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{mospagebreak toctitle= Introduction}

Introduction

Clickfree C2N Home Backup

At a Glance
Product Clickfree C2N Home Backup (227NCR-1004-100)
Summary Easy to use home backup system with network capability
Pros • Simple software
• Supports Windows and Mac OS
• Can back up to DVD or CD
Cons • Weak security when backing up
• Much slower on Mac OS than Windows
• Not reliable for Mac OS

Clickfree's mission is to provide dead-simple automatic backup for folks who don't have the time or inclination to hassle with installing and configuring backup software. We previously looked at Clickfree's Transformer, which turns any USB drive into an automatic backup solution. This time I'm looking at the C2N. It builds upon Clickfree's previous product base and adds the ability to back up both Windows and Mac OS clients by either direct or network connection.

The Clickfree C2N is an external USB hard drive, physically identical to Clickfree's C2 product, backup software and a base, or cradle as Clickfree calls it.  There are three different versions of the C2N, with 250, 320 and 500 GB capacities. Clickfree's website says the C2N comes in storage capacities of 250GB to 1TB. But the website lists pricing for only the capacities listed above. Clickfree sent the 250 GB version for review.

If you prefer to provide your own storage, you can get the C2N's feature set in the Clickfree Transformer, Network Edition.

The product includes just two components; the hard drive and the cradle.  There is no power supply or power cable, since the device is powered via the computer’s USB port.  The hard drive is in a shiny black plastic case with an indicator light on the front, shown in Figure 1. 

The drive

Figure 1: The drive

The hard drive measures approximately 3” wide by 4.6” high by .75” deep.  With the hard drive placed in the matching shiny black cradle, the whole device measures approximately 5.25” high. 

The cradle provides a nice vertical stand for the hard drive and comes with a longer USB cable with two USB connectors.  The second USB connector is used only if your PC can't supply enough power to the drive via one port.

On the back of the hard drive is a short USB cable that fits neatly in a slot on its case, as shown in Figure 2 below. 

Drive showing USB cable

Figure 2: Drive showing USB cable

This short cable made it awkward to directly attach the drive for backup.  Using that cable with a horizontal USB slot on a laptop, as shown in Figure 3, leaves the hard drive leaning precariously against the cable, instead of flat.  It works, but doesn't seem well thought out. You'll have an even more risky attachment backing up a desktop machine if the USB ports aren't close to its base.

Awkward connection

Figure 3: Awkward connection

On the other hand, the cradle works well.  It provides a convenient stand for the hard drive and makes it easy to monitor the hard drive activity indicator light while files are being copied.  I used the C2N in the cradle for my tests and preferred it to the naked drive.


Backup

The instructions on the C2N's box instruct you to simply plug the Clickfree device into a USB port on a supported computer, let it automatically install its software and then back up your files.  I put the C2N through its paces with three laptops running 64 bit Windows 7 Home Premium, 64 bit Windows 7 Pro and 32 bit Windows 7 Pro, plus two Macbooks, both running  Mac OS X 10.5.8.

Installing Clickfree isn't exactly “click free,” but it wasn't difficult.  Once the device is plugged into a USB port, the application installer auto-launches. Windows asked me whether I wanted to “allow the following program to make changes to my computer?”, so I had to click yes to allow the installation to proceed.  I also had to click I Agree to license terms to allow the software to install.  Mac OS X also required a few extra steps, asking for the administrator password on the computer to allow for the installation of a driver, and once installed, prompting me to remove and reconnect the device.

I must also report that on one of my three Windows machines, the software didn't complete the installation.  To fix this problem per the Troubleshooting guide on Clickfree's website, I went to Windows Explorer and right-clicked the icon for Clickfree, and then selected FixMyClickFreeBackup.  After rebooting my computer, the software was successfully installed and the backup process began.

Once the BackupLink application is installed, Clickfree performs the first scan and initial backup.  Depending on the computer and number of files, this process can take awhile.  On two of my Windows laptops, there were minimal files to back up, so the backup process took less than 15 minutes.  On my third Windows machine, the backup process took about 50 minutes.  This laptop has a 320 GB hard drive, with thousands of digital pictures, files, and emails.  Upon completing the backup, the Clickfree had backed up over 25,000 files consuming 37 GB of storage from that laptop, as shown in Figure 4.

Completed backup summary

Figure 4: Completed backup summary

It took significantly longer for the initial backup on my two Macs.  One took about 2 hours and 15 minutes, while the other took nearly 3 hours!  In both cases, the total backup was about 15 GB of files.  On the plus side, the backup runs in the background, leaving the computer fully functional while your files are being copied.  Further, the software on the Mac has the same look and feel as on the PC, as shown in Figure 5 below.

Mac OS version

Figure 5: Mac OS version

With the software installed, the files on my five computers are now backed up, and will be backed up again in the future in one of three ways.  First, file backups can run over your network at varying intervals.  As long as the Clickfree is connected to a powered on and connected computer on the same network as your PC, a backup will occur over the network.  The network can be either wireless or wired, but all machines must be in the same subnet.

By default, backups will run every 24 hours.  This interval can be modified to run every 1, 2, 6 or 12 hours, every 1-6 days, or every 1 or 2 weeks. 

Second, file backups will occur every time you connect the Clickfree to a computer.  Once the initial software is installed, simply connecting the Clickfree to that computer will trigger it to run a backup on new or changed files.

Third, file backups can be run manually by clicking on the BackupLink status indicator, and selecting Backup Now.  A manual backup can be triggered with the computer connected to the C2N, or over the network.  For example, with the C2N connected to my Windows 7 Pro laptop, I selected the icon next to my Windows 7 Home laptop, and clicked Backup Now, which triggered the Windows 7 Home laptop to run a backup over the network.

Regardless how the backup process is triggered, the C2N will first scan your hard drive for eleven different file types, as shown in Figure 6 below.  File types are determined by their extension, such as .doc, .xls, .jpg, etc.  File types can be added or removed to customize backed-up files as needed.

Choosing backup file types

Figure 6: Choosing backup file types

Restore

If you're backing up files, you're doing so to provide a redundant copy of a file in case you lose the file and would like to restore it at some future date.  The best way to restore a file from the C2N to a computer is to connect the C2N. 

The C2N records the path/directory information for the hard drive the files were copied from.  Selecting the Restore option allows you to restore lost files from the C2N's storage to the same path/directory where the file was originally located, making it quite simple.

You can have the C2N restore all files, or you can select a specific folder or file for restore.  The process is quite easy, and a simple progress screen (Figure 7) is shown while the file is copied back to your hard drive.

Restore progress

Figure 7: Restore progress

To test file transfer speed, I created a folder with 4.1 GB of files, primarily pictures and a couple large .iso files.  The C2N doesn't normally backup .iso images, so I had to set a custom file type for it.

I ran backups and restores on two different Windows machines with similar results.  Backing up my 4.1 GB folder took about 3 minutes and 10 seconds on each machine. Restore time for the folder to both laptops was also very close, but faster than the backup, at 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  In other words, I was able to write data to the C2N at 1.29 GB/min and read data from the C2N at 1.64 GB/min. Both speeds are in the mid 20 MB/s range, about as fast as a USB 2.0 connected drive will go.

Another feature on the C2N is the ability to back up files from the C2N to external media, such as a DVD or CD.  This is a nice feature!  It allows you to not only back up your PCs to a centralized backup device, but to secure them further by making a copy on DVD or CD.

The BackupLink software has a simple utility to select files for backup, and then write them to a DVD or CD, shown in Figure 8.  If there are more files than will fit on a single disc, BackupLink will tell you how many disks it requires to complete the backup. 

Backing up to optical drive

Figure 8: Backing up to optical drive

Networking and Security

Once an initial backup is run on each computer, it is no longer necessary to connect the C2N to each machine to perform a backup.  It is only necessary to have the C2N connected to one active networked machine. Each computer will then back up its files over the network to the machine hosting the C2N.

I found network backups to work well on Windows PCs, but not as reliably on Macs.  BackupLink has a status screen that shows client availability.  For the most part, my Windows systems were always visible and I could manually trigger a backup over the network from one Windows machine to another.   However, my Macs would periodically not show up as available, and I could not back them up over my home network.  I had to manually connect them to the C2N to trigger the backup.

As you can see in the status screen in Figure 9, DREID-PC and KEVIN-PC are both on line according to BackupLink.  Conor's MacBook and Riley's MacBook were also online on the same network when I took this screenshot, yet weren't visible to the C2N. 

Network backup status

Figure 9: Network backup status

If I'm going to back up my files to a centralized backup device, I'm going to want them to be secure.  The default settings on the C2N enable everyone to have access to everyone's files when they are connected to the device.  Obviously, this isn't secure.

There is a password option on the C2N, but it is very basic.  Only one password can be set on the system, and it is a global password.  With this password, you have access to all the files on the system.  You have to be careful with that password, too, because if you lose it, you won't be able to recover your files on the system. 

Further, to connect the C2N to another PC for backups or restorals, you'll have to enter the password or share the password with the person connecting it to their PC, which reduces the security of that password.

Closing Thoughts

The C2N is listed on Clickfree's website for $139.99 for the 250GB model, $159.99 for the 320GB model, and $179.99 for the 500GB model.  A replacement cradle is also available at $19.99.  If you want supply your own storage, the Transformer, Network Edition lists for just $100. Clickfree's device are also available from many retailers.

In today's world, a huge amount of our lives is stored in digital files, including email, pictures, music, and videos.  Most of these critical files are stored on hard drives on personal computers.  Further, most people are buying laptops as their personal computer, which are easily lost, stolen and / or damaged. 

In my family, we each have a laptop that holds plenty of stuff that we'd really hate to lose. I found that the 250 GB C2N easily covered backup for five machines and still have over 150 GB of available backup space, leaving capacity to back up our files well into the future. 

Although I flagged some security issues, I think they are minor for a device targeted toward consumers looking for ease of use.  Clickfree should make backup of Mac OS systems as bullet-proof as Windows systems, though. While connecting the C2N to our Macs to get them backed up isn't difficult (and something I'd be in charge of as our home's network manager), it's not as reliable as automatic backup. I'd also like to see Clickfree add an option to watch for clients that miss their scheduled backup and back them up shortly after they reappear on the network.

The bottom line, though, is that the C2N is a welcome and useful addition to Clickfree's line of backup solutions that remove any excuse for not backing up all of your family's computers.