As I'm about to head off to the airport for an extended 3 month travel gig in Europe, I'm doing my last minute backups to DVD and hard backups onto my desktop backup drive.
I am rummaging through all of my stuff in my travel bag and I just remembered that I always carry a spare SATA drive with me - just in case something blows up so I at least don't have to run to the store to get a new drive (and yes this always seems to happen at the most inopportune time for me!). This is an old drive, bought to test some OS or VS beta long ago. The data on the drive is pretty stale (just checked it's from early 2007 - pre Vista even) so the content is not important.
But I figured I can put that drive to use as a backup device. So I got out my trusty SATA to USB interface cables and did a fairly full back up right onto this spare drive. USB to SATA cables are readily available these days and the make it easy to reuse an old drive.
There are tons of cables available that do this but I use this one and it works well for me with or without power:
There are a variety of these cable adapters available and you might want to read reviews on all of them to find the right one. The CoolMax I have seems to have a few bad reviews at Amazon, but it's been working fine for me for a few years with several drives I've attached to it, although I have a much older version of it and one that came with an optional power adapter. One thing to look for is a package that also includes a power adapter. In the past I've had problems with only the USB cable powering even the laptop drive. For desktop drives the power is definitely needed in most cases (depending on the power output of the USB bus). The cable above fits SATA, and standard IDE drives which is a bonus if you need to work on an old drive. On my current machine the power adapter is not necessary with the laptop drive attached which is nice - only need the one small USB cable with the adapter at the end.
Beyond travel these converters are useful if you run into problems with a drive. I've used this to pull data of several other people's drives once it's come out of their machines where the drives wouldn't work usually due to some boot corruption.
For me and for travel what's nice about this setup is - especially if it works without power as it does on my laptop - that you can get faster and smaller raw drives than the typical pocket USB drives you buy. Pocket usb drives tend to be slower 5400rpm drives while most of us have 7200rpm drives in our machines. This certainly makes some performance difference especially for doing backups. And because it's a raw drive you can plug it into your machine should the primary drive take a dump so it is real spare.
I probably wouldn't recommend this approach for a second dedicated drive that you use all the time because a raw drive is - well - a raw drive sitting on your desk <g>. But for an occasional backup device,when already carrying around a spare hard disk, this great. 1 small cable to carry in addition to the drive is a small price to pay.
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