Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 7, NO. 4 / AUGUST 1988

Hard-Disk Backups

Weighing the advantages of contrasting styles

Reviewed By Martin Brown

When I purchased an Atari 20Mb hard disk for my ST, my reasons for buying were not to obtain massive storage, but to gain fast access to my different programs and to speed up saves and retrieves of files. However, I soon realized that the best thing about a hard drive is never having to read "Disk Full" again.

But along with the large storage comes the necessity of backing up all that data. Failing to do so is foolish.

So now every morning I immediately copy my most important work files onto floppies and I use a different floppy for each work day. If I really foul up, I have at least four successively older backups. While copying a few critical daily-use files is easily accomplished using a "point-click-and drag" technique, faster methods are available for copying entire partitions of hard disk drives.

As the ST software marketplace matured, tools available for the Mac and IBM made their way into our arena – including software that considerably speeds up the backup process from a hard disk drive to a floppy, catalogs your backups more accurately, and selectively backs up changed files but skips files you haven't touched since the last backup.

Among the most noteworthy of these ST hard disk backup utilities are Beckemeyer's Hard Disk Toolkit and Backup! by MichTron. Interestingly, these two products take quite different approaches to the backup process, so they both have comparative advantages and disadvantages.


Beckemeyer's Hard Disk Toolkit is amazingly fast, copying about 1Mb per minute. Operation is also much easier than the documentation would the partition to back up, decide whether you want automatic formatting of the floppies and away you go.

The program scans the drive partition being copied, tells you how many floppies are required and then backs up that partition at your command. At the end of the process, Toolkit marks each file on your hard disk partition that was copied so that next time you can simply back up changed files. Sound simple? It is. Even if you put an unformatted disk in the drive during the backup, Hard Disk Toolkit will recognize the problem and automatically format it.

However, Toolkit is not without problems. First, illegal file names that non-GEM programs can use stopped my first backup cold. I used file names starting with non-alphabetic characters, which Beckemeyer apparently never thought would happen. Toolkit simply locked up – and only after three reboots did I determine that the file name was the culprit.

Second, Toolkit's manual is a relic from other days – its style reminds me of a fire insurance policy I once canceled. The Beckemeyer seven-page manual, if followed step by step, does not explain the options very well at all. Toolkit's Update, which allegedly lets you copy only certain directories, simply does not work for me, even if I follow the sparse directions as closely as possible.

More serious a flaw is the method Toolkit uses to copy data. A floppy disk used by Toolkit is not readable by GEM. The information is packed onto the disk in a way that can't be read by your system without restoring the entire partition.

One of the options in the backup process is "verify," which allows you to turn off the write-verify process. The manual indicates this speeds up the backup slightly, but at the sacrifice of some reliability. I could live with a minor sacrifice here, but I discovered that the chain is only as good as its Toolkit's weakest link. I once found it necessary to restore the partition of my hard drive with all my word processing files.

Knowing that what I was doing was serious, I backed up right before formatting that partition. My default method for backup was without write verify, and unknown to me, the next-to-last floppy disk had a bad sector. Toolkit gave no warning – I had verify turned off. When I went to restore, the first six disks seemed fine, but number seven gave me a "bad disk – re-enter" message. Nothing worked, and consequently Toolkit couldn't restore any of my files, not even those on the six good disks.

Toolkit's restore procedure calls for the floppies to be loaded in the proper order, making it hard to scramble files by restoring them in an incorrect order. This prevented my completing the restore with a bad disk. Without disk number seven, Toolkit refused to budge – no quitting and salvaging the first six disks, then rebooting and trying again. And since the floppies are not readable from the GEM desktop, I had nothing left to use.

So, when I really needed this program to help, its strengths became its major weakness. I suggest that if you want to use Hard Disk Toolkit – don't turn off write-verify and don't settle for less than the best floppies you can afford.

Beckemeyer Development Tools
478 Santa Clara Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610
(415) 452-1129


Backup! is almost the opposite of the Hard Disk Toolkit in its advantages and drawbacks. Where Hard Disk Toolkit is super fast, Backup! is painfully slow. Toolkit backs up a partition with about 1Mb of storage in about 90 seconds. Backup! takes just over six minutes, but uses the most secure of the several backup approaches. Where Toolkit produces floppies that are unusable from the desktop, Backup! lets you choose between that kind of file or standard GEM-readable files. Backup! has a better manual than Toolkit plus online help screens. However, the Backup! manual could still be improved. It's skimpy on details in a couple of places that new users of hard drives would appreciate, such as setting the path for backups to begin, or skipping system files in the backup process.

Backup! is full of options. You can choose to only copy certain paths within a hard drive partition, or to back up only changed files either by date or by actual file structure changes. Backup! helpfully creates a history file that keeps track of the files you have copied for use in subsequent incremental saves. But even this can be switched off if you want to maintain more than one set of backup floppies.

Accompanying this GEM program on the Backup! disk are SBackup and SRestore, which work under a shell environment. Their functions are identical to those under the GEM program, but they let you accomplish the same tasks in an auto-execute file using a shell program. These speciallzed programs may not be used by a large number of Backup! buyers, but MichTron's inclusion demonstrates the company's concern for ST users.

(As we went to press, MichTron was planning to sell Backup! in a new combination package with two otber utilities, M-Cache – reviewed February 1988 – and Tuneup! – ANTIC ED)

MichTron Inc.
576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, MI 48053
(314) 334-5700