Review: The ClickFree Automatic Backup Drive

Wednesday Aug 13th 2008 by Gerry Blackwell
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If you can plug in a toaster, you're qualified to backup files with this dead-simple external drive. If only everything technical were this easy.

In the continuing quest for the perfect small business backup product – one that works simply enough that busy, non-technical workers will actually use it and get the protection they need from it – Storage Appliance Corp. may have struck gold.

SAC’s ClickFree portable backup devices, portable USB drives with onboard backup software, do everything most small businesses need, and do it so automatically that you won't have any excuses for not backing up your data.

The first ClickFree product, the 120GB HD701, which we reviewed, sells at the company’s Web site for $130. It’s also available from a long list of retailers, and distributors.

The second product, the 160GB HD801, is coming soon. It works exactly the same as the original ClickFree. Both let you back up multiple computers to the same drive. The company also has kits for automatically backing up files on DVDs.

The ClickFree hard drive products are comparable in size to a box of cigars and not much heavier (4.52- x 0.67- x 2.99-inches, 6.35 ounces). This is important because it means you can easily slip one into a jacket pocket, briefcase or purse and take it home at the end of the day – after backing up your computers, of course. That way if the office burns down, you don’t lose your data.

How simple are they to use?

Idiot Proof

Unlike some backup systems that launch automatically according to a programmed schedule and perform unattended, you do have to remember to take action with ClickFree. But in almost every other respect, the process is very intuitive and automatic.

You plug the device into a computer using the supplied USB cable and it goes ahead and backs up your system without further human intervention, right out of the box.

The software runs on the device itself – although the interface displays on your computer screen – and it leaves nothing on the computer. It launches automatically when you plug in the ClickFree drive. And the interface disappears when you unplug it.

In most cases, the device doesn’t even require AC power – it draws power from the PC through the USB cable. The cable has two jacks. If you can’t get enough power from one USB port, you can plug the second jack into another port.


ClickFree Automatic Backup Drive
ClickFree Automatic Backup Drive: It just doesn't get easier than this.

One small complaint: the wire attaching the second USB jack to the main cable is so short that on my Dell XPS 1330 laptop, which has only two USB ports located on opposite sides of the machine, the second jack would be unusable.

Luckily, ClickFree worked fine with both my computers (the other is an older Dell laptop) with only one jack plugged in. In fact, it worked even when plugging the USB jack into a USB hub attached to the computer. Going through a hub prevents some USB devices from functioning properly.

If you lose the two-headed cable, or if the device doesn’t work reliably even with two jacks plugged in, you have the option of buying an AC adapter (not included) that plugs into a port on the back. 

All Your Stuff

By default and right out of the box, ClickFree backs up all the personal data most people need to preserve: dozens of the most common file types, including virtually every type of Microsoft Office file, even new XML-based file formats from Office 2007. It also backs up many uncommon types, including .NEF and other “raw” format photo files.

Best of all, it will back up your Outlook database, while Outlook is running. This is important. Some backup software will not back up a running copy of Outlook. You have to shut the program down first, which is an added hassle and something you have to remember to do even if you’re using software that backs up automatically on a schedule.

A short hair to split: you do have to click a couple of OK buttons to complete the backing up of an open file.

You can also change ClickFree’s default settings to: add or subtract file types to back up (including custom types identified by file extension); add or subtract folders that you want ClickFree to search through for files; or add folders you want ClickFree to back up in their entirety, regardless of file types.

So what’s the downside? Nothing very serious.

Quibbles

You have no real choice in how ClickFree backs up. When you first plug in the device, the software creates an encrypted, compressed archive on the backup drive containing all the files of the selected (or default) types, or of those found in the selected folders. In subsequent backups, it only backs up new files or files that have changed.

Some backup software gives you the option of making uncompressed mirror copies of folders or files that make it slightly faster and more convenient to recover individual files or all files if the occasion arises.

If you change a file on the computer, ClickFree copies the new version on top of the old version on the backup drive. Some backup systems and services give you the useful option of preserving a number of older versions of each file in the backup. ClickFree doesn’t.

And if you delete a file from the computer, ClickFree doesn’t automatically delete it from the backup archive. You have to explicitly tell the software to delete those files. No big deal, except it’s one more thing to remember to do.

Some backup programs will automatically restore files to the folders from which they were originally backed up, but also let you change folder names in the event you’re restoring data to a completely new computer. With ClickFree, if you’re restoring all files, you can only put them in a single catch-all folder on the computer.

This method is not quite as convenient. It means you’ll then have to copy files from the restore folder to the folders where they belong. And many people won’t know where their Outlook .PST file belongs, for example.

Still, for the vast majority of people, these are minor problems, if problems at all.

As Advertised

The out-of-the-box experience with this product is excellent with clear and concise instructions. And it works as advertised, the very first time. The software launched automatically on both of our test computers just as the Quick Start Guide said it would, and it began backing up almost immediately.

The first backup can, as with any backup system, take a long time, depending on how much data you have. It took more an hour in the case of our recently acquired Dell notebook, which is now our main computer. Time for subsequent backups will depend on how many files you’ve changed or added in the meantime, but it will usually be very quick, as little as a few minutes most days.

Restoring files is the same: if you restore all, it will take a long time to decrypt and uncompress the archive and copy every file back to your computer. But if you need to restore just one or a few files, it takes seconds.

Bottom Line

For very small businesses especially, this is an excellent and cost-effective solution. It requires a bit of discipline to remember to back up regularly. But if you leave the ClickFree drive sitting on your desk in full view, it should be reminder enough.

Just don’t leave it sitting on your desk after the backup. One of the points of this product is that you take your backup offsite to keep it safe.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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