Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Started Oct 12, 2019 | Discussions thread
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Richard B99 Veteran Member • Posts: 3,382
Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

I've been looking for a solution to the problem of how to backup cards when travelling for a good while now. There have also been been quite a lot of discussions about this challenge on DP Review. Sure, there are lots of approaches now ranging from Laptops and USB drives through to specific backup devices. My particular issue was I'm often wanting to travel light and backup lots of data. My threshold has been 50GB to backup per day and the need to do this in < 10-15 mins. With a laptop its not an issue (my MacBook can crunch that with a simple card copy to a USB 3.0 drive in about 3 mins) but then I'm carrying a laptop and I don't always want to be carrying a laptop; even one that just weighs 2lb (0.9Kg).

The issue I've found is that there has been, until very recently nothing much on the market that can do this as a standalone device that meets my need. Basically, I needed 1TB storage and at least two USB 3.0 or better ports to copy from a (XQD) Card reader to an SSD. Such devices are just becoming available (Gnarbox 2, Lacie have just announced an all in one device and there is another one called XferMax). Thing is with those, they are all quite expensive and add extra bits that I don't need. For example, integral batteries, another SSD. I've very nearly gone for one of these but they have been slow to market and I hate carrying more than I really need. For example I already always carry a Powerbank (charges camera batteries, tablet and most anything I use on my travels when away from power and I've already bought two 1Tb drives I don't really need another at present).

So long story short, a couple of things came together recently. First, I'd tried a piece of software called Little Backup Box that runs on a Raspberry Pi while back and while it worked nicely, the Pi was just too slow. Well, the Raspberry Pi 4 was recently launched and that is faster, more powerful and has - yes - two USB 3.0 ports. Bringing these together and we have this:

Little Backup Box

That's a Raspberry Pi 4 'model b' with 1Gb internal RAM (about GBP 35) in a rather neat and tough machined aluminium case (FLIRC Raspberry Pi 4 Case) that acts as a heatsink (about GBP 15). So that's GBP 50 all up cost to buy the equipment I needed to make this device. It weighs about 4.5 oz (130g) and at least half of that is the aluminium case. I got these bits from

OK, so that's not everything you need but I had everything else in my photography bits and bobs box and would be carrying this when I travel anyway so that, for me was the up front cost and added weight. You need this, or the equivalent to have a full setup:

Left to right:

- A power source that can provide USB C power. A mains adapter or here a 10,000 mAh power bank with a USB C Power Delivery output. You may already have similar but a USB C version is important and this type are amazingly flexible power sources anyway.

- The LBB

- Card reader. The one shown is a Lexar XQD reader

- Backup Drive. The one shown is a Samsung T5 1TB SSD. I've had this for about 3 years and they are now around the GBP 150 mark. There are lots of alternatives here.

- Two cables, one for power and the other for the drive (make sure you have a fast USB 3.0 min cable for the latter and not a USB 2 version which will kill copy performance).

Slotted together and in use it looks like this:

That's it and it does the job I wanted of 50Gb ingested in < 15 mins (about 13 in practice). I've done a load of testing and it seems fairly bullet proof - mainly because it uses a very simple Unix utility to to do the work.

There are a few things to note:

- The LBB will run like the above without a screen. Plug in power, when it's running plug in the backup drive ( a flashing LED tells you its attached) plug in the card (the LED changes the flashing rate) and copying begins. The LBB switches off when finished.

- The LBB copies using a Unix utility called 'rsync' that is widely used to sync two storage devices. Thus it not only copies files across initially but performs incremental backups if you continue to use the card and then plug it back into LBB again.

- LBB can backup multiple cards to your backup drive. (Each card is identified with a unique identifier and if you reformat a card to reuse it, a new identifier is created so you effectively get a new 'card' on the backup drive on each format).

- If you want to take two backups on two different drives (e.g. so you can reuse the card), just repeat the process on a second backup drive).

OK, it's fast, cheap, light and near idiot proof once set up, so what's the drawback? Well:

- You need to be prepared to set the Raspberry Pi from scratch including the operating system (Rasperian). That's not idiot proof and is a bit daunting if you haven't done it before this was my first time too) but there is a load of info on the web and the LBB project has pretty straightforward instructions for installing LBB itself. Here's the link

- To get it up and running with software installed you will need a monitor (HDMI), mouse and keyboard. The HDMI cable needs to have a micro HDMI plug for the pi and keyboard & mouse need to be USB.

- There isn't a ton of support but there is a help forum (get to through the link above).

- It's not a one box solution but it's not exactly unweildly either in use.

- I'm pretty sure it won't survive being dropped into a puddle.

But if you don't mind a bit of tinkering and are looking for a good but economic solution, you might like to have a look at Little Backup Box.

Canon EOS 1200D (EOS Rebel T5 / EOS Kiss X70)
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