Backing Up a Computer

Making a backup of your computer's data is an absolutely essential task. This article will provide information on the steps you should take to back up your computer including advice on the best software to create the backup.

The typical home computer has years of precious and irreplaceable family photographs, important documents needed for employment or education, vast collections of music, personal emails and email addresses, and possibly special software that you have purchased. A failure to backup can have disastrous consequences.

There are two broad strategies for creating a backup:

  1. Backup just your personal data i.e. photos, documents, music, emails, etc.
  2. Backup the whole computer.

Backing up your personal data

The simplest strategy is to simply COPY your most precious personal data to a different device which you then store carefully somewhere. The device on to which you copy your personal data can be:

You don't need any special software to copy data from your computer's hard disk to an external hard drive or a USB flash drive. It is simply a case of "COPY" and "PASTE". However, you are warned that if your personal data includes a significant quantity or videos, photographs and music, the the copying operation could take quite a long time.

If you know how, you can also use the COPY and PASTE commands to copy your data to a CD or DVD but it is a little more complicated. Better still, the use of special disk 'burning' software such as Nero Essentials make the task a little easier.

Backing up your personal data is the least you should do to guard against disaster. However, whilst this gives you some piece of mind, in the event of a hard disk malfunction you are still going to be without a computer system. You will need the next strategy.

Backing up your whole computer

It is an extremely common phenomenon for computers to fail to boot up into Windows (or other types of operating systems), without little or no warning. One day the computer is working fine, the next day the computer fails to boot, and no matter how you try it's dead!

There are several reasons why this happens:

  1. The hard disk mechanical fails due to age, and wear and tear. The mechanism simply breaks and all can hear strange clicks or buzzing noises coming from the disk.
  2. One ore more critical files that the computer needs to boot up get corrupted. This can be caused by a virus, faulty hardware or even excessive heat (hard disks can get very hot)
  3. All the data on the hard disk is lost due to corruption or deletion of the partition table or master boot record. This is the critical information that sits at the very beginning of the hard drive and enables the computer to know where everything is. If the partition table gets deleted, your data can be still on the disk, but your computer won't be able to find anything. In fact, your hard disk will appear blank (empty).

If any of the above happens to you and you don't have a full back up of your hard disk, then you are in a very difficult situation. While a good computer technician can help you retrieve your data and get you up and running again, the operation will be time consuming and costly.

If you have a full backup, on the other hand, your computer can be up and running again in just a few hours.

The scenario would be hopefully be as follows:

Event 1: You computer has a major problem and fails to start, but you have a full computer backup.

Event 2: You purchase a replacement hard disk for your computer ($50-$100 approx), and install in your stricken computer. This takes an hour of which the trip to the computer store is the biggest time component.

Event 3: You 'restore' the new hard disk with you backed up data. This may take 2-3 hours depending on the size of the disk.

So basically, within 4 hours your computer can be back up and running again as if nothing happened.

To make a full computer backup, you will need good software that creates an "image" of the whole hard drive (that you are backing up). An image is basically a complete snapshot of the whole hard drive. This snapshot is store in a single very large file.

When creating the image, it must be deposited in a different place (not the hard drive that you are currently imaging). The image file could quite easily be very large (100-200Gb) in size, and therefore it is wise to purchase an external hard drive on which to transfer the image.

Acronis True Image softwareThe best software for creating a full computer backup is 'Acronis True Image'. It is recommended because it is highly reliable and it is easy to use.

When you start Acronis True Image it will look and see what hard disks your computer has and ask you to select which drive is to be backed up. Then it will ask you for the destination of the backup. If you have an external hard drive attached at this stage, it will see that also. After you select your external hard drive as the destination, it is merely a case of clicking on 'Proceed'.

It is not expensive software and usually costs around $70. It would cost far more than this if you have to find a computer technician to attempt to retrieve your data from a dead hard disk, and of course if it comes to that, you might not be successful.

It makes a great deal of sense to purchase the software. You can even set your Acronis True Image software to automatically backup every day, or on particular days of your choosing. This is a really good practice for people who might forget to backup. Set your computer to backup automatically, leave your external hard drive attached and have some piece of mind. You can set Acronis to delete the oldest backup, when you external hard disk runs out of space.



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