The Seagate Replica hard drive is intended to be a foolproof back-up system for people who have better things to do with their time than worry about configuring dull data-mirroring or disk-imaging software. It might be slightly more expensive per megabyte than other external drives, but it promises to take the headache out of backing up your PC. The 500GB version (reviewed here) is available for around £90, while the 250GB version costs around £65.
The Replica is, to all intents and purposes, an external USB hard disk with its own built-in back-up function. The idea is that even those of a non-technical disposition can simply plug it and sit back, safe in the knowledge that mirror copies of all their precious files, photos, MP3s, documents, programs and just about everything else can be preserved with the least possible human involvement.
The Replica is currently available in two different versions. The 250GB version is a standalone USB external drive that can only be used to back up a single PC. The 500GB drive comes with a dock and can be used to back up multiple computers around your home or office. The dock is a pleasing touch but it doesn't really add any functionality of its own.
Physically, the unit is quite small compared to most desktop drives. The enclosure is built around a 2.5-inch laptop drive, rather than a full-size hard disk, while the curved metallic design and softly pulsating blue activity light combine to make it a fairly attractive product. The Replica draws all its juice via USB and comes with a double-headed USB cable to make sure that enough power can get to the drive.
Forget about it
Setting up the drive as a back-up device is remarkably easy. Plug the Replica in, fill out a registration form, and that's it. The unit will begin its initial back-up of your PC and then keep regularly updating itself in the background without you even noticing.
There aren't many options to configure, which is a blessing or a curse, depending on your level of technical ability and your desire to maintain control. The Replica is, by default, set to automatically back up your entire C drive. For most people, this will probably be fine but, while it's possible to add other drives and partitions to your back-up, you can't choose to include or exclude specific folders.
Also, while the back-up part of the deal is as easy as pie, the restore procedure isn't quite as idiot-proof. To restore individual files or folders, you'll need to use a browser-type window to manually track down earlier versions. To restore the whole C drive, you'll need to create a special recovery CD and boot to this rather than the drive itself.
We tested the Replica on a PC running Windows Vista, as well as on a new computer running Windows 7. Everything went according to plan on the Vista system, but we encountered a few installation quirks with Windows 7. This is understandable, given that Microsoft's latest operating system is so new, and the Replica still worked more or less as advertised, despite the error messages we initially received.
Perhaps a more significant problem is the Replica's capacity. While 500GB is perhaps enough for an average user to back up a single computer in the short term, PC hard drives are growing in capacity all the time, as is our consumption of available storage space. All you need is an iPod's worth of music, a few years' worth of high-resolution digital photos, and a small selection of family home videos, and you've almost filled a 500GB drive already. When we tested the device on a PC with a 1TB hard drive that was less than half full, the Replica refused to even install.
If you don't have a huge amount of information to back up and you don't mind the relative inflexibility of the Seagate Replica, then it's well worth considering, since it's the ultimate in back-up without the bother. Some users, however, particularly those with high volumes of data to keep safe, may find it just too limited.
Edited by Charles Kloet