SimpleTech Signature Mini Drive


Fabrik/SimpleTech prides itself on offering customers two backup software options when they purchase a Signature Mini drive. The first is a local backup option called ArcSoft Total Media Backup, while the other is an online storage solution called Fabrik Ultimate Backup.

Ideally, these two backup tools would be merged into one integrated piece of software that would manage local and Web-based backups, but today they are separate functions that occasionally undermine each other. For example, the company’s Website boasts that "a backup drive is only half the solution," and that a local backup provides only "medium protection." We agree that both types of backup are crucial for important documents, but as you can see from the screen shot below of the online software’s installation wizard, Fabrik/Simpletech goes so far as to remind consumers that "no external hard drive" is needed.

This is true—the Fabrik Ultimate Backup tool is available to anyone with a broadband Internet connection, with two free GB of storage and $5 per month for unlimited storage. But if the company wants to sell hard drives, it shouldn’t remind customers that a hard drive is superfluous to their storage needs. The fact is, we don’t know how long Fabrik as a company will be around to store our data on its servers. Hard-drives are necessary for true, safe backups.

That said, online storage (also known as "cloud storage") represents the future of Web 2.0 and personal computing. Every major Internet player—from Amazon to Yahoo—is buying into it. Fabrik has competitors in the personal storage space, including Carbonite, Mozy, Apple’s .Mac and even Google’s Apps.

The Ultimate Backup software works conveniently on PCs, though we only tested its capabilities up to 2 GB. Without coughing up $5 per month for unlimited storage, 2 GB is hardly the place to store photos — instead, it might be the place to back up only your "My Documents" folder. The local component of the software can be installed via the Signature Mini drive’s pre-loaded "Click Here to Start" icon.

Depending on the settings you choose during configuration, it could take weeks to backup a standard PC system. Fabrik Ultimate backup allows for automatic or scheduled backups, but because backups take place in the background and only use the amount of memory bandwidth you allot for the task, it can slow to a crawl. Under Backup Speed in the configuration menu, we chose quicker backups. Even under those conditions, the system still took the better part of a day to do an initial 2- GB backup. After that, backups were quick and unobtrusive, running only when the computer was idle. Obviously, the backups don’t continue while the computer is off or when it isn’t connected to the Internet.

File restoration is conducted via the Web interface, and can allow for granular access to specific files or folders as well as an entire backup. Fabrik’s servers hold on to old data for30 days. This means that even if you delete a file on your computer, you will still be able to access it online for one month. After that, however, it is gone. That’s comforting, yet what if something gets deleted and you don’t realize it for more than a month? Poof goes your data.

Another limitation: Each Fabrik Ultimate Backup account can backup data from only one computer and its external or internal drives. That means you can only save your data "to the cloud" from one workstation even though most people work with at least two (home and office). This limit was clearly set for security reasons, but it limits functionality because very few people will pay for and maintain two Ultimate Backup accounts, and thus will only be able to store data from one computer.

Fabrik Ultimate Backup is not currently available to Mac users, though the company eventually intends to release a Mac version. Mac users can attempt to use the pre-loaded local backup software that comes on the drive (ArcSoft Total Media Backup), but Mac compatibility is not complete.

ArcSoft scans Macs and PCs similarly — hunting for the types of documents that the user specifies. The list is long, but the software can be taught to recognize new file types. For example, we added OpenOffice files (.odt). However, when scanning a Mac system for photo files, the version of ArcSoft that shipped with our review unit could not find iPhoto files. Our Mac system contained 8,000 photos in iPhoto, but ArcSoft only found 1,000 photos on our system. SimpleTech’s tech phone support explained that because Apple’s iPhoto file extension system is proprietary, the ArcSoft software cannot recognize iPhone file types. Enterprising Mac users may discover a way to get the software to find iPhoto files using the version of ArcSoft that ships on the drives, but monkeying around with iPhoto’s storage system is notoriously dangerous and can lead to data loss. Attempt at your own risk.

After we pointed out this Mac-compatibility issue to SimpleTech, the firm discovered an update to the ArcSoft Mac software that it will share with SimplteTech drive owners who call 800-945-3444 and mention the compatibility problem. The updated software is not available online, so we cannot provide a link. However, SimpleTech intends to ship all new drives with the software update beginning in June. We tested the ArcSoft updated software, and it worked without incident, backing up about 40 gigabytes of data in about four hours.

For most Mac users, however, this is a moot point. All Mac users running the newest update to OSX, dubbed Leopard, have a built in local backup software called TimeMachine, which works well with the SimpleTech Signature Mini without the need for third-party software.

In our PC test, ArcSoft ran without incident and backed up about 40 gigabytes in under five hours. The software chided us to shut down all other programs during the backup, but we did not heed this warning, which may have prolonged the backup process. ArcSoft can also schedule incremental backups down to the week, day and hour.

Software Score: 3.5/5

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