Doing backups with Ubuntu: again with Back In Time

In the past, I’ve always used Back In Time to do my data backups, then I switched to DejaDup when it became the official Ubuntu backup tool in 10.10.

I’ve been quite happy with DejaDup: simple and neat interface (maybe even too simple), easy to use, solid.

The problems with DejaDup started when I wanted to search for a particular file across the backups. I was sure it was there, but I couldn’t remember in which backup (the date of the snapshot) I included it. DejaDup doesn’t provide a “snapshot browser” as Back In Time does and it is not possible to browse the data directly on the storage device as it is archived in tar format.  The only option is to recover a snapshot by its date.  In this situation, the lack of a more advanced set of functions made me fell helpless.

I don’t want to talk about the features of Back In Time here, as they are well documented on the web site along with some nice screenshots, but about why I preferred it over DejaDup. A single reason:

  • Backups are stored in plain format (files and folders) on your storage device, with the same directories structure of the source data

This implies a whole set of benefits:

  • Control: you can browse a snapshot with your favorite file browser or even with the very rational Back In Time interface. You have everything under your control (“Was that folder included in the backup?” Just go and check it!)
  • Portability: you can extract the data you need from the storage device even if the backup application is not installed. As long as the OS of the computer where you need to extract the data is able to read the file system of the backup driver, you can get every file you need

In conclusion, I installed Back In Time and re-started doing my incremental backups with this very nice tool.

If you want to give it a try (gnome and kde versions are available from Ubuntu repositories):

sudo apt-get install backintime-gnome

or

sudo apt-get install backintime-kde

Ubuntu 11.10 and Hybrid Graphics on Sony VAIO S

I bought this Sony VAIO S series notebook almost 8 months ago. As the majority of modern high-end notebooks, it is delivered with two graphic cards:

  • The integrated one, by Intel (i915)
  • The dedicated, or discrete one, by AMD/ATI (HD6470m in my configuration)

This system, called Hybrid Graphics, is intended to provide users with two different and ready-to-use configurations to regulate performance vs. power saving modes. VAIO notebooks have a STAMINA/SPEED hardware switch to decide which one of them to use.

It works pretty well on Windows 7, where you can use the STAMINA mode to activate the integrated card and increase battery duration or the SPEED mode to activate the AMD card and get the best performance out of this notebook.

Things are a bit different on Ubuntu. Ever since I own the notebook (Ubuntu 11.04 and 11.10), not only I’ve never been able to use the STAMINA/SPEED switch, but I’ve had a lot of problems when trying to use the AMD card in a “static” configuration (however, AMD is working on their proprietary Linux drivers and they are progressing a lot: http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTAyNzk).

The good thing for me is that I don’t need to use the AMD card at all.

The Intel one works very well for pretty much everything, including HD videos and any kind of desktop effect. However, I’ve never tried games.

So, the solution for me has been simple: do not use the AMD card! There’s still something missing however: you cannot completely forget about the discrete graphic card, if its fan keeps spinning as loud as a vacuum cleaner or if it is producing so much heat below your wrist!

So, finally, here’s the solution I’ve always proficiently used to switch off the AMD card and use my notebook as it was provided without that (I’m assuming your system is clean as it is after a new installation):

  1. Edit your /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf file and blacklist the radeon module (replace “gedit” with your favorite editor):
    sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf

    Add the following lines at the end of the file:

    # radeon
    blacklist radeon
    
  2. Edit the /etc/rc.local file to use the vgaswitcheroo kernel module and switch off the discrete card
    sudo gedit /etc/rc.local

    Add the following lines just before exit 0

    modprobe radeon
    chown -R $USER:$USER /sys/kernel/debug
    echo OFF > /sys/kernel/debug/vgaswitcheroo/switch
    

And that’s all, from next restart you can forget about the AMD card.