Data backup is a vital chore that will ensure you can retrieve valuable documents, photos, music, video, and other files in event of hard drive failure. Although many software companies have touted the ease of their automatic backup programs, they lack the super-simplicity of the Windows-only Back in a Flash, a 7.5GB USB drive that offers true plug-and-forget functionality for $70 (also available in 3.5GB, 15.5GB and 31.5GB capacities). That's a very high dollar-per-GB ratio, but with the price tag comes peace of mind.
Design and Setup
Measuring 2.7 x 0.7 x 0.2 inches and weighing 3 ounces, the black Back in a Flash (with metal trim and orange lettering reminiscent of the Back To The Future logo) looks very much like your run-of-the-mill USB thumb drive. Under the hood, however, runs the Back in a Flash automatic backup software that's remarkably easy to setup. We simply popped the stick into a notebook's USB port, and after Windows detected the hardware, we clicked the Back in a Flash icon that appeared in a dialog box.
The software began duplicating the files in our My Documents folder with no further input from us. It was remarkably simple, and took one less mouse click than theClickfree Transformer, which required us to accept an end user license agreement. Back in a Flash remembers the time that the initial backup was performed and will automatically back up at that time on a daily basis, as long as you keep the drive plugged into the PC. To ensure there's enough room for software and storage, the 7.5GB Back in a Flash unit caps large individual file transfers at 200MB. The 3.5GB unit ($50) has a 100MB cap, and the 15.5GB unit ($100) has a 15.5GB cap, but the 31.5GB unit ($190) has no such limitation.
Right-clicking on the Back in a Flash icon in the system tray let us dive into the settings, where we could change the password (which provides ZIP encryption to the data on the drive), select if we wanted to perform full backups with each session or make incremental saves, or alter the frequency and time of automatic backups--perfect for working on important projects.
Built-in Linux Operating System
The unique aspect of Back in a Flash is its ability to keep you computing even if your computer suffers a hard drive failure, by booting into the Linux-based Nimble X operating system directly from the USB drive. We tested this by restarting our PC, pushing the F12 button, and instructing the notebook to boot from the drive in KDE mode. We were pleasantly surprised by the functionality of the Nimble X operating system, which included the Firefox 3 Web browser, OpenOffice suite, Skype, Kmail (an e-mail client), Akregator (RSS reader), Kopete (instant messenger), Transmission (BitTorrent client), and XMMS (music player).
We tried to find an appropriate wireless driver for two different systems (the HP Pavilion dv3510nr's Intel WiFi Link 5100 AGN, and the Dell Inspiron Mini 10's Dell Wireless 1510 Wireless-N) but had no luck. Still, we were able to open our backed-up files and use them within the new OS without any hiccups. The preloaded Nimble X OS, the applications software suite, and the backup software take up half a gig of memory, which explains the odd capacities of Back in a Flash drives.
Read and Write Speeds
The device read a 1GB folder in 50.9 seconds, or 20.1 MBps, which was just a hair slower than the 21.8 MBps flash drive average. Write speeds fared far worse; it wrote the same file in 3 minutes and 36 seconds, which translated to a poky rate of 4.7 MBps. That write speed was the third worst we've seen (theOCZ Technology Rally2managed just 4 MBps; theTranscend JetFlash V10, just 4.3 MBps), and 3.2 MBps slower than the category average. In fact, Back in a Flash lagged behind the write speed leader, thePatriot Xporter XT Boost, by a whopping 7 MBps.
At $70 for 7.5GB of storage, the Back in a Flash seems like an expensive proposition, especially compared to the 120GB Clickfree Portable Hard Drive ($89.99). However, this thumb drive offers a much more pocket-friendly design. While its write speeds are mediocre, Back in a Flash comes with a nice array of features, making it a valued tool for users who want to back up from anywhere.