I hate computers.
All I wanted to do was backup my laptop. I’d been doing ad hoc backups for years (a batch file that zips and copies all the important directories) but that system was clearly insufficient. Replacing my ad hoc system with something real was way more complicated than it should have been.
If you remember just one thing from this post, remember 0x8078002A.
And remember the importance of demanding software that just works.
Still annoyed after all these years (update February 2014)
I just bought a 4 TB backup drive from Costco. It doesn’t work with Windows 7’s image backup system and with this particular drive there is no way to make it work. I returned it. Sorry Costco, it’s Microsoft’s fault, but I still had to take it back. Apparently only Western Digital’s large drives can be made to work with Windows 7’s image backup. This problem has been fixed in Windows 8, but Microsoft needs to understand that people aren’t going to upgrade to Windows 8 in order to get backups to work – they’re just going to be annoyed, or switch to OSX.
More details and other updates below.
Network Attached Storage is Not Allowed Storage?
I initially tried buying a 2 TB backup NAS setup but it had a driver bug which made my laptop slow. That’s been fixed, but Windows Backup doesn’t support network drives unless you’re running a super-duper version of Windows. This is not entirely obvious, but I found the information in Windows Help:
It’s disappointing that Windows Professional’s Windows Backup doesn’t support network drives, and it’s bizarre that Windows doesn’t have an Upgrade Now button in the backup UI. Whether it’s backup limitations or Remote Desktop restrictions, Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand that taking features away from the low-end versions doesn’t generate revenue unless you also encourage people to upgrade.
I then tried a 3 TB Western Digital USB drive. And it eventually worked.
I initially told Windows to backup using the default settings and then waited. For hours. I didn’t time it but I did run a bunch of errands and then go for dinner and it was still going. And then it failed:
Wow. Failing is annoying, but failing after about six hours? That’s really horrible. Luckily Windows Backup gave me a clear and informative error message that told me exactly what to do in order to resolve my problem. And yes, I do commute primarily through sarcasm.
What Windows Backup really gave me was the dialog above with the More information button. If I clicked that I got this dialog:
And if I clicked Show Details I got a bit more information:
Notice the hexadecimal error code near the bottom. Then if did a web search on 0x8078002A and clicked on the correct link:
This problem is caused by an issue with the Windows 7 Backup and Restore utility when using drives with 4K [sic] Logical sector sizes, which are found on WD 2.5 TB and larger external drives. This is different from an “Advanced Format” (AFD) drive which use 4K [sic] physical sector sizes. AFD drives should not cause this problem.
My eyes are glazing over. Feast your eyes on the chart listing support for various sector size: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-US;982018
If your drive has a logical sector size of 512 bytes then it is supported as long as it has a physical sector size of 512 bytes or a physical sector size of 4 KiB and a compatible operating system which is Windows 7 with SP1 or MS KB 982018 did I mention that my eyes are glazing over.
Unfortunately my drive, apparently, has 4KiB logical sectors which are not supported, at least not for the image backup stage of Windows backup.
4-KiB sectors are becoming common for a few reasons. One is that the larger sectors are slightly more efficient, but another reason is that the Master Boot Record partitioning system (the old way of formatting drives) can only handle four billion (technically 2^32) sectors. With 512-byte sectors that sets a limit of 2 TiB (2.2 TB). Drives larger than that either need to use 4-KiB sectors (letting them go up to 16 TiB) or they need to use the GUID partition table (GPT partitioning scheme) which allows more sectors.
Set a course for the 512 sector
Western Digital recognized that this is a problem and they let consumers reformat their drives to use 512-byte logical sectors and the GPT partitioning scheme. This will make it incompatible with Windows XP but I don’t care about that. So, as recommended, I ran the Western Digital Quick Formatter tool. But before getting to that tool, feast your eyes on this warning:
Think about that. I’m doing all of this so that I can backup my data, and this warning is basically saying “before backing up your data please backup your data.” Yes I know they are talking about the data on the backup drive, but still. It’s funny. I’m laughing inside.
The default is not the default
The Quick Formatter tool was pretty straightforward, but it does play some linguistic games with the word ‘default’. To be clear, this drive came from the factory formatted in XP Compatible mode – the factory default for this drive is actually XP Compatible! The factory default is not “Factory Default”. How confusing.
Later versions of their formatting tool have changed (and moved) the choices. The correct choice if you want 512-byte sectors is “Most Compatible”.
If you’re getting impatient let me just say that the reformatted drive worked. I got the backup I wanted, finally, and I’ll get another backup every Sunday. But I have a few more things to complain about. And get off my lawn.
What about Seagate?
Western Digital has an option to format their big drives with 512-byte sectors, but Seagate does not, and I see no sign that other drive manufacturers offer such an option. When my wife bought a 4 TB Seagate backup drive from Costco she failed to verify that it could support 512-byte sectors (I don’t know what she was thinking) and it can’t so we had to return it. Seagate supplies their Disc Wizard software that lets you choose between MBR and GPT partitioning schemes, but in both cases it uses 4-KiB sectors.
Elevation for everything
I have my computer set up to require a password in order to get administrator access. I think this is the only sensible way to set up a computer. It means I can hand it to friends and relatives without worrying that they will do something crazy that will compromise it. Normally the need to type in a password for elevation is not a problem, but when setting up backups, and diagnosing problems with backups, it is absurd. Feast your eyes on the backup control window:
Every shield icon is something that requires me to type my password. Setting up a backup, backing up now, retrying a failed backup, seeing details of a backup – type your password please. I did all of these operations multiple times and I got a lot of typing practice. If I could launch the backup UI as administrator and then control all of its functions without further passwords then that would be fine, but that does not work. There are actually four more shield icons in the backup control panel:
If (almost) every option in your UI requires elevation then maybe you should allow your UI to be elevated!
Backup usage (update October 18, 2013)
I’ve had to use my backups a few times to restore individual files, and they have worked. However one time I found that the backup had mysteriously stopped a few months prior – the drive had been unplugged. Windows didn’t bother to notify me that the backup drive was inaccessible – but luckily the file I needed was still available. However a backup system that stops without loudly notifying the user? Not acceptable.
More recently I used the image backup to do a hard drive upgrade – see this blog post for more details.
Handling out-of-space (update October 22, 2013)
A related problem with Windows Backup is it handles out-of-space conditions poorly. To make Windows Backup useful for non-experts (like my parents) it needs to keep running, which means it needs to have an option to automatically age-out old backups. Instead Windows Backup seems to halt when the backup drive fills up. That means that its implicit policy is that old files are more important than new files.
Windows Backup does have an option for controlling how many system image backups are retained, but the UI is incomprehensible to me:
The UI says that the current setting will use a maximum of 419.15 GB for backup history. One might expect that this is the maximum space that it will use for system images. Instead it appears to be the maximum space that it will use for system images not including the latest system image. So, the total space used for system images with this setting is roughly twice as much. I think. And they probably mean GiB not GB which adds another 7.5% of distortion.
It’s also confusing that the UI contains two similarly sized numbers with opposite meanings – one is the amount of space that will be used by a setting, and the other is the amount of space that will be saved. That’s like saying “Item A will cost $10 but item B will save $9.95 – which would you like?”
Hexadecimal error codes are not okay
This is not a good user experience. Backing up is important, it can be easy, it should be easy, but right now it is a complete disaster.
- Microsoft backup needs to support writing disc images to drives with 4 KiB logical sectors. 4 KiB sectors showed up in 2010 and are mostly supported by Windows 7. The only missing support I have found is in Windows backup’s image backup, which is exactly where the support is needed most, because backups are when huge drives are most needed. @MicrosoftHelps just said no. Windows 7 will be supported for years to come, and soon 2 TB or smaller external drives will be rare beasts, so Windows 7’s image backup is going to gradually become useless!
- Windows backup should fail immediately if the sector size is not supported. Waiting six hours to fail is ridiculous. I don’t care if the first six hours of backup (file-by-file copies presumably) have looser requirements than the image backup – consider the user experience and make it better.
- Windows backup should not require separate elevation for each individual task. Not every Windows customer runs Windows in low-security mode. Designs like this are why users hate UAC.
- Windows backup should not give hidden hexadecimal error codes for common errors. If backup drives for sale at Costco and OfficeMax don’t work with Windows Backup then the error message needs to be front-and-center with a link to the fix-it article.
- Selecting what files to backup could be way clearer.
- Western Digital needs to make the incompatibility more visible. I carefully read the packaging and the manual and it says the drive is compatible with Windows 7. It says that reformatting is needed for Mac OS, but there is no mention of reformatting being needed for Windows 7. Presumably their expectation is that customers will use Western Digital’s backup program, but if that is required it should be stated in large bold letters.
- Seagate and other drive manufacturers should make compatibility with Windows backup more of a priority. Whether they do this by pressuring Microsoft to better support 4 KiB sectors or by allowing formatting with 512-byte sectors I don’t care.
Sure, if I’d used Western Digital’s backup program I would have avoided this problem, but I didn’t want to. I just wanted a big drive that I could backup my data to using the software of my choice.
Everybody should back up. Therefore backing up needs to be easy.