Dyce & Sons Ltd.

Helping IT since 1993

CMS FireWire ABSPlus

Sunday 1st September, 2002

It’s time to trot out the old backup cliché again. Yes, we should all do it, and no, we never seem to get around to it. It’s worse than that. Some of us go to a great deal of trouble to back up our office data - network backup on to tape drives and other removable media, such as CDs. But when it comes to actual disaster recovery, there’s that little bit of doubt at the back of one’s mind - if it came to the crunch, could I actually do a restore, and how long would it take?

That’s where the CMS FireWire ABSPlus comes in. It’s a simple, well-executed idea, whose time (thanks to the falling cost of hardware) has come. Take a FireWire or USB drive, plug it into your Mac, do a one-time software installation and from then on it backs up automatically. Then unplug it, and put it away. It’s that simple. Think iPod synching, but for all your files, not just MP3s.

It works by copying the files directly, and noting down which files were copied and the general state of your source drive (the one that you want to back up). Next time you plug in the ABS drive, it checks to see what the changes have been made and backs up only those files that have since been altered.

Restore draw

Because the backup is a simple copying process, your restoration options are very much simplified. Need to get a copy of a file off the backup? Scenario one: you’ve deleted or corrupted a file or folder. Solution: plug in your ABS drive, cancel the automatic backup process, which starts every time you connect the drive, and copy back the file from the ABS drive to your hard disk. Scenario two: the dog ate your internal hard disk, or your PowerBook has been stolen and you need to set up a new one. Solution: on a machine that doesn’t have the ABS software installed, the ABS drive works just like any external drive - on FireWire, this makes it a bootable drive. So plug your ABS into a new PowerBook, switch the Start-up Disk to the ABS drive and restart.

Now, this is a backup, not an archive, device. If you want to archive, say, jobs in a design company, then this is not for you - writing the jobs on to their own CD is still the best option. But for disaster recovery, it’s just the ticket.

Drive time

In use, the ABSPlus is tremendously straightforward. Plug the drive into your powered-up machine, and wait for it to show up on the desktop. You can then either install the software from the CD, or launch a disk image from the file included on the drive. (Actually, the drive was a pleasure to unpack. Yes, the CD is for Mac and Windows, but the documentation was Mac-only, and the quick-start manual runs to three columns on a folded A4.)

Once installed, you are asked if you want to use the Express or Advanced option. Express starts the process there and then - that’s all there is to it. Advanced drops you into the ABS Settings application, which lets you control a little more of what’s going on. For example, if you want to back up more than just the internal system disk, then you can specify multiple drives. If you have more than one external drive available, then you can specify multiple backups (the ABS software works with other external FireWire drives). Once you’ve configured your backup, close the ABS Settings application, and then unplug and replug the external drives to start the backup process.

At this point you’ll probably notice another great feature. The initial backup can be quite lengthy - a bit over two hours for the contents of a chock-full internal 18Gb G4 PowerBook drive. No problem, if you don’t have time, cancel the backup and unplug the drive. Next time you plug it in, after a little housework (and no intervention), it will pick up from where it left off. Once backup is complete, the ABS software usefully puts up a clearly understandable summary dialog and you’re free to use any excess space on the drive as extra storage.

Of course, what you’re buying is a hardware and software solution. The ABSPlus comes in two varieties - what’s termed Laptop ABSPlus, small form factor external drives available in 20, 30, 40 and 60Gb, and Desktop ABSPlus, available in 40, 60, 80, 120 and 160Gb. The laptop drive we tested was slightly shorter and wider, as well as lighter than equivalent VST or LaCie drives.

The styling is Titanium (even down to the slight raked angle), and the activity light is a pleasant Aqua colour, which is nice. Its sleekness belies its ruggedness, as it’s rated to in excess of 1000G non-operating shock. Pricing starts at £219 for the 20Gb version. In terms of ease of use, time saved and capacity it’s well worth the money.

Get Further Info
ProsDad-proof simplicity + Bootable in case of recovery + Fast incremental backups
ConsNot for archiving
Originally PublishedMacUser, Volume 18, Issue 22