Backing Up Your Files

Bob Rankin

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Sooner or later, something terrible will happen to your hard drive. That's not a very happy thought, but the good news is you can survive a hard drive failure with only minimal inconvenience - if you back up your files.

Hard Drives Are Not Forever

They can fail without warning, a virus could wipe out your data, fire or flood could damage the drive, or it might even get stolen. You might accidentally delete a file or an entire folder of important files with an errant click. And it's not only emergencies that make backups important. . . if you buy a new computer, a backup can make it much easier to copy your files from the old computer to the new one. Backup Strategies

Do you need to backup all your files, or just certain ones? That depends on how you use your computer, how important your data is, and how much you want to think about backups. If your drive fails, you can reinstall the operating system and all your software. But the data you've created and stored (word processor documents, spreadsheets, emails, photos, music, etc. ) may not be replaceable.

So at a very minimum, you should decide which are your most important files and make backups. Here are some easy ways to back up a set of files:

* Attach the files to to an email and send them to friend. Or open a free web-based email account, and send the files to yourself.

* Copy them to another computer on your home or office network.

* Upload them to your website, or free web space.

* Burn them to a CD.

* Copy them to a flash drive or external hard drive.

Do this often - daily, weekly or monthly - you decide based on how often you update the files and how critical it is to have access to the most recent data in the event your hard drive crashes and burns. But be warned that recovering from a hard drive failure will be a nuisance if you opt to backup only your data files. It will take quite a few hours to re-install your operating system and all the software that you had. If you downloaded software, you might have lost the license or registration keys along with your data, too.

Backup on Auto-Pilot

I strongly advise automated full system backups, because EVERYTHING is safely squirreled away, and restoring your data can be accomplished with a few clicks. You could back up your data on a bunch of CDROMs, but you'd need a LOT of them to back up a modern hard drive, which can store 100GB or more. CD-ROM disks hold about 700MB of data, so even with compression you'd need over 100 of them to get the job done. Not very convenient, especially if you ever need to restore the data.

Since hard Disk drives are cheaper than ever, I recommend you get an external hard drive and use it as a backup device for one or more computers. You can buy a large capacity external drive for well under $1 per gigabyte. The Iomega 33xxx series and the Maxtor OneTouch get high marks from reviewers and users, but other manufacturers such as Seagate and Western Digital make good products as well. Look for a drive that supports a USB 2.0 connection, or the faster FireWire hookup if your system supports it.

Backup Software

Backup software is also recommended, to help you automate the process of making automatic full or incremental backups, and to restore just one deleted file or the entire drive. A good backup program will even allow you to store multiple versions of a file, so you can go back in time and restore a file to the way it was a day, a week or a month ago.

I use Acronis True Image (Windows) but have heard great things about Retrospect (Windows/Mac), which comes free on the Maxtor OneTouch drives, and SmartSync (Windows).

Losing data that you've spent countless hours creating is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to a computer user. When it comes to backups, don't think too hard about whether or not it's worth the trouble. It takes only a little time and money to set up automatic full system backups that give you peace of mined and protection from data disasters.

BOB RANKIN. . . is a tech writer and computer programmer who enjoys exploring the Internet and sharing the fruit of his experience with others. His work has appeared in ComputerWorld, NetGuide, and NY Newsday. Bob is publisher of the Internet TOURBUS newsletter, author of several computer books, and creator of the website. Visit Bob Rankin's website for more helpful articles and free tech support .


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