If you aren’t regularly backing up your data (photos, documents, music, etc.), you risk losing it all in the event of a hard drive failure or malware infection. With malware so rampant these days, it is more important than ever to store a copy of your data in a second location for easy recovery.
Most of us have been hit with hardware failure and/or virus attacks at one time or other. Many of us have lost data as a result, and know how difficult it can be to have permanently lost irreplaceable photos and valuable data. This article is targeted at Windows platforms. It will describe some backup methods and offer some suggestions as to what hardware/software to use.
There are several methods you can use to back up data: a full disk image, partition images, user profile backup, and individual files and folders only.
With disk and partition backups, the disk or entire drive letters are backed up verbatim, meaning all your data, programs and settings, including those in the operating system. This is usually called an “image”, and can be useful if you want to upgrade to a new, larger drive, or you want to simply be able to put the entire disk or drive letter contents back as they were at the time of backup. You can choose to update a backup image regularly by overwriting them entirely (more time-consuming), by using an incremental approach (adds a new backup file containing files changed since the last incremental backup), or by using a differential approach (makes a new backup file containing just the differences since the last FULL backup image).
A user profile backup contains all of the files and folders saved within your user profile. If you use the default locations of My Documents, My Pictures, My Music, etc., then your data should all be in your profile folder. You would also typically find your email settings, browser favorites, and desktop icons in a user profile too. It’s important to note user profile backup does not contain programs that are installed or the complete Windows registry settings (behind-the-scenes workings of Windows).
Files and Folders backups are just that, specific files and folders only. The user would have to select which ones to use for backup.
Newer versions of Windows like Windows 7 have backup capability built-in, although it may not be a feature-rich or convenient as some third-party backup applications. Regardless of what you choose to use for software, you’ll need to have a place to put the data.
Several years ago, if you wanted to back up a disk drive, you had to purchase third-party software. It was expensive, and USB hard drives did not exist. Writable CDs and DVDs were expensive, but aside from old-fashioned data tapes, they were the primary method by which consumers would back up their data. Talk about slow! It could take a day or two of changing discs every 2 or 3 hours to get a backup job completed.
Nowadays, USB hard disks, flash drives, regular hard drives, and solid state devices make backups easier than ever. At the time of this writing, there are places selling 1TB (1 terabyte, or 1000 gigabytes) hard drives for $79 or so. A USB “desktop” version will cost a bit more, and a portable or pocket USB drive (which typically contains a laptop-sized 2.5″ hard drive) are usually a bit more than that.
A second internal hard drive is the easiest to use because once it’s installed, you don’t have to find it and plug it in, but installation involves opening up a computer, which some folks are not comfortable with (Cartier Consulting provides affordable hardware installation services).
The USB drives are newest, and the second most convenient way to back up your computer. A bonus is that the data becomes portable, so if your backup software offers encryption, you should enable it. With a desktop computer, you can usually leave a USB drive plugged in, but with a laptop you typically have to remember to plug-in a drive to back up your computer.
Pocket-sized flash drives a handy for files and folders too.
The software options are abundant, from free operating system tools, to free and paid third-party software. Here are some of the third-party options:
- Acronis True Image 2011 ($38.99 est.): This program is really nice, offering disk, partition, files, folder, etc. backups, and network locations can be selected as the destination (e.g. over wireless networks). It has the capability to create a bootable CD, DVD or USB Flash Drive, making it very versatile for recovery options, should you need them. It also has a utility that you can install to offer system restoration from early in the boot-up process, allowing you to work while the full restore takes place, and options to begin backup when a pre-defined USB drive is attached.
Read more about Acronis True Image here.
- Create Synchronicity (FREE, open source): This program is nice because it will remind you to back up. I cannot, however, create disk images, so if your hard drive does fail, you are faced with reinstalling all of your software, getting updates, etc. One advantage to this software is that it is offered in two versions; a Windows installer and a portable ZIP package.
Read more about Create Synchronicity at TechRepublic.com here.
- Norton Symantec Ghost 15 ($33.00 est.): With features similar to Acronis True Image, it comes down to speed, and other features. At the time of this writing, Ghost 15 doesn’t allow creating bootable media on a USB drive, but does offer real-time backup priority adjustment, dual backup locations (a second copy placed elsewhere, such as on an FTP site), and Blu-ray disc support.
Read more about Ghost here.
Hopefully, this article has both educated you and motivated you to take the next step in protecting your valuable data.