|How to Backup Your Computer Files
by: Christian Carvajal
As I write this, its early December, and try as
I might, I cant remember what my new years
resolution was last time around. One thing I can say with
near hundred percent certainty is that whatever it was,
I failed to keep it. Maybe youre the same. Maybe
you resolved to quit smoking, lose weight, or read more.
We all make promises with ourselves, then fail to keep
those promises. Worst of all, those promises might be
exactly what we need most. Consider this: When was the
last time you backed up your computer files? Last month?
Last year? Never?
Lets make a new years resolution together,
you and I. Lets promise to back up our computers.
Its important, I promise. Just yesterday the automatic
backup feature in MS Word saved me about an hours
work when my computer froze up. Given that I havent
backed up my computer in almost a year, I cant even
imagine how much data Id lose if I suffered a power
surge or hard drive failure. It can happen to the best
of us, and often does. Even high end hard drive manufacturers
report an average failure rate of between five and eight
per thousand every year. That may not sound like much,
but lets face it, somebody has to be those five
to eight people. Feeling lucky? There are about 185 million
household PCs in the U.S., according to Computer Industry
Almanac, so that means about 150,000 hard drives fail
each year. But even if your drive stays intact, about
a tenth of all computers suffer minor data loss in any
given year. A power surge, the magnets in your home stereo
speakers, or even an accidental nudge can affect data
storage. According to a report from the ONTRACK data recovery
service, data loss can be caused by natural disasters
(3% of cases), computer viruses (7%), software problems
(14%), and plain old user error (a whopping 32%). Now,
Im sure you never hit a wrong keyboard button, but
do you have a button on your computer that prevents a
bolt of lightning? I didnt think so.
WHEREAS our data is important, and disaster can befall
even the most noble and undeserving of us, BE IT RESOLVED
that you and I shall back up our computer files forthwith.
Amen, brothers and sisters. Now, where and how do we start?
STEP ONE: Choosing Favorites
Not all files are important enough to preserve for posterity.
The most critical files on a computer are its operating
system files. If youre a good little consumer, you
bought the operating system and kept those CDs handy and
secure from data loss. If youre not, then remind
yourself to go stand in the corner later. The drones at
Microsoft did not work for years just to watch you steal
their work. Its people like you that keep Bill Gates
from buying his second planet. Now that youve been
suitably chastised, either go buy a legal copy of the
operating system, or include the necessary files in your
must back up list.
The same principle goes for software applications. Maybe
you bought an ad and spyware blocker you really like,
but the company that coded it has since gone out of business
(perhaps because other consumers werent as scrupulous
as you). If so, include the files you need to run the
app in your must list.
Now its time to look at the remaining files on your
computer and prioritize. If youre not a digital
packrat like me, it may be possible to save everything.
If so, congratulations. I dont have ten gigabytes
of portable media at my disposal, so when I back up my
computer, Ill be leaving a few gigs of MP3s and
questionable Windows Media files at risk. One of the first
things I will save is the folder I use to save my writing
assignments, because that data represents money in my
pocket. Ill back up my email address book, plus
my digital photography and fiction writing efforts. I
can live without Milkshake (what was I thinking?),
but the guitar piece my friend recorded and sent to me
is going on the list. Your results may vary.
STEP TWO: In Which I Tell You Where You Can Put It
Thats right, this is the section in which Ill
tell you where to store your data. Its not a good
idea to put backup files on another drive on the same
computer. That defeats the whole purpose. Duplicating
your files on another computer in the same LAN is almost
as risky, because computer viruses can spread as fast
as an imaginary Anna Kournikova JPEG. You need to find
a portable storage medium that can hold all the files
on your must list. Your options include floppy diskettes,
portable hard drives, optical drives, tape drives, and
remote servers. Well look at each in turn.
Hard diskettes, the old familiar 3.5 squares, hold
up to 1.44 megabytes of data. Theyre cheap, but
1.44 MB is less than two percent of the ten gigs of data
on my hard drive. Even if each of those files were smaller
than 1.44 MB (and each werent), Im not keen
on the idea of buying, labeling, and storing fifty diskettes.
Next idea, please.
Most computer experts rely on removable hard drives for
memory backups. The most popular of these drives are the
Zip drive from Iomega and the ORB drive from Castlewood.
Theyre relatively inexpensive and hold up to two
gigs of data. Basically, youll save your data on
a Zip disk, then transfer it from the disk to the portable
drive. The catch is that removable drives fail about as
often as regular hard drives. They may even be more susceptible
to damage from dust and rough handling. A sub-option here
is to use a permanent hard drive as a removable drive.
At up to two hundred gigs, conventional hard drives are
bigger than removable drives, and prices have dropped
enough in recent years to make this idea practical. Whatever
kind of hard drive you decide to use, make sure to keep
it isolated from dust, magnetic charges, and static electricity.
Optical drives use a laser to store information, rather
than a magnet. Even if youre not a tech junkie,
thats probably enough information to give you a
clearer idea what were talking about: namely, CDs
and DVDs. Less common are EO (erasable optical) and WORM
(write once, read many) media; theyre less common
because they cost over $1000 per drive. CDs, on the other
hand, cost less than a buck and can hold up to 650 megabytes.
DVDs hold up to five gigs and cost about fifteen dollars
apiece. Most computers nowadays have either a CD or DVD
writer (or both), but write times can be slow. My CD writer,
for example, works best on the 300 kilobyte per second
settingif then. Ill be using the remote server
option. At $250 and up, tape drives are more expensive
and slower than hard drives or optical media, hence less
common, but also extremely reliable.
Remote servers are third party companies that store data
online for a fee. This is a great option for broadband
Internet users, especially people like me who dont
own a reliable data writer. SkyDesk runs Backup.com, Back-Up
Solutions maintains BackUpHelp.com, and Iomega hosts iServer
(Iomega.com/iStorage). XDrive.com, once a free service,
now charges ten bucks a month for up to five gigs of storage.
Promotions and other rates change, so its a good
idea to shop around before selecting a remote storage
STEP THREE: Git er Done
Now its time to put the files you want to save on
the storage medium youve chosen. There are several
ways to do this. Your CD writer, for example, may come
with proprietary disk writing software. That application
may even include a backup option. If it does, and youre
more familiar with that software than Windows features,
then thats the way to go. Otherwise, backup is still
relatively easy on all MS operating systems since Windows
98. Windows 98, Windows ME, and Windows XP Professional
include a built-in Backup utility. To run it, just click
on Start, then Programs, then Accessories, then System
Tools, then Backup. How easy was that? If youre
using the XP Home edition, you may need to add the utility
manually. If so, insert the Windows XP CD into your disk
drive and wait for the Welcome to Microsoft Windows
XP screen. (You may need to double-click the CD
icon in My Computer.) Then click on Perform Additional
Tasks and Browse This CD. In Windows Explorer, double-click
the ValueAdd folder, then Msft, then Ntbackup. Double-clicking
on Ntbackup.msi will install the utility. Once its
installed, you can also run the program by clicking Start
and Run, then typing msbackup.exe (Windows 98 and Windows
ME) or ntbackup.exe (Windows XP) in the Open field. Click
OK, and youll be off to the races.
Incidentally, the Windows XP Backup utility also includes
a bonus application called the Automated Recovery Wizard.
This creates a bootable floppy that initiates backup if
the hard drive must be replaced. Other options for disaster
recovery include BackUp MyPC from Stomp (StompInc.com,
$79) and Norton Ghost 9.0 from Symantec (Norton.com, $69.95).
Ghost actually allows users to duplicate the contents
of their computer over the Internet. Both have earned
stellar reviews from top PC magazines.
Dont let another month go by without protecting
the files you value most. My girlfriend justifies her
messy car by saying she lives out of it. Well,
I live out of my computer. Its not just my office;
its the home of cherished memories in the form of
pictures, MP3, and other data files. Im resolved
to keep it safe.
About The Author
Christian Carvajal is a contributing writer to http://www.all-cheap-laptops.com,
which provides tips and tutorials to individuals interested
in buying, upgrading, and/or maintaining laptop computers.