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2007-02-03 20:30:00

RealTalk Tips: How to Back Up Your Hard Drive

Peter ScottI've seen discussions on protecting data.  Some people only backup Outlook or certain other files.  The point is YOU NEED TO BACK UP EVERYTHING!!!!!

I have a technically savvy friend that took pictures for a hobby, it became a part time business for him.  He had something over 200GB of just pictures when his drive crashed.  SIX YEARS of data was lost.  He simply hadn't gotten around to putting a backup system in place.

I hope after reading that, you will NOT SLEEP WELL until you get a backup system in place.  It WILL happen to you.  This is NOT and "IF" it's a "WHEN".

Now about backups

I  used tape backup for years, when each tape only held 20MB of data.  I now use disk backup. There are a number of network hard disk options available that either hook to your USB port or network.  They are fast and convenient and with the right software will not only backup your own PC but all those on your network.  I like Retrospect backup software from Dantz.

The basics:

  • NEVER backup OVER your backup.  While the window for failure is small, it's there. 
  • Have a minimum of two (2) different hard drives.  Alternate between them.
  • I alternate backup tasks between the drives at one month intervals.

1. On the first - I do a full backup and replace what was there before.

2. On the odd days of the month, I do an incremental to that drive.

  • With Retrospect, you set it and forget it - almost.
  • Check the backup logs -- make sure you didn't have a problem.  When you hard drive crashes is NOT the time to find out your backup is not good.
  • TEST the backup every now and then.  Restore something.
  • You might set your alternation to weekly (requires a smaller and less expensive drive).  My personal decision was two 300GB drive so I can switch monthly.
  • You can take the drive "not in use" off site to protect it from theft or fire.
  • Any backup solution you choose will have suggestions about backup schemes.  My approach is not the only one, I just hope it gets you thinking.
  • There is now also reasonable internet backup, although I don't like that solution because I'M NOT IN CONTROL OF THE DATA.

The Bottom Line:  JUST DO IT!!!  -- Peter Scott, Rockaway, NJ

Home and Office Products 

PC Magazine


Steven HongBackups are a critical part of today’s society. Yet so few people backup on a regular basis. Ask yourself this: “If my computer crashed today, what would I miss?”

If you have financial data (such as quicken) or digital photos, or e-mail addresses that are not easily replaced, you should be backing up your computer on a regular basis, such as weekly. Some of the reasons you should backup your data include:

1. Hard drives do crash, especially on laptops.

2. Your digital pictures are not replaceable if your hard drive crashes.

3. Other data such as address books and e-mail are not easily replaced.

4. Even just bringing your computer in for technical support, there is a chance that they may wipe out your hard drive.

5. If your computer crashes and won’t boot up, you may need to reformat your drive to bring it back to factory settings. This process may delete all your data.

6. Lightening strikes can take out computers. Even surge protection may not be good enough. 

There are several methods to backup your critical data on your computer. All of them have their plusses and minuses. But the most important key is to actually do it.  Here’s a list of a few ways to backup:

1. Copy data from one computer to another computer.

This method is the method that I personally use for two reasons. First, it’s very quick copying data over the network. Secondly, I can have access to a much larger storage medium than CD’s or DVD’s. I backup my laptop to a desktop at home that has 400GB of hard drive space. The downside is that I don’t have redundancy if there were a fire, or if the backup drive crashes.
2. Burn CDs or DVDs of your data.

This is by far the cheapest method, especially if you use CD-RW or DVD-RW of some format. You can make multiple copies and keep several sets at work, and at home. But, if your data is larger than what fits on one disk, you’ll need to spend time swapping disks when backing up.
3. Use an external USB or Firewire backup drive.

These external drives run under $100 nowadays, and have plenty of space for most people. They usually come with backup software as well and can be as easy as pressing one button to do backups. This is probably the best solution for most people.
4. Use an online storage service.

With this method, you can copy your data to some computer backup service over the internet. They house the storage and keep controls over their backup systems. Good for redundancy, but there are downsides. One, they charge a monthly fee. That can get expensive quick, especially if you consider that you can buy an external 100GB drive (#3) for under $100. Secondly, someone else has access to your data. Not that anything would happen, but it could.
5. Have multiple hard drives in one computer.

This method requires mounting a second internal drive inside your existing desktop computer. (it won’t work on laptops as there is no space for a second drive) Then just copy one hard drive to the other hard drive at extremely high speeds. The main drawback is if that computer fails, both drives could be lost. It would be good for fending off certain types of failures such as 1 hard drive crash, or Windows XP failing to load, but if lightening strikes and blows through the power supply, you could lose both drives. But, it’s still better than no backup at all.
Factors to consider when putting together a backup plan:

1. You should have at least two sets of backups. With two sets, if your computer fails while you are running a backup, then hopefully the other backup set is usuable.

2. You should have at least 1 backup set off-site. This could mean rotating a set of backup disks to the office, or a friends house.

3. You should consider how often you should backup your data. If you can lose a week of changes, then a weekly backup would work. If every day is very important, then daily backups is key.
My take on this would be:
I tend to lean toward the USB backup devices such as Maxtor OneTouch. These can also have an automatic scheduled backup, or configured so that you just press the button on the device. Since they run only about $100 for a 100gb drive, they're inexpensive. And you can backup multiple computers, or carry it from location to location.
I also tend to recommend that people do a backup by copying files, rather than creating a backup image. That way, you can read the files from ANY computer without installing the software. Sure it takes a bit more space, but since space is sooo cheap nowadays... --Steven Hong, e-PRO, Edina, MN




Victor ChelfBackup your computer! I use a Maxtor OneTouch III 200GB external backup drive.  It connects with a USB cable.  I touch a button and it backs up my computer.  No more worries if my hard drive crashes.  I bought it at Office Depot -- Victor Chelf, Houston, TX


You can buy software from Stellar Software that will do the trick. I recovered an entire drive and restored every bit of data with their software. It was quite a traumatic experience, but I recovered every last bit of data, even emails from a pst folder that were almost 5 years old. -- Dan Walker, REALTOR, CRS, CNHS, e-PRO, GRI, ABR, Salt Lake City, UT

Peter MacDonaldI recently ordered a Western Digital 500 GB hard drive from the ($246.00) and Acronis ($50.00) back up software.

This quote from the feature list is one of the reasons that I chose it: "Intelligent drive management features: The My Book drive turns itself on and off with your computer and Safe Shutdown prevents the drive from being powered down until all your data has been written." If you don't have this feature, I think that many of you will have to flip the switch on your new back-up hard drive whenever you power down your computer.

A question that I still have is, if I connect the drive in to my network router rather than directly to my computer through the USB/Firewire jack, will the back up be unacceptably slowed down?

I will not use the back-up software that comes with the drive but will instead buy the Acronis back-up software from that was originally recommended onRealTalk.

As I understand it, Acronis has the capability to make an image of your hard disk so that, in the event of hard disk failure, you'll be able to restore all programs & settings and data with one click (Ha! "Famous last words" of course). Now, all that having been said, I have not yet received the hard drive nor have I installed the Acronis back-up software.

My mileage and YMMV. -- Peter Macdonald, Ridgewood, NJ

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