Review: Seagate Replica PC Backup Appliance

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted May 26, 2009

The Seagate Replica PC Backup Appliance takes simplifying backups to a new level. How simple? You plug Replica in to a PC, register the product online and accept the software license for the application, which then automatically downloads and installs on your computer. By that time Replica’s already backing up your files.

What about the usual complexities of backup configuration – choosing which type of backup, choosing which files and folders to include? Don’t you worry your pretty little head. Replica looks after all of that.

It backs up everything – every file – and it backs up continuously. As files are modified, Replica grabs them. It also, and this is a strong selling feature, keeps multiple versions of files that you modify and save under the same file name.

Going Back in Time

Why is this important? If you change your mind about modifications and want to go back to an earlier version, you can easily do it. Or if you need to recover data for a specific date – calculated totals in an Excel spreadsheet, for example – you can do it.

Unlike some traditional backup systems, which by default pack files into compressed archives that require a lengthy, all-or-nothing recovery process, Replica maintains your main drive’s existing folder structure and copies files as is.

If you need to recover one or a few accidentally deleted files, you can simply click on the Replica icon in My Computer, find the files you need and drag and drop them back to your main drive.

You can also use Replica to do a complete recovery if your main drive dies, recover your system to another computer or perform mass transfers of files from one computer to another.

Simplicity, as always, comes at some cost. But for small businesses and home offices that lack proper IT support Replica, especially when combined with online backup of essential data using a service such as Mozy, may be ideal.

Price is Right

The Replica’s price certainly seems fair. The 250GB version sells for $130 at the Seagate Web site. It comes with a software license that lets you use it with one computer.

For $200, you can get the 500GB Replica, which comes with a docking cradle and a software license that lets you use it to backup multiple computers. We reviewed the 500GB Replica.

Both are portable-size drives, measuring about 5.61 x 3.99 x 0.72-inches and weighing little more than a half a pound.

Trade-Offs

Any downsides are few and minor. Replica doesn’t let you choose which files and folders it copies, so it inevitably backs up junk you’ll never need, including temporary files with which Windows litters your hard drive – and which a more sophisticated backup system would let you filter out.

But given the low cost of hard disk storage, it may be a reasonable trade-off for simplicity and convenience. Besides, if you’re concerned about wasting storage resources, you can always follow good housekeeping practices and regularly clean those files from your system.

Replica also cannot back up network drives, so it’s not appropriate for computing environments where some or all of your company’s data is stored on a disk drive that plugs directly into the network and is shared by multiple users.

Like other portable, external drives, Replica is not as fast as internal drives. Rotational speed, which partly determines input/output speeds, is rated at 5,400 RPM, compared to 7,200 RPM for most internal drives.

A more important determinant of performance is the connection interface. If you plug Replica into a USB 2.0 port, the data transfer speed can go as high as 450 megabits per second. If you plug it into an older USB 1.1 port, it’s about a tenth of that.

Replica draws power from the computer over the USB interface. To help ensure that it gets enough power, the product ships with a USB cable that has two plugs so you can plug it into two ports on the computer if necessary.

In most cases, this is all the power it will need. But if, for whatever reason, the USB interface on the computer doesn’t provide enough power, you’re out of luck. Replica, unlike some other portable USB drives, does not offer an optional AC power outlet and cable.

And there is a slight snag with the USB cable. The way some laptops are designed, including our Dell XPS 1330, you can’t actually use two USB ports because the ports are positioned too far apart. The second plug on the Replica cable is on a six-inch extension.

Works Right – Mostly

Our out-of-the-box experience with Replica was not perfect, but we didn’t find any killer faults, and the performance was reasonably good. The initial set-up on a Windows XP machine did not work exactly as described in the Quick Start Guide, which was momentarily confusing but not a significant problem.

The unit we tested shipped with a Recovery Disk, from which you can boot your computer and begin the recovery process in the event you need to recover your entire hard drive. But the first thing the Replica start-up routine wanted us to do was create a recovery disk. Huh?


 Seagate Replica PC Backup Appliance
The Seagate Replica PC Backup Appliance: So simple to use, you might actually backup your data.

When we declined, the start-up process stopped and we had to relaunch it by clicking on the Replica icon in My Computer.

More seriously, when we had completed initial backup of the XP machine and tried to “safely remove” the drive in order to plug it into the Dell laptop, we received a message saying it couldn’t stop the device at this time and we should try later.

Seagate’s online support services could not provide a solution, and when we called the support line in mid-afternoon, it was closed for a departmental meeting – no word of when it would reopen.

In the end, we simply shut down the XP machine, unplugged the drive and plugged it into the laptop.

Be Patient

Initial backup can take a long time – hours, the Replica software warns. It took less than two hours to back up 25GB on the XP machine. But for most of that, the computer wasn’t being used for anything else. The laptop, with more than 200GB, took almost 24 hours.  

After that, backups happen continuously and automatically so long as the disk is plugged into to the computer. When you plug it back in, it automatically synchronizes.

Unlike some backup programs, Replica does not hog computing resources. We were able to continue working normally with no noticeable degradation in performance even while it was performing an initial backup.

Bottom Line

If you can’t be bothered fussing with backups and don’t have an IT person to do the fussing, Replica may be the ideal solution. It’s simple, automatic and inexpensive.

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.

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