I bought a 250gb Seagate FreeAgent Go last year for transferring files around, and was absolutely amazed at the size and weight. After using it for a while I have decided that these drives will make a perfect backup solution; like most 2.5″ external drives it is impossible to know it’s active without looking at the glowing lights on top. This is in stark comparison to the drives I’m using now (see my most popular post ever for those details).

Take another look at my old desk setup. By the time I posted that I had already moved the big clunky backup drive off the desk and into a cupboard (via a very long FireWire cable) because the noise was so annoying in an otherwise fairly quiet room. I originally bought those drives because I wanted something cheap and user-servicable for the eventual day that the drive fills up. They definitely filled that need but at the same time you definitely get what you pay for.

The FreeAgent Go drives may be a little more expensive than the build-it-yourself models, but as well as being whisper-quiet they only need a single USB connector and it turns out Time Machine backups use even less space than I thought. Thanks to my rotation policy Time Machine’s weekly backups are spread across two drives – so with 2 instead of 4 per month on each drive I can only assume that the speed at which my backups are growing is halved. In the 4 months since I purchased the drives I have only created 85gb of backups (aided by the exclusion of my download and VM image folders). Who needs to worry about filling a 320gb drive at that rate?

It quickly became clear to me that I could use my existing FreeAgent drive for backups; 250gb is obviously plenty of room. I needed a second 250gb to continue my weekly rotation and then a new drive to store the data from my old 250. Prices have dropped so much in the last 4 months that the 320s are now going for the price of my first 250 so I went for a blue 320 (to help differentiate them). I had to lose a few USB devices but they’re all happily plugged in to my Mac while I do the migration:
(Compare that to the old desk to get an idea of how much better my desk looks. And yes, that’s one of the free Apple stickers on my old storage drive :)).

The first problem came when I was partitioning the new general storage drive. I have a pretty weird setup with 4 partitions; a 7 and 15gb for work, 60gb for the bootable backup and what’s left goes to general storage. Unfortunately, Disk Utility doesn’t like to play ball with partitions smaller than what will fit on the pretty little graph – it just never seems to get it right. This caused me a few headaches because even at 1920×1200 the smallest I could make a partition on the graph was 12gb and I need that 4th partition to be 7gb for a reason.

My solution, of course, was both crazy and brilliant at the same time:
vertical fun
I love my 24″ Dell monitor (one of the originals, with 5 inputs and a swivel desk mount). I haven’t used the vertical rotation in a while, it’s always easy to forget just how wide these monitors are 🙂

Once all that was done, I had to think about migrating my Time Machine backup. I wasn’t totally concerned about wiping the wrong drive (having an offsite backup relieves so much stress from this process) but it would still be annoying so I did a bit of research on migrating Time Machine drives. I’m not the first one to do this of course – and as any experienced OS X hacker would know, the best solution is using Disk Utility’s copy disk option. I have used DU’s restore feature before, but never read the fine print that said it could be used to duplicate partitions 🙂

I ran the restore process on my general storage partitions first; I needed to migrate the data to the new drive anyway, and if something went wrong I wouldn’t lose anything critical. After I was satisfied I began the big migration… DU reported nearly 1.1 million files on the TM drive so I was very glad to be doing a fast block copy with a full verification pass. No wonder people trying to use file-based copy methods have so many problems!

I hope this post is useful to someone (my last Time Machine post certainly has been). In the meantime, USB transfers apparently don’t take much CPU so I’ve been using my computer as normal while waiting for the copy to finish. This meant chaining a few USB hubs together – my USB Device Tree looks like an actual tree now 😀