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Do I Really Need To Back Up My Computer?

Has this ever happened to you? Probably not as bad as the above image, but your computer crashes and will not start up. Your precious data is sitting on your now, non-functioning pile of wires and chips.
You had planned to back up your data tomorrow, you always plan to back up your data tomorrow, and now, it's too late. In a panic, you rush your computer to your local technician or guru, and spend an anxious couple of days waiting to find out if he, or she, can save your data. If they were able to save your data, great!Fantastic, everyone breathes a sigh of relief and life goes back to normal. If they weren't able to get it back, then your data is gone, lost forever, never to be returned.

There is no need to hit the panic button just yet, generally speaking, here at Avon River Computer Service, we can, and do, regularly get data back for our clients a lot of the time.

But there are times when we just can't access the drive and therefore, we can't access the data to get it back. When this happens, it is still possible to get the data back using a data forensics service, but this service is expensive. Depending on what the lost data is worth to you, maybe you can justify it, but with a bit of forethought, the anxiety or expense could have been avoided.

If you haven't experienced any of the above scenario, you are either very lucky, or you need to back up your data now. Do it, do it NOW, because it will happen, probably sooner rather than later.
It is a fact that normal mechanical hard drives, which most people have in their computers, fail more often than any other computer component. Given this fact, it is not if, your hard drive fails, but when.

The obvious answer to this is, back up your data.

Data can be defined as information that is useful to you or others. Data can take the form of photos, music, videos, scans, documents emails etc. in fact, any files that can be created on a computer, can be considered data and can be backed up. I always tell people that if data is important to you, then it should be stored in at least 2 different places as a minimum. If your data is backed up, then it shouldn't matter what happens to your computer, crash, theft, fire, lightening strike, grand kids etc. Your data will be safe and ready to be re-instated any way and anywhere you want.

What Should I Back Up?

You should be backing up any files that are important to you. Windows users have always had folders set up for them when the operating system is installed. These are commonly called My Documents, or more recently User. This folder generally contains My Pictures, My Videos, My Music etc. It is a good idea to use these folders to store your data as it makes it easy to create backups, it also makes it easier to find data on a non-functioning system. There is nothing worse than having to go through system files to find data that people have saved into a folder in the root directory.

When it comes time to back up your data, you only have to back up one folder and all your files will be backed up at the same time. If you have an email client on your computer, Outlook express, Windows Mail, Live Mail, Outlook etc. It is a good idea to back up your email store. Usually, there is an export button on the tool bar at the top of the page, click the export button and browse to the My Documents folder, create a new folder called Email Store and save the exported file there. You should do the same with your Address book.


If you use MYOB or Quick-books or similar software, these usually have their own backup system. You can still use the My Documents folder for these, simply create a backup folder within My Documents and set up the backup to point to that folder

What Shouldn't I Back Up?

You don't need to create a copy of your entire hard drive. This would take a huge amount of storage space, a long time to do and if you wanted to reinstate your entire drive, it wouldn't work. If you want to create backups of your entire drive, there are programs that will allow you to do this, Norton Ghost, for example. Programs like Office, Accounting software, CD burning software, printers, or operating system etc. all have install programs, therefore to re-install these, you need the installation disks. If you copy or back up the program it will not install without the original disks, so programs should not be backed up.

How Should I Back Up?

There are lots of different ways to back up your data and depending on how much data you have, and there are lots of different media that you can backup to. You can find out how much data there is to be backed up by right clicking the folder that you want to back up, and selecting Properties. This will show you the size of the data in the folder and then you can then make a decision as to which media to use for the backup.

The following table gives approximate capacities

  • CD's will typically hold up to 700MB. If you use CDRW's, you can erase them and use them over and over.
  • DVD's will hold up to 4.5GB and again, if you use DVDRW's you can re-use these.
  • Flash drives or USB drives can have a capacity of up to 64GB, but are more common around 4GB to 8GB with 16GB starting to become more popular.
  • External Hard Drives can go anywhere up to 4Terrabytes currently, but will probably expand in the future to Petabytes.

The main problem with external drives is that they usually have a mechanical hard drive inside the case and is also subject to failure, probably more so as people can carry them around and they tend to get knocked more often. It is not uncommon for clients to bring in failed external drives with up to and over 1 terabyte. Recovery of data on these large drives can literally take days to scan and recover the data. My advice for anyone contemplating getting an external drive is to keep it around 500GB maximum. Also, we don't see any where near the 500GB drives failing as the TB drives and larger.

The easiest form of backup would be to copy the files or folders that you want to keep, and paste them somewhere, preferably to a flash drive, external hard drive or some other device that can be physically separated from your computer. For example, Right click Start, (bottom left of screen), locate the My Documents folder, right click the My Documents folder, select Copy, Navigate to F: drive (Substitute F: for your flash drive letter), right click on F: drive and select Paste. This will copy the My Documents folder to the root directory of the F: drive. That's all there is to it. There is backup software available, both commercial and free-ware, that can back up your data and schedule the backups so that you don't have to worry about it again. One such program that I am fond of is called SyncBack. This program can fully automate your backups for you and is very easy to use. Well worth a look.

Image File Backup

Another great form of backup is built in to the Windows operating system itself in the form of creating a system image. This takes quite a long time to perform so it would be best to do it in conjunction with other quicker backup systems discussed above. The system image backup will copy the operating system drive in its entirety. This means, that if you had uninstalled a piece of software, like office for example, and you had a system image that you had created before you uninstalled it, you could restore the image and, like magic, your software will be back and working exactly the same as it was at the time you created the image. In fact the computer will be exactly, the same as when you created the image. If you have installed other software, hardware or created files, after you created the image, they will no longer exist. and you will need to re-instate these from additional backups or re-installing the software or hardware. If you have Vista Business or Vista Ultimate editions, all of the Windows 7 editions, (not sure about Win 7starter edition), you can create a system image of your computer to restore your computer if it becomes unusable. Windows 8 can also create a system image, however it is different from the steps below. If you have any of the flavors of Windows 8, you may have to Google "How to create a system image on ..." add in your version of OS.

To get to the System Image Creation tool, simply click on the start orb, bottom left of your screen. Type in "backup" (without the quotes) in the Search Programs and Files. This should bring up a "Backup and Restore" in the program files. Click Backup and Restore. In the left panel, you should see "Create a System Image", click this and follow the prompts regarding where you want to save the image, DVD's or hard drive or external drive. Once you have your image created, put it in a safe place so that if needed, you can "Rebuild" you computer if disaster strikes and your hard drive decides to catastrophically fail at some time. At least, you can get back up and running fairly quickly.

Whatever method you use, anything is better than hoping that your computer wizard/guru can get the files back after a disaster strikes. Remember, a gram of prevention is worth more than a tonne of cure.

(I updated that to today's terminology, but you get the idea)

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0 #2 Steve 2014-08-28 16:11
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