Compaq moves to quell iPaq data loss fears

Analyst GartnerGroup has sent out a warning following reports that a number of Compaq iPaq users have completely lost data after a complete battery rundowns.

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By  Robin Duff Published  May 8, 2001

Analyst GartnerGroup has sent out a warning following reports that a number of Compaq iPaq users have completely lost data after a complete battery rundowns. The problem has apparently arisen when users have failed to reconnect the device to recharge the device for an extended period of time, usually one or more days.

According to Gartner, the data loss occurs because the system memory used for program and file storage is composed of dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which cannot retain contents for more than a day without recharging once the battery is drained. A charged battery typically retains DRAM storage for 6 to 10 hours, depending on application and use patterns.

“It is a commonsense issue: if you leave any electronic device like this for a length of time, it will run down eventually,” commented Thomas Greve, Compaq Middle East and Africa’s consumer product and retail program manager. “If the device is left long enough, the battery will be drained of all its power, and the data will then fail. But it should be remembered that the iPaq is an electronic device which doesn’t possess a hard disk. The applications will be the first thing to go.”

Greve added that the contact database, probably the most valuable data a user will have on the iPaq, would be the last thing to go.
“Users should take advantage of the product’s compatibility with a PC, and back up their data to one,” he said.

An iPaq unit which has lost all of its contents can be fully restored if a full backup, or incremental backup to an existing backup file, was recently performed. The restoration process is time consuming and cumbersome— taking from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the speed and type of connection to the PC. Moreover, Gartner has seen it fail on some occasions, requiring a process restart.

Compaq has told Gartner that it had detected the problem and has said that it would add a note to the iPaq shipping box to refer consumers to the Compaq Website for restoration instructions at www.compaq/support/handhelds/iPAQ_H3600.shtml.

However, since restoration is complicated, time-consuming and potentially problematic, Gartner has urged that all users deploy iPaq Pocket PCs only with an attached CompactFlash (CF) or PC Card jacket and a backup storage card equal to the onboard memory capacity (32MB or 64MB). Compaq provides a flash memory backup utility in ROM and users will have to invoke the backup at least once per day for adequate protection.

The flash memory backup and restore utility is easy to use and works quickly. Such backup capability comes with a catch: buyers must add at least $140 to the best price of the unit (for a CF expansion pack plus 32MB card).

Ultimately, Gartner backs up Greve’s assertion that the Ipaq should be run in conjunction with a PC, stating that: “Gartner’s recommendation is that enterprises manage assets such as the iPaq centrally. Centralised control enables more efficient communication with users. Moreover, enterprises should stress to all their iPaq users the critical need for them to follow best practices on regular and incremental backup and battery-management techniques so that they (and their data) can avoid falling prey to this problem.”

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