Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 4 NO. 10 / MAY 1990




The FA.ST tape backup from ICD takes the hassle out of backing
up precious data from your hard drive.

Most hard drives contain many, many megabytes of often irreplaceable information. The consequences of losing this information can be disastrous, especially if you make some or all of your living using your computer. You should, therefore, backup your hard drive on a regular basis. That way, if the unthinkable occurs, you can recover your data.

Unfortunately, very few hard-drive owners, especially ST users, ever back up their hard drive, and its easy to see why. Until recently, the only way to back up a hard drive was to move the information onto floppy disks, then store the disks somewhere safe. Doing it this way is certainly economical (floppies are cheap), but it involves a tremendous effort on your part. You not only have to wait while the information is copied to the floppies, but you must be physically present to switch floppies every few minutes.

The Backup Process
Backing up a hard drive to floppies can take anywhere from less than an hour to many hours, depending on what software you use and how much information you're transferring. For example, Dave Small's Meg-a-Minute (START, November 1988) will move information quickly onto preformatted floppies. The result is a mirror-image copy, which means it's only recoverable with a full restore - you can't get at any of the files individually. Further, the information must be restored to the same-size partitions. Thus, if you have to replace your hard drive after a crash, you'll have to format the new drive exactly like the old one, providing you can remember how the old one was formatted!

There are other, more flexible backup programs available. George Woodside's Turtle is my favorite. Despite its name, it is quite fast, and can support file-based backups. File-based backups are more flexible than image copies, because individual files can be recovered from the backup. Most of the programs also support incremental backups, with which you can back up just those files created or changed since the last backup. You can usually either specify a date or use the "archive hit" of each file, which records whether the file has been backed up in its current form. Adding anything to an existing file or creating a new file sets the file's archive bit off, so that your program will back it up the next time around. Although incremental backups are faster, you end up with a large pile of disks (the original backup) and lots of smaller piles (the incremental backups). Any necessary restore is complicated by the fact that you must restore from each disk in the collection.

So, its pretty easy to see why people don't back up their hard drives on a regular basis - it can be a major hassle. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

Fast Backup
In the world of PC-compatibles, people who really need to safeguard their data use tape backup drives. Until now, though, no tape backup drive has been available to ST owners. The FA.ST tape backup unit from ICD makes this option available at last. The drive is fast, accurate and works very well. It isn't cheap, but it will pay for itself in peace of mind and in the ability to easily restore your precious data if you should ever need to.

Very few hard-drive owners, especially ST
users, ever back up their hard drive.

The FA.ST tape backup drive is only about three inches high, with a case of Atari grey. It is built of heavy-gauge steel and can be placed under a monitor. The port for inserting the cassette that stores the information is on the right side, with a rotating handle that locks the cassette in place or ejects it when you're finished using it. There are three front-panel lights that indicate the drive status and a power switch mounted on the back (which makes it almost totally inaccessible).

Connecting the FA.ST tape backup drive is easy. Just run the included cable to the hard-drive port of your ST, then connect any other devices to the DMA pass-through on the back of the FA.ST drive. The FA.ST is a SCSI device and has a SCSI port on the back. The drive comes factory preset with a SCSI ID of 3, but this can be changed by pressing a switch on the back of the drive. You don't need to open up the drive and mess with jumpers to change the SCSI ID. Including this device was extremely thoughtful on ICD's part - in fact, all SCSI devices should have this switch. ICD also includes a small program called IDCHECK that checks the SCSI bus to see what devices are out there.

The FA.ST tape backup drive comes with special software for booting your hard drive, and you must use this software, which recognizes removable medium (such as the tape backup tapes). Following the instructions in the manual, you install the software so that your drive boots from the ICDBOOT.SYS that came with the tape drive. According to the manual, only ICD hard drives or drives that use ICD host adapters can be autobooted, but this is not strictly true. What is true is that the system will work fine as long as there is a device in the system that contains an ICD host adapter (such as the tape backup unit itself). But be warned, removing the FAST tape drive from the system for any reason will cause your hard drive to stop autobooting.

Easy to Use
Once things are set up and the software installed for autobooting, using the tape drive is easy. Simply double-click on TAPE.PRG and follow the on-screen prompts in a well-constructed dialog box. You have the option to do an automatic file backup to tape, restore an automatic file backup or copy files. If you decide you want to make an automatic backup, a dialog box requests you to select the partitions to back up. You can select as many of the available partitions as you like, or click on the ALL button to highlight them all. A dialog box will then appear that lets you enter up to four lines of text. The backup files can either be placed at the beginning of the tape (the tape will rewind automatically to the beginning) or appended to an existing copy. However, if you append, you cannot recover the files using the automatic restore - you'll have to use the COPY command.

For just a few minutes a day, you can be sure
your data is backed up and safe.

The automatic file restore will restore the contents of your hard drive from the automatic tape backup to the exact state in which the files were saved, with one important exception. Any files that were created since the backup are left intact and untouched. The automatic file restore will not restore just certain files, for that you must use the COPY function. This function will restore files not only from backups made with the COPY function, but from automatic full backups as well.

The COPY function presents a dialog box consisting of two areas. The box on the left lets you specify the source unit (drive or tape) and files, while the box on the right is for specifying the destination unit and files. You can copy files just about anywhere - from your hard drive to tape, from the tape to the hard drive, or even from one place on the hard drive to another. You can select multiple files in multiple folders from either the tape or the hard drive as your source. However, you can't select multiple files from different units (i.e., hard drive or tape partitions). When you're working with a tape partition, a dialog box shows what's on the tape, when the backup was made, and the four lines of text that you specified when you made the backup. You can change tape partitions, rewind the tape or select the current partition for copying. The image backup option is quite different from either the automatic backups or COPY mode. The Image mode dialog box lets you select which partitions you want to back up of switch drives (if you have more than one). Once you have selected the drives you want to back up, the image backup process will begin. An image backup can only be restored by an image restore, so it normally makes more sense to use the automatic file backup or COPY modes. However, the only way to back up a non-GEM partition (such as Magic or Spectre partitions) is with an image backup. Fortunately, you can back up your normal GEM partitions using a file backup, then append the image backup to the end of the file backup. The automatic image restore will still find the image backup when you do this, so you can have both kinds of backup on one tape.

The Automatic function is the easiest way to back up and restore, but this limits you to one backup per cartridge, although each cartridge will hold 155MB of data. ICD recommends using two or more tapes and using them on alternating days. That way, if your hard drive crashes during the backup process, your latest backup is not more than a day old. The Automatic functions are very fast -I backed up my hard drive (four partitions, 24MB of data, 1,805 files) in just under four minutes. Now, that 's impressive.

The manual that was included with my FA.ST tape backup drive was stamped "preliminary" and consisted of sheets of paper stapled together. It was, however, complete and well-written, except for the slightly misleading part about needing an ICD drive. The manual even included a trouble-shooting guide, which correctly identified a problem I was having during setup, and told me how to solve it. Having potential problems laid out logically like this was very helpful.

So, is this unit for you? If you don't store lots of important data on your hard drive, or you really do backup to floppies on a regular basis, then I guess not. But if your livelihood depends on that data, or you value your peace of mind, then I highly recommend it. And I'm not the only one, Respected members of the ST programming community have all bought FA.ST tape backup drives. For just a few minutes a day, you can make sure your data is backed up and safe.

Contributing Editor David Plotkin is a chemical engineer at Chevron, U.S.A.


FA.ST Tape Backup, $899.95. ICD, Inc., 1220 Rock Street, Rockford, IL 61101, (815) 968-2228.