NewerTech Voyager Q Follow-Up

Since I wrote the review of the NewerTech Voyager Q drive dock last week, I’ve received a lot of great questions both via email and in the article’s comments. Rather than answer them individually, I thought it might make sense to address them here in a quick follow-up article.

What drives should I use with this thing?

The NewerTech Voyager Quad Interface drive dock accepts 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives with SATA I or II interface, but not the venerable IDE interface (more on this below). It seems like every drive manufacturer has had both production and quality control issues over the years. I’ve had good luck with drives such as this Hitachi 1TB drive, and also with the Seagate 1TB drive (both cost about $100USD as of this writing).

If I was buying a drive today, though, I’d probably consider the Samsung Spinpoint 1TB drive, which has a good reputation and is a bit more energy efficient.

Some people might suggest that going with a cheaper drive makes more sense, because this is “just” for backup. Generally though, I like to buy quality items even when they’re a bit more expensive, especially when it comes to saving and preserving data that’s valuable to me.

SATA I/II? IDE?

As I’ve mentioned, the Voyager Q uses drives with a SATA I/II interface, but does not support the IDE interface. Most Macs (starting with the PowerMac G5 in 2003), and many PCs made within the last 5 years have SATA drives, but some still (even today) have IDE drives. This means that if you have a stack of old IDE drives sitting around, this dock won’t help you use them.

If you’re not looking to use legacy drives from older systems though, this is less of an issue. I do have a few IDE drives kicking around, but they’re too slow and small to be of any value to me, even as a tertiary backup, and I’ve long-since retrieved any data I want from them.

How do you store/transport drives when you’re not using them?

You could get a Wiebetech protective hard drive case, which is like an anti-static, high quality, old-school VCR tape enclosure. They also make a fancy James Bond-style hard-shell waterproof case if you’re into that kind of thing.

Michael J. suggested this compact portable hard drive case. “Ted” suggested using this 5-bay hard drive storage unit, which is made from paper. I wonder if a warm (or hot) drive could set it on fire. Probably not.

You could also use anti-static bags from here or here.

For the record, I’ve been (carefully) handling and storing hard drives without special precautions other than common sense since the mid-80’s, when I used to build and upgrade dozens of PCs and Macs a day, and in the years since as I’ve done upgrades or repairs. I’ve never had one fail for this reason.

Now, I’m sure some uber-geeks reading this will cry foul here, saying that the handling of the drive didn’t cause it to fail right away, but that it created some kind of latent problem which only appeared months or years later. Please hold your calls and letters: I will admit that this is a possibility.

So if you’re really concerned about it, get yourself an anti-static wrist strap. It’s only $10. Make sure that your workstation is free of charge as well, use the anti-static bags above, and maybe you’ll be OK. You might also reconsider using any kind of drive dock at all.

Trivia: Fans of the TV show LOST may find it interesting to learn that anti-static bags work by creating something called a Faraday cage. The LOST character Daniel Faraday, played brilliantly by Jeremy Davies, was “named after” Michael Faraday, the inventor of the Faraday cage. The bags are slightly conductive and prevent localized charges from reaching the drives they contain when the bags are touched by people. If a the anti-static bag isn’t closed, though, it won’t help, so keep that in mind. And if you’re going to the trouble to get an anti-static bag, you should probably also consider getting the anti-static wrist strap I mentioned above.

Why not just use a normal enclosure?

It’s true that I could pick up an inexpensive USB2 or FireWire 400 enclosure for each of the drives I use for backup rotation. I could even spend more and get a FireWire 800 or multiple-interface enclosure. But I have a few reasons for wanting a device like the Voyager Q.

  1. I have a handful of drives that I need to backup, and I use a rotation system for each of them. This translates into a small army of drives. Buying that many enclosures (especially to support multiple interfaces, see below) would be far more expensive than a Voyager Q.
  2. Using the Voyager Q’s toaster-like dock mechanism is more convenient than plugging and unplugging a myriad of external enclosures and associated power and interface cables. For me, simpler is better.
  3. The Voyager Q does a better job of cooling drives than most of the inexpensive drive enclosures I’ve seen (although I bet there are some that do a great job nowadays).
  4. I need a device that will work with all of the machines I currently use, or will own in the relatively near future. Today, my main machine is a 15-inch (2009) MacBook Pro. I have a MacBook Air from work. I have an older white-plastic MacBook in the closet, in case I need an emergency spare. I also have an original G4 Cube, the best Mac ever made, prominently displayed on a shelf in my office, but in full working condition. My wife has the first generation Intel iMac. And although I suspect my next machine will also be a MacBook Pro, I’m not positive. I don’t want to spend money today on single-interface enclosures that won’t work for me tomorrow, and buying multiple-interface enclosures for this many drives would be expensive.

There’s more, actually, but that’s enough.

What is your backup system? How are you using the Drobo/LaCie/Voyager Q?

The MacBook Pro: My main machine is a 15-inch (2009) MacBook Pro. I clone its internal 320GB drive — where I keep documents, music, movies, and code — using SuperDuper! and the Voyager Q. I have two drives which I rotate for this backup.

The LaCie: I store all of my photographs, video, and podcast recordings on the LaCie 2TB 2big Quadra, set to RAID 1 mirror mode. Although this mirror does provide redundancy, it’s not the same as having a true backup, especially not an offsite one. I have two drives in SuperDuper! cloning rotation for this backup as well.

The Drobo: I currently use a Drobo 2 (Amazon link) as my Time Machine backup for the internal and LaCie drives. I’ve got a few Western Digital 1TB Green Power drives installed, and so far, they have been working fine. I also use the Drobo for temporary storage when moving or migrating large files, and I’ve experimented with using it for a network storage drive with both the DroboShare and the Airport Extreme. I don’t backup the Drobo.

Miscellaneous: I like to keep a few additional archives of media, old files, ancient backups, and other miscellany handy as well. Accessing this data via docked hard drive is much easier and faster than multiple-DVD backup sets.

The Backup Procedure

I use the same manual procedure for cloning all of my drives. The backup drives are named after the drives they clone, using numbers to identify which member of the set they are. For example, the LaCie, named Storage, has two cloned drives, Storage Clone 1 and Storage Clone 2. Naming them in this fashion tells me instantly which drive is docked and where it belongs in the set.

I use SuperDuper! to clone each drive at least once a week (usually more often), and rely on Time Machine for the in-between time.

Any problems?

Lots of people ask about problems with dust, drives disconnecting, failure to sleep, etc.

All I can say is that so far, I haven’t run into any problems with the Voyager Q. Things seem to “just work” the way one would expect them to. I eject and insert drives in a careful way, drives spin down and wake back up when you’d expect them to, etc. This is all taking place over FireWire 800 for the most part, with the Voyager Q last in the chain. Your experience using a different interface (or a different scenario) may vary.

Conclusion

Hopefully this follow-up article has helped answer some of the questions people have about this handy device as well as my backup routine.

Sure, I’m a little bit crazy with the backups and the redundancy, but then again, I spent about 8 years in IT and you can take it from me: hardware fails, and it never hurts to have a good backup … or three.

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