Thursday, March 9, 2017

Samsung created a bare metal restore miracle and apparently nobody noticed

It's been a maxim in the backup industry for years that you can't image a live system.

You always, always, always have to shut it down, boot from alternative media, and image that way.  Having spent more hours than I'd like on this, I can state this has always been true.

Until now, apparently.  The Samsung Data Migration utility just imaged my live Windows 7 system, in all its glory, from a smaller M4 SSD to a larger 850 Pro SSD.  It took about 30 minutes.  It even kept the hidden system partition.

Does nobody else realize what a godsend this is?  It's a working bare-metal restore solution for a live system.

OK, yes, the Samsung utility only writes to Samsung SSDs.  (That's touted as a safety feature, as you're unlikely to have two Samsung SSDs in the same system, but we all know why that really is.)

But, still - backup of a full image of my SSD on a live system?  Anytime I want to?  Really?  It's a god-damned miracle.

In case you haven't groked it yet, I do keep backup images of my boot drive.  Rare, I know.

Further, I actually keep a second SSD, fully imaged and bootable, on my shelf.  If my regular SSD fails, I can slot in the spare and be back up in minutes - not hours.  Ever rarer.

However, if you work for yourself or are in any situation where you just don't have the time to recover a crashed PC, having a spare worth a couple of hundred bucks is damn great insurance.  I can't imagine I'm the only one out there with this particular problem.

Developing a working imaging system was a pill.  I tried all the software that claimed to do live backups - all failed.  I know because I did the image, a bare metal restore, and physically plugged in the "new" drive in place of the "old" drive.  All failed to launch, DOA.

Eventually I settled on using Bart PE on a rescue CD, coupled with Image for Windows.  Reboot using Bart PE to keep the SSD from being "in use", and Image could copy it.  Restore the image later to any compatible device, plug it in and we have liftoff.

Of course, downing the machine, booting with a Bart CD and doing the image was rather slow and inconvenient.  It was worth it, but not something I liked doing, as it required me to go offline.

And then here is the Samsung Migration Utility.  Hassle-free, fast disk imaging anytime at the push of a button.  Keeping a spare SSD handy has never been so handy.

Maybe this is old hat.  My Bart/IFW solution was developed 5 years ago, perhaps everyone has moved on somehow.  But this is my first experience with a one-click live-system bare metal restore that works.

And yes, I will have to go out any buy a second Samsung SSD for my spare. I will do so quite cheerfully since never has a company deserved it more.

(Being practical, however I'll probably get the less-expensive 850 EVO model for the backup; no point in wasting money.)

Update:  Turns out I had purchased an identically-sized 850 EVO as my cold spare drive sometime in late 2015.  I had imaged it with my tried-and-true Bart PE solution and shelved it.

Of course, the EVO also came with the migration utility, but as I routinely ignore OEM software for straightforward items such as SSDs as bloatware, I never even looked at it.  Migration is not mentioned on the box or any of the visible packaging.  If I had not spotted the byline on the vendor website that mentioned the Migration Utility for the 850 Pro, I never would have known it existed.

Imaging my 256 Gb 850 Pro to my 250 Gb 850 EVO (yes, 250 Gb) was equally painless and again took about half an hour.  Live backups ahoy!

Why your PC should have a hard drive dock

The single best damn accessory you can buy for a PC is an internal SATA hard drive dock.  No, not the crappy external USB kind, the internal built-in SATA kind.

Why?  Because:

0.  ZERO compatibility issues with anything.  It's SATA, works with USB boot stick, Hiren's Boot CD, UBCD, all other boot media, all third-party utilities, etc.

1.  It lets you plug in another hard drive and make hot backups daily.

2.  It lets you remove said drive and replace it with another in about 5 seconds.  Meaning now you have both hot (online) and cold (offline) backups, and are proof against nearly every virus out there (including ransomware).  Good for weekly, monthly and quarterly backups.

3.  It lets you take your backups offsite; now you are proof against disaster.  (Hey, a 10 months old backup is better than nada.)

4.  It lets you migrate your current HDD/SSD to a newer, replacement, and/or larger HDD/SDD very easily.  Which is what I'm about to do.

5.  It lets you expand your nearline storage endlessly.  Just take a HDD off the shelf and plug it in.  Great for storing unlimited movies, TV, games, etc. where you don't need it online all the time.

6.  You don't pay monthly fees for cloud storage, and there are no tiers or storage limits.

7.  Newer models accept both 2.5" drives and 3.5" drives directly.  No adapters.

8.  Newer models accept 3.5" drives without a supplementary screw-on tray or caddy (i.e. trayless).

9.  If your HDD crashes, you can boot from CD/USB and plug in a new HDD/SSD to recover as much as you can.  No worries about USB support not working on your recovery CD or stick.

10.  Direct SATA connection much faster than USB connection (yes, even USB 3.0).

Do yourself a favor and the next time you buy a PC, spend the $50.  It's worth it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The late adopters / inheritor's guide to an original Nintendo Wii that has been "softmodded"

For my kids first console I went with the original Wii: Wii is best for kids, the games are (usually) pretty good, and the hardware and games are cheap.  What the Brits call a "cheap and cheerful" solution.  Six-year-olds can't tell the difference!

I was lucky and managed to pick up a "softmodded" Wii, which had been modified to run game ISOs from an external hard disk.  This was good for me since most game discs are wearing out from inevitable wear and tear, and the Wii disc readers can't be too far behind.  Hard drive copies are impervious to both issues.
My system was blank (no games).  And I had no real idea how to use it or how it was set up, and the info on the web was horribly disorganized at best.  This information is aimed at any other late adopters who don't need to set it up, but do want to understand it.

This guide presumes you have/use the following:

Configurable USB Loader softmod for Wii. If your Wii shows "cfb" when starting the Loader Channel, it has this UI.

- WBFS Manager 3.0 (WBFS-M) because that is what I used.  WBFS Manager supports drive cloning and multi-game copying, which makes life easier.


There are several programs that let you run games from hard disk on the Wii.  Mine used Configurable USB Loader.

Softmod Wii systems use two storage devices:
-  An external USB hard drive for games
-  An SD card, plugged into the front slot, for covers and "resources"

I bet you didn't notice the SD card - it is plugged in under the little front cover.  Go take a look.

The hard drive is just a plain old ordinary USB hard disk.  But it can be formatted as Windows-compatible (FAT32 or NTFS), or with the proprietary WBFS file system used for the Wii.

Some claim WBFS is more stable, and it is obviously the safest, so WBFS is popular.  This means it can't be read by Windows or Macs if you just plug it in to your PC.  I bet you tried already.

Note:  If Windows asks to format the drive, DO NOT DO IT.  You will lose everything.

The SD card is also an ordinary SD.  As another guide says, this is the perfect task for an older 512 Mb or 1 Gb SD card.

Safeguarding/Backing Up Games

Hard disks fail, so obviously you want to ensure you're safe against a hard disk failure.  This means copying your game ISOs elsewhere for safekeeping.

Games are stored on the HDD as regular ISO files.  If you have a FAT32 or NTFS disk, you can plug it in to your PC/Mac and copy away.

If you have a WBFS drive, get WBFS Manager 3.0 (or similar).  Be sure to get the x32 or x64 edition, as appropriate for your type of Windows.  Use that to copy the ISOs from the WBFS drive elsewhere. They will be copied as ordinary .iso files using the game name as file name.

Note:  WBFS Manager requires you to "Refresh" the drive list and "Load" the drive manually, only after which will you see the list of games on the drive.  See this video for how that works.

Wii games are about 2 Gb each, typical, but it varies a lot.  For reference, I saw a system that had 440 games - which are nearly all of them - that required about 850 Gb.  Meaning a 1 Tb to 1.5 Tb drive will be enough for just about everyone.  The associated SD was 2 Gb and was also likely larger than required.

Cloning Your Drive

Another easy way to back up is to get a second USB drive and do a drive-to-drive copy.  This video shows you how by using WBFS Manager 3.0.  (There are also other WBFS programs out there but I don't know if they do drive cloning or not.)

Drive cloning is slow: Copying 400+ games from a USB 2.0 drive to a SATA drive will take ~10 hours.  It will not tie up your PC, but don't sit and watch it.

Adding Games to Hard Drive

You can add game ISOs directly to the Wii hard drive by:

-  Using WBFS Manager to copy directly to the drive, or
-  Putting a game disc into the Wii and using the "Add Game" function.

I used the second method to put my existing game discs on to the hard drive.  It takes 5-10 minutes per disc, but is pretty simple.

To use WBFS Manager:
-  Plug your hard drive in to your computer
-  When prompted, DO NOT format the drive
-  Start WBFS Manager
-  Click "Refresh Drive List"
-  Select the correct drive letter
-  Press "Load".  You will now see the list of games on the drive (if any)
-  Press "Browse"
-  Find the game ISO to load
-  Press "Add to Drive"

For further help, try referencing this guide.  Just substitute "hard disk" for "USB stick".

Using CFB

OK, data all saved, games loaded, now how the ^*!@$#! do I use this thing?

In theory, CFB is somewhat self-explanatory.  In practice it's confusing and it's pretty easy to get lost.

On startup you should see some sort of cover flow.  Look in the bottom left-hand corner for a list of the remote buttons and what they do.

From here:

-  "A" selects a game
-  "B" goes back
-  + adds a game
-  1 brings up game options

-  If hovering on a cover, 2 brings up the game.
-  If not hovering on a cover, 2 (usually) brings up the favorites list.

After selecting a game or function, read the text on the resulting screen to see what to do next.  Generally, A progresses/selects, while B cancels/goes back.

Where things go to $h!t is with the cover flow options.  There are a lot of them, selectable with Up and Down.  But they don't always go in the same order so it can take a lot of fiddling to get back to the one you like. 

My advice:  keep pressing DOWN until you get to the last view (Flow 1), then go up from there.

Organizing Games

As far as I know CFB offers the following options for organization:

-  You can tag Favorite games.  These show up when you press 2 on the UI.  But there is only one Favorites list.
 -  Teen/Mature filter:  This hides inappropriate games from the little ones.
 -  You can sort by: # of players, # of online players, and several others.

You can not do any of the following:

-  Organize games into folders.
-  Have different lists or settings for different people.
-  Sort by game rating (E, E10, T, M, etc.)
-  Sort by game rating / popularity

Parental Controls

CFB seems to bypass parental controls.  Maybe there are per-game options for this, but I don't know yet.