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Please note that this article is geared toward Windows users.
Use this info at your own risk. I cannot and will not be responsible for any problems or damage incurred as a result of your use.
The single most valuable and important thing on your computer has to be your DATA!
Therefore, the single most important aspect of computing is BACKING-UP that data!
You can always buy another copy of Windows, another copy of Office, or even buy a new computer – but money won’t buy your data files that you didn’t back-up before a hard drive dies.
Any file that you create is a data file - letters you’ve written, spreadsheets you’ve created, presentations you’ve prepared – not to mention those priceless moments in time captured digitally and downloaded from your camera. If calamity strikes – hard drive crash, lightning strike, flood, fire – these files can’t be replaced.
Please don’t wait to start a backup plan until all you can do is wish you had one sooner!
ANY backup plan is better than NO backup plan. The best backup plan is the plan that works best for YOU!
Suggestions for a very simple way to back up your data files:
Get all of your data files organized.
If you have quite a few, invest some time organizing. An hour invested in organizing your files now will save you YEARS over time searching for them all over your hard drive.
I recommend putting ALL of your data files under ONE FOLDER. This will greatly simplify the backup process.
Windows has a “My Documents” folder under XP. Under Vista and Windows 7, your User Account (“either “yourname” or “User” or “Owner” under the folder “Users”) so that would seem a good place to put everything. This folder (or a sub-folder underneath it) is also where you should save the new files you create.
For the sake of example, let’s use “OWNER” as YOUR data holder folder.
Under this folder, there are several sub-folders - “Pictures,” “Videos,” “Music,” etc. If you have data that you wish to create a new folder for, have at it. Again, whatever works best for you to help you organize your data files is good.
Now that you have all those files under “OWNER,” consider that there may be other files you’ll want to save. For instance, if you have a lot of websites you visit frequently saved in your “Favorites” folder. If you use another browser, such as Firefox, Chrome, etc., be sure you know how to backup your bookmarks! If you use financial software such as Quicken or Quickbooks, open up the program and make a backup files to a folder called either “Financial” or “Quicken” or whatever rings true for you under the “OWNER” folder.
Additionally, if you use Outlook or Outlook Express (or another mail client) for email, contact information, notes and your calendar, you’ll want to backup these data files, too. These have similar functions but the files are saved differently, so let’s address each individually.
Outlook data is saved in a single file called OUTLOOK.PST or a similar filename with a .PST extension. You’ll need to find out where Windows stores your OUTLOOK.PST file. Here is a Microsoft Link that will help you:
Outlook Express data is stored in an assortment of files. The address book is in either a .PAB or a .WAB file, depending on which version you’re using. Here is a Microsoft Link that will help you backup Outlook Express data files:
Most of this type of data is stored under the “Local Settings” or “Application Data” folders, but its best if you know exactly where they are, how to back them up, and how to restore them.
After getting all of your data files under one folder, the next step is where to back them up. What are you copying the files to?
I would recommend you make multiple backups on multiple media!
One each on magnetic, optical and Flash media.
1) A USB Flash Drive
2) A CD or DVD or Blu-Ray burner (optical media)
3) An external hard drive (magnetic media)
A very important word of caution about USB Flash Drives or “thumb drives” – they are great for temporary storage or transporting files, but do NOT trust them as a sole source of backup. If you’ve ever walked across a carpet and touched a doorknob, releasing a static spark – you know the shock that can give YOU! That same shock could wipe out everything on your Flash Drive. Do NOT use a USB Flash Drive as your sole backup disk, or you could be very disappointed. It’s happened to me, and thank goodness I had the other 2 backups!
A CD or DVD or Blu-Ray burner is a great backup option. A CD will hold approximately 650 megabytes of files, so if you have more than this, you’ll have to divide up the sub-folders. A DVD will hold approximately 4.5 gigabytes of files, or roughly 7 times that of a CD. Dual layer DVD’s twice that. Blu-Ray discs will hold substantially more.
An external hard disk gives you a couple of great options. You can copy all your data files to the external HD. You can then sync new or modified files to the external HD using software to ensure that the data files are synced automatically, which offers a hands-off method of constant backup. I recommend Karen’s Replicator, GoodSync or SyncBack software for this purpose. You can search for those names in your search engine of choice and download the free programs.
My recommendation for your external hard disk - if you have a laptop, get a 2.5” hard disk and put it in an external enclosure. If you have a desktop, get a 3.5” hard disk in an external HD enclosure. This will give you another backup option. In my opinion, the best!
You can now clone your entire hard disk (operating system, productivity software and all programs you’ve installed, plus all your data files) to the external, and then sync new/modified files automatically. This will give you an exact copy of your computer’s internal hard disk! Given this scenario, if your computer’s internal hard drive crashes, the external can be removed from the external enclosure and put into your CPU to replace the internal. This will allow you to be back up and running again in as little as 15-20 minutes! This is much simpler and quicker than shopping for another hard disk, replacing old with new, then formatting it, installing Windows, locating and installing device drivers, installing all your programs, and then copying your data over. If you’ve ever done this, you know it can take hours! Free cloning software? Look for Casper and Easeus Todo Backup. Casper has a FREE trial version which is only good for 30 days, but you only need to clone your drive once!
You can also choose to use your external hard drive to backup only your data files as described above. It is not necessary to have Windows (or any OS) on the external HD.
Finally, format your external drive for the NTFS file system, used by Windows XP / Vista / Windows 7. Most hard drives come either unformatted or formatted for FAT to be compatible with earlier operating systems like Windows 2000, Windows ME or Windows 98. If you’re using another Operating System, format the external drive with the formatics indigenous to your OS.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure” where data is concerned. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.