Clickfree extends its dead simple backup to all the computers on your network, whether they are Windows PCs or Macs. You don’t even need to know what an Ethernet cable is or change any settings anywhere to backup your systems over your home network. If you value your data (photos, videos, documents) and convenience, get a Clickfree Wireless ($179.99 list).
Design and Features
The Clickfree Wireless is a mostly featureless black plastic box with rounded corners. It reminds me of the latest generation Apple TV, though the Apple TV doesn’t have a bar-shaped blue status light on the front like the Clickfree Wireless does. It’s compact enough that you can hide the drive in pretty much any space, as long as that space has access to electricity for the power adapter. There’s a jack for the power adapter on the back, and a short, permanently attached USB cable. This keeps the drive a simple affair: USB cable for initial setup, power jack for normal operation.
Initial setup requires first hooking the drive up to the PC or Mac that you want to back up, then the drive automatically installs needed programs. The primary back up then happens: it could take only a few minutes or it could take hours (as it did for our iMac with over 280GB of data on it), so it depends on how many files you’ve hoarded away on your computer. Once you have a baseline backup of your computer(s), you can then just plug in the power adapter and the rest of the magic will happen over your wireless network. The Clickfree Wireless automatically grabs the SSID and WEP/WPA password from your PCs and Macs, so there’s nothing to setup. As long as you’re running a 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n network (the most common type), subsequent backups will happen overnight (default at 3AM local time). As long as you keep your PC or Mac on (sleep is OK, hibernate isn’t), the Clickfree Link program will connect your system to the Clickfree Wireless backup drive over Wi-Fi and backup any files that have changes. As on other Clickfree products, the system backs up data files by default: .jpg, .doc, .xls, etc. It ignores OS files and .exe files, so if your machine fails completely you’ll still have to reinstall the OS and applications (but you have those on DVD somewhere, right?). The data files like documents, home movies, music, and photos are the ones you’ll really miss if the hard drive in your system fails.
It speaks Windows and Mac
The Clickfree Wireless is capable of backing up to multiple PCs and Macs, though you’re still limited by the space in the backup drive. This Clickfree Wireless came with 500GB of space, and there’s a 1TB model for $249.99. The fact that it can back up Macs and Windows PCs simultaneously is huge, literally. The one drive format standard that works on both PCs and Macs out of the box is FAT32. Unfortunately, FAT32 has problems with files bigger than 4GB (like HD videos). The Clickfree Wireless does an end run around that problem by being formatted NTFS out of the box, which is Windows 7’s native format that supports large 4GB+ files. The Clickfree Wireless becomes Mac-compatible by installing NTFS drivers on Macs during the initial setup. While that isn’t a perfect solution, it does work in practice. I was able to set up two Windows PCs and an Apple iMac with the Clickfree Wireless and restore files from the individual backups to any of the three systems. Likewise, I was able to manage the Clickfree Wireless from all three systems and monitor each system’s backup space usage.
The only drawbacks to using a NTFS driver on Macs are when things don’t work quite right. The initial setup on the iMac was interrupted by a power glitch, so the drive wasn’t able to complete the setup process. After a call to Clickfree’s support techs, I was able to uninstall the Clickfree program and drivers, and then everything worked out fine after the reinstall. Perhaps more serious is the fact that the NTFS drivers under Mac OS X aren’t 64-bit kernel compatible, so they didn’t work on the latest generation Apple Mac Pro that I had in the labs. There are workarounds to make the Clickfree work with the Mac Pro (including booting into 32-bit kernel mode), but you may want to wait for the software update if you’re a Mac Pro (mid 2010) user. The Clickfree program automatically updates itself, so it’s only a matter of time.
Aside from the Mac driver issue, there are a few minor annoyances with the Clickfree Wireless. The permanently attached USB cable is a little on the short size. It’s only 2.5 inches long including the USB plug, so the Clickfree Wireless unit will swing freely if plugged into your average tower PC. While the Mac version of Clickfree’s Link program seems to keep local indexes of the drive content (speeding search and retrieval), the Windows version of the program seems to need an index refresh every time it starts. So when you try to restore a lost file, you may wait a longer time while the PC searches the drive indexes. It’s a minor annoyance that could become tiresome if you misplace a lot of files often. Last but not least, there’s no security on the backups: any files on any backed-up computer on your network can be restored to any other. That’s great for a family that trusts each member completely, but it may be a problem in an office environment where certain documents must be kept confidential. The Clickfree Wireless won’t replace a secure NAS or backup server in an office environment, but then again it isn’t meant to be. You can use a Clickfree Wireless on your office network if you’re a proprietorship, but I wouldn’t put one into an office with more than two workers. But for families? Perfect.
So should you buy one? I’m of the opinion that everyone who uses a computer has “irreplaceable files.” If you erase and reuse memory cards in your camera, the copies of holiday snapshots on your PC may be the only place they exist. Most people don’t post every pic to Facebook, and even if you did, you’d want to keep the originals safe. If don’t already have a backup in place, and if you have a wireless network, get a Clickfree Wireless. It’s easier to setup than a NAS or backup server, works with both Windows and Mac OS X, and is convenient and easy to use. If you need simple backup for multiple laptops and desktops, there’s not too much else out there that’s simpler.
More Hard Drive Reviews:
Clickfree Wireless Automatic Backup (500GB)
Verbatim Store’n’Go SuperSpeed USB 3.0 (500GB)
Seagate GoFlex Ultra-portable Drive for Mac (1.5TB)
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable Drive (500GB)
WiebeTech ToughTech Secure Q