Category Archives: Backup/Restore

SSDs Versus HDDs Revisited

I just saw some pretty amazing sales prices on external 2TB SSDs at Neowin. I’m talking something in the neighborhood of US$120 -140 for something rated at 800 – 1,000 MBps. This has me thinking about SSDs versus HDDs revisited. Why? Because over the past 6 years, I’ve been moving steadily away from HDDs to increasingly fast and affordable SSDs. These prices kind of put a cap on the whole phenom, IMO.

SSDs Versus HDDs Revisited: Late 2022

I realized the value of compact, portable 2.5″ external drives in the first decade of this millenium, when laptops really took over business computing. I carried my first luggables far back as 1988. But compact, usable external storage for field use really didn’t catch on until small, USB-attached drives became practical in the wake of USB 2.0’s introduction in 2000.

Right now, I’ve still got 4 2.0 TB USB 3 HDDs (which I hardly use anymore: Seagate Firecudas purchased in 2016/2017). I’ve also got 2 5.0 TB Seagate BarraCudas purchased in 2018/2019. Those I still use. But the fact is, those drives all cost me more when I bought them than what you’ll pay for a 2TB Crucial X8 NVMe SSD on sale right now (pictured above). That shows the immense increase in storage density, and decrease in power needed to drive such storage in the recent past.

What Now, Storage Wise?

I’m getting ready to gift off all of my older 2 TB 2.5″ drives to the nice folks at Goodwill (my old friend, Ken Starks, has retired and shut down ReGlue.org). Except for very big 3.5″ drives (12 TB+) I don’t plan on buying any more HDDs, ever.

In fact, I’ve already moved onto NVMe-based USB drives, with USB 3.1/3.2 as my baseline, and USB4/ThunderBolt4 as my “stretch target.” The latter are still kinda expensive. I think it’s more than the current performance bump is worth, but that will change substantially in the next 12-18 months.

For the Record: The Speed Hierarchy

The following data is enough to convince me that portable USB-based NVMe storage is the right way to go nowadays. How ’bout you?

Type     Drive              Fastest R/W
HDD      FireCuda 2TB       ~61/71    MBps
HDD      BarraCuda 5TB     ~137/131   MBps
mSATA    Samsung 1TB       ~455/400   MBps
NVMe-3   Samsung 950 1TB   ~1060/1040 MBps
NVMe-4   Sabrent R4 1 TB   ~2820/1290 MBps

I just took all these measurements using CrystalDiskMark’s highest large-block read/write values (version 8.0.4.0). I know where I want to be on this performance ladder, especially for image backups (one of my primary reasons for using and carrying portable storage on the road). Again: how ’bout you?

Notes on the Test Rig

I ran the external drives via a Lenovo ThinkPad Universal Dock Pro (TB4-capable) through a TB4 connection into a Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Hybrid Tablet. FWIW, the NVMe-4 results are the best I’ve ever seen from an external drive. Nifty!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Macrium Announces Reflect Free EOL

Dang! I always hate it when this happens, but I do understand why it does. Macrium, maker of the excellent Reflect backup, restore and imaging software has just announced end-of-life for its free Version 8 of that package. As Macrium announces Reflect Free EOL, I realize I’ll have to start planning a different strategy for my test PCs and VMs going forward.

Details: Macrium Announces Reflect Free EOL

The announcement comes with plenty of warning. The company plans to provide security patches for the Free version until January 1, 2024 (more than a year from today). Users who want to keep using the package after the EOL data may do so, but will go unsupported thereafter. This also means that Windows version 11 22H2 is the most recent version of Windows that Reflect 8 Free will support.

What Else Is There?

Rest assured, I’ll be finding out. I came to Macrium Reflect Free (MRF, for short) thanks to the folks at TenForums.com and ElevenForum.com, my favorite online Windows communities. I’ll be watching to see what those people recommend. I also plan to dig into the elements presented in this recent (updated November 24) TechRadar story: Best free backup software of 2022. I’ll even be returning to MiniTool ShadowMaker and scanning over the MajorGeeks “Back Up” category.

But sigh: I wish this wasn’t necessary. MRF is a great, great tool. I’ll be sorry to see it go.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

USB4 Delivers Consistent NVMe Performance

OK, then. I finally laid hands on my second USB4 NVMe SSD enclosure yesterday. I deliberately sought out the cheapest one I could find so I could compare it to a more expensive alternative already on hand. When I say that USB4 delivers consistent NVMe performance here’s what that means:

1. The same SSD, cable, and host PC are used for comparison. Both drives have the “cache tweak” applied (this Oct 14 post has deets). Same tests performed, too (CrystalDiskMark and a Macrium Reflect backup).
2. The only thing that changes is the enclosure itself.

In short, I wanted to see if spending more on hardware returned a noticeable performance advantage (I’ll talk more about this below). Long story short: it doesn’t seem to make much, if any, difference. Let me explain…

Why Say: USB4 Delivers Consistent NVMe Performance?

The lead-in graphic shows the results from the cheap enclosure on the left, and the more expensive one on the right. The average difference in CrystalDiskMark performance shows 2 wins for el cheapo, 5 wins for the higher priced item, and 1 tie. On first blush, that gives the more expensive device an advantage. So the next question is: how much advantage?

This is where a little delta analysis can help. I calculate that the average performance difference between devices varies from a high of 6.2% to a low of 0.03% (not including the tie). That said, the average performance difference across all cells is merely 1.54%. (Calculated by taking absolute value for each delta, then dividing by the number of cells.) That’s not much difference, especially given the prices of the two devices: $128.82 and $140.71. That delta is 8.4% (~5.5 times the average performance delta).

I will also argue that comparing CystalDiskMark results is interesting, but not much of a real-world metric. Thus, I’ll compare completion times for a Macrium Reflect image backup on the same PC, same OS image. The expensive device took 2:25, the cheap one 2:44. That’s an 11.5% difference, greater than the price delta but not amazingly so.

Deciding What’s Worthwhile

I can actually see some differences between the two enclosures I bought. One thing to ponder is that NVMe drives tend to heat up when run full out for any length of time (as when handling large data sets, making backups, and so forth). I’ve seen temps (as reported in CrystalDiskInfo, reading SMART data) go as high as 60° C while M.2 SSDs are busy in these enclosures. At idle, they usually run at around 28° C. The more expensive NVMe enclosures tend to offer more surface area to radiate heat while active, so that’s worth factoring into the analysis.

But here’s the deal: I can buy a decent USB3.1 NVMe enclosure for around US$33 right now. The cheapest USB4 NVMe enclosure I could find cost almost US$96 more. That’s a multiplier of just under 4X in price for a device that delivers less than 2X in improved performance. Let me also observe that there are several such enclosures that cost US$160 and up also on the market. I still have trouble justifying the added expense for everyday use, including backup.

There will be some high-end users — especially those working with huge datasets — who might be able to justify the incremental cost because of their workloads and the incremental value of higher throughput. But for most business users, especially SOHO types like me, the ouch factor exceeds the wow value too much to make it worthwhile. ‘Nuff said.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

HDDs Still Have Their Uses

Hmmmm. Just saw a fascinating story at Neowin.net. It provides links to some low-cost deals for hard disk drives (HDDs) that range in size from 3 to 14 TB, with prices from US$60 (3TB) to US$210 (14 TB). I’m not endorsing the brand (WD) or the deals (listed from Amazon and — in some instances — Newegg). But I am amazed at just how cheap conventional hard disks can be today. And because HDDs still have their uses — particularly for archiving and spare backups — buying may make sense.

Economics Also Verify That HDDs Still Have Their Uses

I’m struck by the contrast between HDD and NVMe prices, especially for 4 and 8 TB devices. Looking at Amazon, I see that 4TB NVMe drives go for US$460 and up, with most top-end devices just below or over US$600. When you can find them (not easy), 8TB devices cost from just under US$1,200 to around US$1,500 or so.

The comparison to HDD is pretty stark. The Neowin story cites prices of US$70 for 4, and US$130 for 8 TB. Do the math to figure out the ratios. The 4TB NVMes cost between 6.57 and 8.57 times as much as their HDD counterparts. 8TB models run between 9.23 and 11.53 times as much.

Of course, denser solid-state devices are much more expensive to make. Though higher-capacity HDDs have more platters, achieving denser storage doesn’t magnify costs anywhere near as much. In fact, the HDD cost increment for going from 8TB to 10TB is US$30, and from 8TB to 14TB US$80. That clearly shows the incremental cost of storage is much, much cheaper for HDDs than SSDs.

But given the mind-blowing costs for higher capacity NVMe devices, they’re not going to replace HDDs completely any time soon. They simply cost too much to justify wholesale switchovers. Nobody’s going to use HDDs for serious, real-time workloads any more. They have no place as system drives, either. But for other applications where high capacity trumps I/O performance, they still have a vital role to play. And that explains why I still have over 40TB of spinning storage myself, much of it idle as “backups for my backups.”

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Exploring TB4/USB4 Backup Speeds

OK, then. I’m starting to dig into the capabilities of my new loaner SFF Lenovo P360 Ultra PC. It’s a beast, especially for such a small package (3.4 x 8.7 x 7.9″, 87 x 223 x 202 mm, weight 4.4lb/2.0 kg). Right now I’m giving the front USB-C ports a workout, and exploring TB4/USB4 backup speeds. They’re amazing.

Exploring TB4/USB4 Backup Speeds.f&rview

About the preceding graphic. It shows a front and rear view of the P360 chassis. Here’s what those numbered items convey:

1. Power switch (on/off)
2. Audio/headphone jack
3. USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type A port
4. 2 x Thunderbolt4/USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C ports
5. Wi-Fi antenna mount
6. 2.5 GbE wired network (RJ-45)
7. 1.0 GbE wired network (RJ-45)
8. 4 x miniDP GPU (connects to Nvidia GPU)
9.  Chassis latch release
10. 3 x full-size DP GPU (connects to on-chip Intel GPU)
11. 4 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type A ports
12.  Optional PCIe card slot/port
13. Power in from 300W power brick

What Exploring TB4/USB4 Backup Speeds Says

First things first: I ran comparatives using CrystalDiskMark on a set of different NVMe enclosures with their own drives, as follows:

Enclosure                NVMe SSD              Price (Date)
======================   ==================    ==============
Sabrent NVMe PCIe x1.3   ADATA XPG 256GB       US$ 60  (2019)
Puhui USB 3.1 USB-C      Samsung OEM 512GB     US$ 30  (2022)
Konyead M.2 TB4/USB4     Rocket 4 Plus 1TB     US$162  (2022)

I didn’t get a lot of useful data out of that comparison, though the numbers for all three devices increase their readings down the preceding list. The final item shows most readings between 2x and 3x those for the first item. However, I decided to compare backup results for all three setups, working through a brand-new Belkin Pro Thunderbolt 4 Dock.

The results turn out to be a bit of a good new/bad news scenario.  New TB4/USB4 NVMe enclosures are still punishingly expensive. Performance results from backup show them not yet worth the $132 differential vis-a-vis a cheap0 USB 3 3.1 Gen2 version. About the only thing they can do right now, as far as I can tell, is bring up the “USB 4.0 SSD” label in the Thunderbolt Control Center, as shown in the lead-in graphic.

Big Price Diffs Don’t Translate to Performance

Here’s a table of backup times from Macrium Reflect Free to the three drives, listed by Enclosure name (consult previous table for more info on innards):

Enclosure                Backup (times)
======================   ==============
Sabrent NVMe PCIe x1.3     162 (2:42)
Puhui USB 3.1 USB-C        131 (2:11)
Konyead M.2 TB4/USB4       132 (2:12)

While there’s a 31/32 second difference (about 20%) between the older Sabrent enclosure and the two newer ones, there’s so little difference (1 second) between the other two that I’m sure that falls in the margin of measurement error one would expect.

What’s interesting here is that these backup speeds — even on the slowest/oldest device — are about twice as fast as on my other, similarly loaded test machines (which top out at USB 3.1 Gen 2). That tells me for those who do a lot of backing up, video editing, or other data intensive stuff there’s some real benefit to be gained from investing in TB4/USB4 ports and devices.

Lessons Learned

What lessons do I draw from this experiment? Glad you asked! Here’s a list:

  • It’s definitely worth adding an interface to older desktops to support TB4/USB4 for the speed bump it provides.
  • This new technology provides a “speed reason” to consider buying in on a newer laptop or PC.
  • Newer, more expensive TB4/USB4 NVMe enclosures may not be worth the added cost as compared to USB 3.1 Gen 2/TB3 counterparts.
  • From what I’m reading, it’s a good idea to use as short a USB4/TB4 rated cable as possible.
  • It’s also best to hook the NVMe enclosure directly to the PC if you can (going through the dock reduced performance by about 5% overall)

A terrific experiment, and a  great learning lesson, too. Thanks to the nice folks at Belkin and Lenovo who made their gear available to me.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Thunderbolt Turns Up NVMe IO Speeds

This is too cool. I’m finally starting to make sense of how to get the best performance out of external NVMe-based storage devices. As far as I can tell, bus speed is key. In fact, Thunderbolt turns up NVMe IO speeds. I apparently have only one laptop that’s new enough to show off the difference, but those results speak for themselves.

It also took me a while to lay hands on an NVMe enclosure that could deliver the performance goods. If you look at the lead-in graphic above, you’ll see two sets of CrystalDiskMark results from the same storage device and PC. The left-hand set comes from a USB-C port (USB 3.2, according to the Lenovo Yoga 7i specs). The right-hand set comes via a Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock with the NVMe enclosure snuggled into one of its two available USB-C ports.

Showing That Thunderbolt Turns Up NVMe IO Speeds

The graphic speaks for itself. It shows speed boosts that range from ~2.5 X (Read SEQ1M Q8T1) to ~1.2X (Read RND4K Q1T1) faster for Thunderbolt versus a direct USB-C connection. I’m going to spring for the CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 dock, in the belief that it will improve speeds still further. Time will tell if that’s wishful thinking or actually worthwhile.

I can tell you this much from direct observation. Through the USB-C port on the Lenovo Yoga 7i, Macrium Reflect takes 4:03 to make an image backup (with reported read/write speeds of 7.6 and 7.2 Gb/s, respectively). Through the Thunderbolt 3 dock the same device takes 3:33 (with reported read/write speeds of 8.6 and 6.9 Gb/s). The former is what I would call “reasonably speedy;” the latter is 14%  (30 seconds) faster.

I’m not sure that’s a big enough difference to count. You tell me…

Heat Can Be an Issue

Running backups back-to-back also showed me that heat can be an issue if you drive an NVMe SSD hard in an unventilated metal enclosure. So I parked the aluminum case on an ice-pack and it sailed through repeated backups with a reported temp of 13 C. Where there’s the will, there’s almost always a way! LOL

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure Raises Odd Issues

This is the part of playing with Windows that I love best. I’m researching different speeds for backup drives, ranging from a USB-C HDD drive caddy into the SSD realm. My objective is to see how fast an external USB-C drive can go, and to see if Thunderbolt support makes any difference.  I added a cheapo (US$29) NVMe enclosure to my line-up. But alas, that Thunderbolt 3 SSD enclosure raises odd issues. Let me explain…

Why Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure Raises Odd Issues

As far as I can tell, I went too far back in time with the first M.2 NVMe I tried out in the cheapo new NVMe enclosure. My initial attempt featured a 2016 vintage OEM Samsung MZVPV512HDGL SSD. It kept blowing up during write testing in CrystalDiskMark, and it wouldn’t make a Macrium Reflect backup.

So I cannibalized a newer ADATA XPG 256GB SSD (vintage 2020) from my Sabrent-enclosed Ventoy drive and tried that instead. It worked just fine, and got aggregate read/write speeds from Reflect of 5.7/3.0 Gbps when backing up my Lenovo X12 Hybrid Tablet. It includes a USB 3.2 version of USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 support. Total backup time on that system was 6:16 with 76.5 GB on the C: drive and under 1.5 GB on the other partitions. Figure 78 GB overall, that produces a physical time (no compression) of roughly 200 Mbps of ongoing read/write activity. By comparison an mSATA drive (vintage 2013) takes just under16 (15:56) minutes to complete the same backup. That’s more than 60% faster!

It’s All About the Speed

My best guess is that the older drive wasn’t sufficiently compatible with the PCIe x3/x4 requirements inside the NVMe enclosure. Once I switched over to something newer (and definitely PCIe x3 compliant), everything worked fine. I’ve got a brand-new PCIe x4 SSD coming today or tomorrow, and am hopeful the faster media will also produce faster transfer rates for backup, too. We’ll see!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Choose Reflect Backup Drives Carefully

I’m a HUGE fan of Macrium Reflect. Available in both free and for-a-fee forms, I’m convinced it’s the best Windows image backup tool available today. Disclosure: I run both free and fee-based versions, and own a Home 4-Pack license that I upgrade as new versions are released. I was reminded to choose Reflect backup drives carefully yesterday, when I targeted an older USB 3 drive with mSATA SSD devices under its hood. Let me explain…

Why Say: Choose Reflect Backup Drives Carefully?

Because the read and write speeds of the underlying device and the speed of the channel (USB 3.1 in my case here) matter. In fact, they strongly affect the time it takes to complete a whole-image backup. In targeting an mSATA device that backup took nearly 40 minutes to complete.

I’m making the same backup right now, and targeting a PCIe x3 NVMe SSD in a Sabrent USB-C enclosure right now. As you can see from the lead-in graphic, Macrium Reflect currently guesstimates it will take 19 minutes to complete. That’s just over 50% faster than the mSATA number, or about 20 minutes overall.

If such a task is running in the background, and can complete whenever it’s done, that doesn’t matter much. But if, as in my case, I was waiting on completion to do something else, it matters a lot.

And There’s More…

While watching the NVMe and mSATA image backups proceed, I noticed another difference. The transfer rate for the two backups not only differed but so did their variability. The NVMe device kept getting faster as it proceeded. It ranged from a low of 1.1 Gbps to a high of 1.8 Gbps. The mSATA device started out at around 600 Mbps, It dropped as low as 220 Mbps, and as high as 1.0 Gbps during the course of the backup process.

Upon completion, Reflect also shared other stats worth noting. The overall read rate for the mSATA device was reported at 1.6 Gbps, while its write rate came in at a less stellar 550 Mbps. On the NVMe device, the overall read rate was 6.6 Gbps, and the write rate 1.9 Gbps. That’s a BIG difference, and explains the title for this story. Yes, these numbers appear inflated because they take compression into account. But those are the numbers that Reflect reports, and they do underscore the importance of device read/write speeds.

Note: Actual time for the NVMe backup was 19:31, while actual time for the mSATA backup was 39:52.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Why USB Disk Speeds Matter

It’s been a busy and interesting week. I’ve been messing around with numerous backups and restores. Ditto for mounting ISOs and running Windows repair installs. A LOT of disk reads and writes to USB drives have been involved. Because of the huge amounts of data involved, I’m better prepared to explain why USB disk speeds matter. A LOT!

Why USB Disk Speeds Matter So Very Much

In a word, the shortest possible answer is “Time.” If you can get something done faster, you can do more in a single work interval. Compare the USB disk speeds for an NVMe drive in a USB-C enclosure (left) to those for an mSATA drive in a USB-A 3.1 enclosure (right — see lead-in graphic). When backups and restores are concerned the top lines (which involve large file transfers) actually matter. Of course, all the times matter as well.

But those differences are pretty stark for backup and restore. Let me explain… If you look at the top pairs of numbers, these cover large data transfers with a queue depth of 8 (upper) and 1 (lower). In both pairs of numbers, the NVMe drive is over twice as fast as the mSATA drive. Those same results were born out in backups and restores (7 and 14 minutes for backup; 11 and 23 minutes for restore).

The More You Do, the Better You’ll Like It!

Those results show why I’ve long been a believer in using fast USB drives whenever possible. I’m still waiting to see what kind of bump I can get with a Thunderbolt 4 NVMe enclosure, proper cables and enclosure, and Thunderbolt 4 on the host device. From what I read, it should be 25-40% as fast again.

This realization came to me when I started copying a backup from a BitLocker protected NVMe drive to an mSATA unprotected drive. I got a consistent 26-27 MBps transfer rate between the two devices. It took over 20 minutes to copy the file!

If I could’ve gone Thunderbolt 4 all the way, I could have quadrupled the transfer speed or better. That would cut my wait time from 20 minutes to 5. Waiting for necessary data can’t be completely bypassed — but it surely shows the “need for speed” on such occasions.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Wrong Backup Means Wrong Outcome

I have to laugh. I’ve been fighting weird behaviors on my X12 Hybrid Tablet all week long. Only yesterday afternoon did I finally snap to an obvious visual cue that told me what was wrong. Among lots of other interesting things, I learned that wrong backup means wrong outcome when restored. It’s a testament to Windows 11 and to Macrium Reflect, because the target PC actually ran — sort of — even with the wrong image running the works. Let me explain…

If Wrong Backup Means Wrong Outcome, How Wrong Is It?

Here’s what I did: I restored a backup from my Lenovo X380 Yoga to my Lenovo X12 Hyrbrid Tablet. Different CPU, different biometrics devices and capabilities, different Thunderbolt support, and so on. Now that I know what I did, I’m amazed the OS ran at all. And actually, except for refusing to recognize (or work with) hardware present on the X12, but absent on the X380, it worked pretty well.

So how did I finally figure out what I’d done to myself (or rather, to the X12)? The answer’s in the lead-in graphic for this story. I use 8Gadgetpack on all of my PCs. I also use its analog clock gadget, and use the machine name from the target host as the clock name. So there it was on my X12 desktop: X380 (as you can see). That’s what told me I’d restored the wrong backup to the target machine. I have a number of roving SSD devices in USB enclosures. Apparently the backup I chose had moved from a USB port on the X380 to the X12’s Thunderbolt dock.

After that Aha! moment, I quickly located a recent backup from the X12. I had to jump through some hoops because it lived on a BitLocker protected drive (hint: the Macrium Reflect Rescue Disk requires additional options to restore backups from a BitLocker protected volume). But once I restored the right image, all my problems went away. I was able to use a UUPdump image I’d already built to quickly update to the latest Dev Channel version, too.

Lessons Learned

1. I’m glad I use my machine name technique on the Gadget Clock because it’s a good way to see where a backup originated.

2. I’ve started adding the machine name into my Reflect backup image names, so I can tell backups apart quickly and easily.

3, I’ve learned how to deal with BitLocker drives as restore sources, and how to re-enable BitLocker on a recovered C: drive

4. I’ve learned to be more careful in choosing which image to restore to a target PC, when a restore is necessary

Now, all I can hope is that I don’t do this again. Sigh, and sigh again.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin