2/18/04

Save your sanity -- Backup that PC!

As computer disks have gotten larger, we, their users, store more and more data on them. We store digital photos, voice and video, and e-mail messages. We store school and work projects, writing assignments, books-in-process, draft proposals, and our electronic bankbooks (remember those? and address books. Additionally, we buy and install new software when required or desired.

So, what do you do when disaster strikes? By disaster, I mean any loss of data that cannot be handled by a simple "undo" function. (The Windows "Recycle bin" will save you from most accidental file deletions.) But, what do you do if
  • Your notebook PC is stolen
  • You mistakenly edited a file and need to recover a previous version.
  • You delete a file too large to store in the Recycle bin
  • You have to reformat your hard drive
  • Your hard drive has a "head crash" (which is as horrible as the name, and the event, sounds)
The last two won’t happen in a million years (notice, I wrote have to reformat), but what if it did? What would you do?

Why, you’d recover the data from your last back-up disk. Don’t have one? You need to. Here’s what to do.
  1. Get something on which to back your data up. I suppose Microsoft and others expect you to do that to another partition on your hard drive. That will help in some situations, but obviously not in the case of theft or disk failure. You might already have a CD recorder or writer. If one did not come standard with your PC, go out and buy one. If you are incertain about opening up your computer to add the driver (or if you have a notebook PC), buy one that will plug into your computer’s USB port. Recall CDRs are "write-once" devices while CDRWs allow you to add , delete, and replace files.

    Recordable drives and media are less expensive. A few years ago, I spend $300 when I bought my first CDRW drive to do back-ups. Today, after rebates I can get one for $50. It is worth the expense.
  2. Get software to do back-ups and restores. If you use Windows, it has a program named "Backup." This will do just fine for basic backups and restores. (Find it under Accessories/System Tools. If it is not there, load it from your Windows disk.)
  3. Create a system recovery set. It should back up everything on your system, including programs you added since first getting your system.
  4. Create and schedule automatic backups of your system. Do not routinely backup your whole system, but do save the files that change. An easy way to get all of your data files is to select "My Documents" in your backup program. I also recommend you select individual user settings under "Documents and Settings" on the C drive. One thing you will decide here is where to save the backup sets. I recommend saving them to your CDRW drive. You can keep it in the drive (or put it back when you are finished using it), and have backups run at night. Or, if you don’t leave your computer on, make sure you remember to back it up daily. (This is so you might actually do it weekly.)
  5. Decide what type of backup you’ll do. I do incremental backups. This only backs up files that changed since the last backup. This takes less space in the backup, but recovery of files will require going through more backup files (maybe on multiple CDs).
  6. Finally, test the system by seeing if you can recover a file that you previously backed up. Come on! You know why.
I use "Backup MyPC" by Stomp, Inc. It does everything the program you got "free" with your computer does, but it also backs up systems on my home network as well as writes to CD-Rs. What I mean is, I can leave a CD-R (not CD-RW) in my drive and have backups run every night. When the CD-R is full, it automatically pops it out and waits for me to put in and label the next disk. I have very little to do. I like that part.

So, what should you use? Try the one that came with your computer first. See if it does what you want. But, you do have to use it for it to be effective.

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