COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

A new way to back up your computer

Backing up our computers is like flossing. It's something we all should do, but somehow many of us are not meticulous about doing it. Once we've had a hard drive crash and realize the value of what was lost and the time needed to fix it, we'll likely be more diligent.

These days we have a lot more to lose than just our e-mail, list of contacts and the documents we've created. More of us are storing our family images on drives rather than in a photo album, so the crash of a hard drive can mean losing valuable memories. And if you buy music online, the loss can be costly as well.

While backing up on a hard drive is usually satisfactory, the backup is only as good as the backup drive, which usually is attached to your computer. It will fail in the event of a fire, flood or theft.

That's why I was so interested in trying the new REV drive from Iomega (NYSE: IOM) of Del Mar. Iomega is the company that became famous for its Zip drive and Zip disk, a removable cartridge containing a disk with 100MB of storage. (Over 50 million Zip drives have been sold to date.) I remember using them for storing large graphics and PowerPoint files that were too big to fit on floppy disks, which held only 10 percent of the capacity of a Zip disk.

The REV is a gigantic leap forward over the Zip drive and a major leap over backup drives, holding 35GB of storage in its removable cartridge. That's about the size of a computer's hard drive, and 350 times the capacity of a Zip disk. (Iomega says that with compression, the cartridge can store up to 90GB of data, but that depends on the type of files. JPEGs, for example, are already compressed, so they will not compress like a Word file.)

The REV is unlike anything in existence. Its stylish, 6- by 4-inch, 1-inch thick housing plugs into a USB 2.0 port, much like other standalone drives. Normal drives have one or more platters (disks with a magnetic coating) that spin while magnetic heads read and write on the platters. The REV drive has a head inside the housing, but places the platter in a removable cartridge, about 3- by 3- by 1/2-inches. When the cartridge is in the housing, the head comes in close proximity to the platter to read and write data. When the cartridge is withdrawn, the platter is removed with it. The cartridge is sealed to keep the platter pristine while the head stays in the drive. It's quite a mechanical feat, because a speck of dust on the platter could be catastrophic.

Today, the REV's major market is to replace tape drives that are used mostly to back up business computers and servers. The REV is eight times faster, but unlike tapes, any part of the disk can be immediately accessed, not requiring winding through the tape to get to a particular spot.

The REV also provides a better backup solution than conventional hard drives for the office or home, because several backups can be made of a single computer or of multiple computers, and the cartridges can be taken off-site for safekeeping.

I tested the REV by installing the Iomega Automatic Backup Pro software on my computer. I then started the backup process, backing up all my files, but not programs. It took about 45 minutes to back up 15GB of data the first time through. Subsequent backups can be set to back up only the changes and will go much faster. Norton Ghost software is also included to make an exact copy of your hard drive. A computer can also be booted from a properly configured REV cartridge. The REV worked reliably and easily and the backup software was simple to use.

The REV also has tremendous potential beyond just being used for backups. It could give a TiVo unlimited capacity; it can store a library of movies, or all the images of an entire museum. I would expect it to eventually be built into other equipment such as digital video cameras and computer systems. And as huge as 35GB is, I'm sure we'll see cartridges with even greater capacity.

Currently the product has a retail price of $399 for the drive and $60 for the cartridge, about twice the price of a standard backup hard drive, but competitive with backup tape drives. Iomega has invented a terrific product with the REV that looks like a winner.


Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at phil.baker@sddt.com.

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