Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

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Richard B99 Senior Member • Posts: 2,331
Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost
7

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 thepihut.com

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 https://github.com/dmpop/little-backup-box

- 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.

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Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 849
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost
1

Thanks for taking the time to write this incredibly useful and detailed post Richard !

zman500 Regular Member • Posts: 165
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Richard B99 wrote:

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 thepihut.com

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 https://github.com/dmpop/little-backup-box

- 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.

I second that, THANK YOU FOR THIS INFO!

Zman

DeadOctopi
DeadOctopi Forum Member • Posts: 69
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Thanks for this info! I’ve got a RBPi 3 sitting around, may have to go spring for a 4. Could be useful to toss in my bag where I don’t want my iPad in the bag too.

These little things are super fun to tinker with.

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OP Richard B99 Senior Member • Posts: 2,331
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost
2

DeadOctopi wrote:

Thanks for this info! I’ve got a RBPi 3 sitting around, may have to go spring for a 4. Could be useful to toss in my bag where I don’t want my iPad in the bag too.

These little things are super fun to tinker with.

Ah, if you play around with  a pi, this little project will be a doddle.

One thing to be aware of (I have just discovered) I’d that you need a decent power bank or mains adapter. One of my power banks (smaller one) seems a bit underpowered and I was getting an undervolt error.  That seemed to drop copying back to a slower speed.  Had me quite confused for a bit as with my original usb c power bank, the pi 4 copies twice as fast!

Etchelion New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Hi! Thanks for the great idea. May I ask you if with this solution requires the Raspberry as a dedicated backup tool? Or could be also used as a "normal" Raspberry for others applications?

Best regards!!

Guillermo

OP Richard B99 Senior Member • Posts: 2,331
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost
1

Etchelion wrote:

Hi! Thanks for the great idea. May I ask you if with this solution requires the Raspberry as a dedicated backup tool? Or could be also used as a "normal" Raspberry for others applications?

Best regards!!

Guillermo

As set up as standard, the Little Backup Box software does take over control of the Pi.  After  powering up, it waits for 5 mins and shuts down if no drives are attached and if they are it does the backup and then shuts down.  It’s easy enough to interrupt that with the ‘sudo shutdown -c’ command at startup.  Then the Pi runs as normal and that’s what I’ve been doing.

However, if that ends up being a pain, it is  a very simple script with the timing work done by Cron so anyone with a little experience of a Pi and Python will have no problem modifying the script so it can run as a user triggered script.  In fact, the easiest way to stop it running automatically would be to just comment out that cron job and then reinstate it when you want it to run normally. 
I haven’t tried to change things as cancel shutdown works fine for me and I really like the default simplicity of running without a screen and it just being plug and play without fuss when I’m out and about.

HTH

Etchelion New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Thanks for the kind reply. For sure is  a tool that worth a try.

Best regards

Guillermo

zman500 Regular Member • Posts: 165
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

After looking at this very good idea, the main issue I am having is I want to use 2 USB 3.0 drives and 1 USB 3.0 card reader and that needs 3 USB 3.0 ports on the Pi and it only has 2 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports.

Yes a solution would be is use a externally powered 2 port USB 3.0 hub for the 2 SSD drives going into 1 of the USB 3.0 ports and then use the last USB 3.0 port for the card reader, and other than more items is when you use a USB hub you cut the read/write speed in half, where when you have 2 separate USB 3.0 ports you don't loose that 50% as they share the same data path way.

By having 3 USB 3.0 ports is the fastest way to copy 1 card to 2 drives at the same time, and yes you could just use 1 drive at a time but that would mean only that you would need to do this process 2x per card. I know this is the Pi design and maybe the next gen Pi will have 3 or 4 usb 3.0 ports but that maybe a few years away?

So items needed to do 2-SSD drives and 1 card reader.

1-Pi w/Ac power adapter

1-USB 3.0 Hub w/Ac power adapter

2-USb 3.0 SSD or Hard drives

1-USB card reader

Nice portable backup solution right? But unless I missed something will this unit backup to 2 drives at the same time?

Zman

UPDATE: Well bad news from the creator of this software, "

The reason for the notice is simple: adding a hard disk via a powered USB hub introduces a whole new level of complexity and makes the setup difficult to troubleshoot. Since I work on Little Backup Box in my spare time, I don’t have resources to support the external hard disk + USB hub scenario.

Kind regards,
Dmitri"

So at this time you can only use 1 backup SSD or HD, so you will need to do it 2 times.

mattspace
mattspace Regular Member • Posts: 393
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

not to derail the thread, but FYI if you need something at short notice, and off the shelf, I’m halfway through a Japan trip with a 2TB WD My Passport Pro, and it’s quite serviceable as a “plug in the card and auto-ingest” device. It accepts SD cards directly, or you can plug a normal card reader into it via USB and it does the same thing, even has settings to only ingest new images.

Its a surprisingly useful bit of kit.

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zman500 Regular Member • Posts: 165
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Yeah Mattspace, that's unit has been around for a few years and for a single backup from an SD card and with a battery the best solution I have seen for the $$.

But if you want to need to backup to 2 drives there is nothing inexpensive that I have found to date?

I am working on something where I can have 2 SSD drives in 1 case and 1 ac adapter and usb 3 hub and 1 card reader but all needs a computer and am using a Macbook 12 but will post back what I come up with soon.

Lets use this post for simple and low cost to do card backups?

Zman

OP Richard B99 Senior Member • Posts: 2,331
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

zman500 wrote:

After looking at this very good idea, the main issue I am having is I want to use 2 USB 3.0 drives and 1 USB 3.0 card reader and that needs 3 USB 3.0 ports on the Pi and it only has 2 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports.

Yes a solution would be is use a externally powered 2 port USB 3.0 hub for the 2 SSD drives going into 1 of the USB 3.0 ports and then use the last USB 3.0 port for the card reader, and other than more items is when you use a USB hub you cut the read/write speed in half, where when you have 2 separate USB 3.0 ports you don't loose that 50% as they share the same data path way.

By having 3 USB 3.0 ports is the fastest way to copy 1 card to 2 drives at the same time, and yes you could just use 1 drive at a time but that would mean only that you would need to do this process 2x per card. I know this is the Pi design and maybe the next gen Pi will have 3 or 4 usb 3.0 ports but that maybe a few years away?

So items needed to do 2-SSD drives and 1 card reader.

1-Pi w/Ac power adapter

1-USB 3.0 Hub w/Ac power adapter

2-USb 3.0 SSD or Hard drives

1-USB card reader

Nice portable backup solution right? But unless I missed something will this unit backup to 2 drives at the same time?

Zman

UPDATE: Well bad news from the creator of this software, "

The reason for the notice is simple: adding a hard disk via a powered USB hub introduces a whole new level of complexity and makes the setup difficult to troubleshoot. Since I work on Little Backup Box in my spare time, I don’t have resources to support the external hard disk + USB hub scenario.

Kind regards,
Dmitri"

So at this time you can only use 1 backup SSD or HD, so you will need to do it 2 times.

Yeah, I get where you are coming from.  I’m not sure there is any solution on the mkt that does that double copy across 3 USB ports and on independent channels.  Partly also because of the USB power issue (even over USB C). I do sometimes want to do the same double backup when I need to recycle XQD cards (not that often as I have 5 64GB cards) on longer trips.  The approach I’ve used is to keep it simple and just do 2 sequential backups to different SSDs.  The relatively fast backup doesn’t make it much of a chore in practice and it keeps the complexity low.

OP Richard B99 Senior Member • Posts: 2,331
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

mattspace wrote:

not to derail the thread, but FYI if you need something at short notice, and off the shelf, I’m halfway through a Japan trip with a 2TB WD My Passport Pro, and it’s quite serviceable as a “plug in the card and auto-ingest” device. It accepts SD cards directly, or you can plug a normal card reader into it via USB and it does the same thing, even has settings to only ingest new images.

Its a surprisingly useful bit of kit.

Yes it’s Ok for SD but lack of a second USB 3 port for a card reader and the fact that it’s hard disk is not SSD knocked it out of contention for me a good while back.

Lacie have just launched something that’s a step up as it has that second fast USB C port and an internal SSD. Looks neat but it’s still twice the price (inc SSD) and would have added additional weight to my travel solution.  But certainly worth a look for anyone wanting that off the shelf solution.

Parisian Junior Member • Posts: 30
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

This is an amazing thread! Thought I was the only one facing such issues!

Questions:

1. Can it copy from 2 SD cards to 1 Samsung T5 simultaneously? IF yes, what configuration is required on the LBB?

2. Is there any alternative Raspberry model (or another similar device) with a built in SD card reader (so that I don't have to bring a separate reader)?

3. Will the LBB work with a normal Xiaomi 10,000mAH powerbank without PD standard?

3.1. Will I be able to use a 45W PD supply for the Pi 4 too? Does it auto-regulate the power since officially it only supports 15W?

4. How has the backup experience been so far? any missed out/corrupted files? Does LBB also verify whether the files are successfully copied?

OP Richard B99 Senior Member • Posts: 2,331
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Parisian wrote:

This is an amazing thread! Thought I was the only one facing such issues!

Questions:

1. Can it copy from 2 SD cards to 1 Samsung T5 simultaneously? IF yes, what configuration is required on the LBB?

I don’t think that’s very practical though it would be possible.  The Pi 4 only has two fast USB 3 ports so you would need to add a hub into the setup plus the LBB code would need modification (not just configured) to run two parallel jobs.  I suspect the overall copy speed would reduce too so may not give that much advantage over two sequential copies. 
One of the neat features of LBB is it’s pure simplicity!  Personally, I’d not want to compromise on that and the backup is fast enough that I don’t find two or three sequential card backups to be a pain.

2. Is there any alternative Raspberry model (or another similar device) with a built in SD card reader (so that I don't have to bring a separate reader)?

Not in the Pi range.  There are other types of these mini computers based on UNIX but I’ve not seen one with a built in SD reader. (Most have, including the Pi, have a micro SD reader built in but that’s really used for a card that holds the operating system and working storage.)

The other issue I’ve had with built in readers on most kit is that they are usually UHS I rather than the latest UHS II and that introduces its own bottleneck on transfer speed if you are using decent UHS II in your camera.  Even on my MacBook which has an SD slot, I use a UHS II reader because it’s about twice as fast in copying.

3. Will the LBB work with a normal Xiaomi 10,000mAH powerbank without PD standard?

Probably not because it may not supply enough current out of a type A USB socket.  It really needs USB C with PD.

3.1. Will I be able to use a 45W PD supply for the Pi 4 too? Does it auto-regulate the power since officially it only supports 15W?

Yes, that will work fine.  That’s what is usually used when mains is available.

4. How has the backup experience been so far? any missed out/corrupted files? Does LBB also verify whether the files are successfully copied?

Well, I’ve been using it for about a month now and it’s been faultless.  The utility (RDISK) used by LBB is extensively used in the UNIX world so it’s going to be reliable. I don’t think that RDISK does verify copy in the LBB application as standard. It can be configured to do this (through a parameter on the command in the code) in various ways but at some impact on performance.  I haven’t really looked into this properly by testing.  I had an initial look at the RDISK documentation but didn’t take it further because everything was solid.

I should say here that I always have two copies. One on the original card, second on the backup SSD.  If I need to reuse cards on a trip then I backup to two SSDs.  This is my precaution against an individual copy error or card / disk failure.

Parisian Junior Member • Posts: 30
Re: Little Backup Box: Card Backup High Performance, Low Cost

Hi! I finally bought the Raspberry Pi for this purpose. A few dumb questions to ask:

1. Does it auto-boot when connected to PD power? There seems to be no external power button on the Pi

2. Can you still run other scripts on the Pi while having the LBB script residing in the microSD?

3. What is the max transfer speed you've achieved so far for your setup?

4. Are you currently using Buster Lite?

Thanks a million!

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