remains identical. The hassles and headaches of remembering which version was changed last and which files should be updated on which device can drive you around the bend. Since computers are perfect for automating this kind of monotonous work, why not use a synchronising tool? I have found that it works so well, that you can easily synchronise a wider variety of files that you might want to refer to, preventing the "Damn, I left that file at work" situation. It is especially useful it you are working overseas and also acts as a convenient backup solution. You can generally synchronise data between any two folders, but the most useful synchronisations are between 1) your work computer/network, portable storage and home computer, 2) your computer/network, and home computer (if you have broadband and appropriate remote access, and 2) your work computer/network and laptop. Note how you don't need portable storage in between - the laptop can act as the portable storage. Below are some options for synchronisation:

Breifcase. ????????? Integrated into Windows Explorer as extra buttons in the toolbar.

Offline Files. ?????????? Integrated into Windows Explorer via Right-Click on files and folders. Has a known bug that limits the Offline Cache to 1gb, regardless of the setting applied in 'Computer Properties'????????.

SyncToy 1.2 for Windows XP (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=e0fc1154-c975-4814-9649-cce41af06eb7&DisplayLang=en) is a free tool written by Microsoft that requires the .NET framework version 1.1 (v2.0 can be installed, but SyncToy can't use it). It is easy to use, can manage multiple sets of folders, but lacks some of the advanced features of other sync tools. What SyncToy does have over SyncBack and Briefcase is that it can move deleted items to the Recycle Bin and keeps track of renames to files so it will make sure those renames get carried over to the synchronized folder.

SyncBack v3.x (free from www.2brightsparks.com/syncback/syncback-hub.html) has a very good reputation and better features, but is targeted more towards medium to advanced computer users or admistrators who want more features (though it does have good language support and help documentation). It is faster, can sync to FTP sites, can exclude certain files using a wildcard filter, has better scheduling support, network login, can detect even the slightest file change using an optional MD5 checksum, can rin the background, can reportedly handle open files and is also a comprehensive backup tool, with zip compression and file verification. But it does not detect if files are renamed, so in this case, will essentially make a copy of the file, ??????????. SyncBack is freeware, designed to whet peoples apetite for their commercial product, SyncBackSE, which was covered in the 'Backup' section. ???? VERIFY TIP: if you use XP and a pen drive, make sure that the pen drive is formatted to NTFS. Otherwise XP appears to do mess up the file dates, which will confuse synchronizing software (not just SyncBack).







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