Notebook computer backup is one of those activities which all notebook owners know they must do but many do not. Tape drives for notebooks have never become popular for good reasons: slowness, expense and slow restoration.

Before affordable external disks came along there was software, such as Novell’s iFolder and others, which backed up notebook data over the Internet. Only the changes were sent, which shortened backup time. But the disadvantage was that restoration had to be done over the net as well. And if you weren’t linked up, then you couldn’t restore.

Cheap external disks made life easier. Adding in backup software, such as Retrospect with Maxtor’s OneTouch unit, made life better still. But one thing needs adding to the mix to make notebook backup truly easy and useful – the ability to boot from the backup disk. CMS is so very nearly there. It does have a bootable disk, but you have to put the disk inside your notebook drive – which is a bit too much like a technician’s job for many people.

The fault, if fault it be, is Microsoft's, which has not provided the ability to boot from an externally-connected USB drive.

However, booting can be done, and it makes the unit so much more rewarding to use, knowing that extra security is there if you need it.

The product comes as an external USB 2 drive, connection cables, BounceBack Professional software CD and, Lord be praised, a printed Getting Started guide. The actual drive is in a neat plastic case and weighs under half a pound.

The software is installed from its CD. My Toshiba Portege Windows XP system did this in the usual straightforward XP manner. Then the installation software asked for the external disk to be selected as the backup device and, after I assented, partitioned it and made it bootable for disaster recovery. There was a registration procedure and then the first, full, backup was sized. I was told that backing up 5.5 GB off my C: drive would take 17 minutes. I clicked OK and off it went.

After that I had a fully backed up drive and a BounceBack Quick Restore icon on the desktop. Later, after disconnecting the ABS drive and both changing old files and adding a few files to the C: drive, I re-connected the ABS drive. The new and changed files were detected and automatically backed up.

I deleted a file on the C: drive and was able to restore it easily using the BounceBack Quick Restore facility. So all the basics work OK. What about disaster recovery?

If the notebook’s own hard drive fails then you have to extract the hard drive from the CMS unit and use it to replace the failed drive inside the notebook. A crosshead screwdriver is needed for this. Specific notebooks may need additional tools. We didn’t test this procedure but were shown a demonstration. Also a Gartner report says the process takes about thirty minutes, which is impressive since, normally, a notebook hard drive crash is a personal disaster.

The ABS system has additional uses. For example it can be used to carry data between notebook and desktop or other PCs. It can also be supplied to corporate notebook users and used to promote self-recovery from accidental file deletion with much reduction in help desk burden. For additional security the drive contents can be password-protected.

There is a detailed ABS manual on the BounceBack CD. It’s important to get into the habit of connecting the BounceBack disk whenever you return from trips with notebook and also on a daily basis. (Of course, the ABS disk has to be capacious enough for this. It comes in 20, 40n and 60GB capacities. Most users should be covered in this range.) Once this discipline is adopted then your notebook data is as safe as it’s practically possible for it to be without some form of mirroring.

OUR VERDICT

Buy this USB drive and backup software combination to obtain a usable notebook backup facility with a full disaster recovery option.