Review: The ClickFree Automatic Backup Drive

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.

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