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This is a RAID

Data loss can be as simple as a corrupted file or as devastating as a trashed hard drive. In either case, a little forethought goes a long way toward securing your investment.

Several months back we discussed safeguarding your game rig from outside attacks by fiends who work their malevolent magic via the Internet. We examined hardware- and software-based firewalls, as well as antivirus software. What we didn’t touch on was backing up and securing your data in the event that catastrophe–whether malicious or accidental–strikes.

Data loss can be as simple as a corrupted file or as devastating as a trashed hard drive. In either case, a little forethought goes a long way toward securing your investment and drastically reducing downtime. While many backup alternatives exist, I recommend three I believe are the best.

The first is the use of a RAID 1 hard drive configuration. While many gamers like to run a RAID 0 setup for increased performance, I believe a wiser move is to employ a RAID 1 config for enhanced security.

Here’s why: With RAID 0, data striping spreads your data across two disks to increase read and write performance. These two drives appear as a single, larger drive equaling the capacity of both. This option, however, provides no redundancy. If one drive fails, all your data is lost.

RAID 1 writes and reads data onto two drives simultaneously, creating a mirror image. If one drive fails, your data is still safe on the other. Simply replace the failed drive and you’re good to go. The downside is a slight increase in performance on reads, but none on writes. Also, paired drives appear as a single drive, doubling the media cost per gigabyte. Still, it offers the greatest security and there’s no performance penalty.

As good as RAID 1 is, it’s not foolproof and won’t save you from overwriting, deleting, or corrupting a critical file. Thus, it’s important to have an alternate means of restoring data. I recommend two that can further increase the level of data protection available.

The first is a FireWire- or USB 2.0-based external hard drive, such as Maxtor’s OneTouch. These devices offer plenty of space to archive games, demos, patches, and MP3 files (available in capacities from 120-300 GB), and provide a great backup solution. Just push a button and the contents of your rig’s hard drive are copied to the external drive while you attend to other matters.

Second–and my preferred option–is imaging software. Though several alternatives exist, my favorite is Acronis’ True Image. It allows you to take a “snapshot” of your hard drive for quick-and-easy restores. When you have your system tweaked just right, use it to image your drive. Then, when disaster occurs, you can restore your hard drive’s contents in minutes. True Image even lets you restore individual files and set up automatic imaging as a task. It’s a great product and an excellent means of backing up your system. By the way, burn your images to CD or DVD for safekeeping. It’s also a good idea to test your backups before you need them.

Other data security methods can be used effectively, too, such as burning critical files to recordable CD or DVD media or copying important data to removable flash drives. The problem with these measures is that you have to remember to do them. As such, automated backups are always preferable. Any effort, however, is better than none.

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