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Backing Up Your Computer

What is a Backup?

It is a copy of a file or group of files that can be used in case something happens to the original(s). Examples of files include letters, banking data, forms, emails, documents, pictures, and drawings in your computer.

Some of the things that can destroy original files include viruses, hard drive mechanical failures, human error, accidental or intentional deletion, theft, and disasters such as floods or lightning strikes. There is a particularly threatening form of virus called ransomware which will make your files unreadable until you pay a ransom. Having a backup copy could save you a lot of hassle and money.

The most common device for storing files in a computer is the hard drive. A hard drive is basically a record player/recorder made of metal in a sealed container. If you've ever seen a record player, it looks very similar. There is a new type of hard drive that has no moving parts, but very few computers currently have this type.

The loss of important documents and pictures can be devastating, and it can be avoided by making and storing a backup copy.

According to McGladrey and Pullen, which is major CPA firm, 43% of companies experiencing data disasters never reopen, and 29% close within two years.

After disaster strikes, it is too late.

If you do not have a backup, don't wait. Do it now.

Backup Devices

This is a list of the most commonly used backup devices:

  • External Hard Drive
    • Advantages: Great Capacity and Fast
    • Disadvantages: It is delicate. If you drop it or knock it over, you could lose everything. Lay it down on the longest side so that it is not easily knocked over. When you carry it around, wrap it in bubble wrap.
  • Second Internal Hard Drive
    • Advantages: Great Capacity and Fast
    • Disadvantages: If your data files are destroyed or messed up by a virus, the backup hard drive could also be a victim.
  • Online Storage (somebody else's hard drive on the internet)
    • Advantages: Very convenient, but it can take quite a while for all your files to be transmitted over the internet
    • Disadvantages: All your files are on somebody else's computer somewhere, and you have to pay a monthly fee
  • Memory Sticks--including thumb drives and flash drives
    • Advantages: Pretty Good Capacity and Fast
    • Disadvantages: Easily misplaced or stolen, and sometimes the connector breaks off rendering it useless. If you use memory sticks, use 2 of them just in case.
  • CDs and DVDs
    • Advantages: Fairly Good Capacity (CD=>around 700 MB and DVD=>around 4.7 GB) and Fairly Fast
    • Disadvantages: Many people do not know how to make a CD, and the surface of the disk could degrade over time
  • Floppy drives
    • Advantages: Fine for a few files.
    • Disadvantages: Limited Capacity and the surfaces sometime degrade
  • Tape drives
    • Advantages: Great Capacity and generally lasts a long, long time (if not stored near heat)
    • Disadvantages: Rather slow and you have to play through the tape to get to the file you want.
  • A paper copy of files that are important
    • Advantages: If the power fails, you can still access your files
    • Disadvantages: Consumes natural resources and space

Types of Backup

  • Cloning
    • What is it? It's an identical twin of your hard drive. It requires a special program or cloning machine to be created.
    • Advantages: If something happens, you can switch over to the clone and be back up and running very quickly.
    • Disadvantages: Everything you do from the moment of cloning forward is not on the clone

    If you have a business, it is an excellent idea to make a clone of your most important hard drive(s) and keep it at another location such as a vault or other secure storage location. If your equipment is stolen or your location is destroyed by flooding or fire or whatever, it could mean that you are not ruined. It is very important that you make copies of everything that you add or change onto another device, such as a memory stick, so that you do not lose the work that was done after the time of cloning.

  • Mirroring
    • What is it? It's a second hard drive that stays inside of your computer and is always an identical twin to the first drive.
    • Advantages: If something happens, you can switch over to the clone and be back up and running in minutes.
    • Disadvantages: If you get a virus, both drives are infected. If the mirroring malfunctions, you need a technician.

    Drive mirroring requires special hardware. The hardware is called RAID (Redundant Array Independent Disk). You can order a computer with RAID and specify drive mirroring. (There are other forms of RAID, so you must specify mirroring.) It can also be added to a computer by adding a RAID board and a hard drive, but it must be set up correctly.

  • Drive Image
    • What is it? This is an exact copy of the hard drive saved into one big file, usually on a CD, DVD, or external hard drive.
    • Advantages: If something happens, you can put in a new hard drive and restore your computer to exactly how it was when the image was made.
    • Disadvantages: Everything you do from the moment of imaging on is not on the image and you have to buy a special program to do it.

  • Full Backup
    • What is it? It's a copy of all the files on your computer.
    • Advantages: If something happens, you can restore your files in a matter of hours or a day or two.
    • Disadvantages: Time-consuming.

    This is a backup of all the files on your computer. The major difference between a full backup and a cloned or mirrored backup is that you must restore the backup before you can be back up and running. A full backup can either be exact copies of your files or all your files compressed into one big file.

  • Selective Backup
    • What is it? It's a copy of the files you select.
    • Advantages: You have a copy of the files you selected.
    • Disadvantages: Time-consuming.

    This is the backup method of choice for most users. You can make a backup of all your documents, pictures, data files, email, address book, and other files you might want to keep without having to mess with backing up programs or system files that you did not create.

  • Differential Backup
    • What is it? It's a copy of the files you changed since the last time you ran a full or selective backup
    • Advantages: You don't waste time copying everything--just the files that have changed
    • Disadvantages: This can be VERY time-consuming and often confusing to the average user.

    This is an option on many backup programs. The time savings are most significant if you are backing up to tape. Restoring from differential backups require restoring the original and then each differential after that.

  • Incremental Backup
    • What is it? It's a copy of the files you changed since the last time you ran a full, selective. or incremental backup
    • Advantages: You don't waste time copying everything--just the files that have changed
    • Disadvantages: This can be VERY time-consuming and even more confusing than a differential backup.

    This is also an option on many backup programs. The time savings are most significant if you are backing up to tape.

Backup Programs

Making a backup can be made simple and automatic by buying a backup program and an external hard drive. Some of the the most widely used programs for making backups are Acronis True Image, Roxio's Creator, Nero, Avanquest, and Sync-Back. There is a free version of Sync-Back for personal, educational, charity, government, and commercial users, and it even has a free tutorial.

For drive cloning, there are Norton Ghost, Acronis, and Partition Commander.

Hints

If you want to find out what drive letter your memory stick or external hard drive is:

  • When your computer it turned off, remove the memory stick or external hard drive from your computer
  • Turn on your computer
  • Windows Vista & Windows 7: Left-click on the round windows button in the lower left-hand corner of your screen and then left-click on Computer
  • Windows XP: Left-click on Start and then left-click on My Computer.
  • All Other Versions of Windows: Double-left-click on My Computer.
  • Watch this screen while you plug in your device. The device that appears is your memory stick or drive. It will have a letter with a colon after it, such as "E:" That is your drive letter.

If you just want to make a quick and easy copy of a file:

  • Right-click on the file that you want to back up. When you right-click, a menu will appear.
  • Left-click on copy. This copies the entire file to a special place in memory called The Clipboard
  • Go to the place where you want your backup to be. For example, E:
  • Right-click in the file area of the screen, but not on top of any icon, and a menu will appear.
  • Left-click on paste.
  • If you have placed this file or group of files on a CD, you can then put a blank CD or DVD into your burner and then left-click on File at the top of your screen and then left-click on Write these files to CD.

After you have made a backup copy, do not leave your backup connected to your computer. This is so that if a virus gets onto your computer it cannot reach the files on the backup device.

To disconnect a backup device such as a memory stick or external hard drive, the easiest way is to shut your computer down and unplug it.

External hard drives are widely available at many stores and websites. A 500 GB external hard drive often costs less than $100.

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