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Backup Articles

Backup Basics

The key to a successful backup is getting a copy of your data off your hard drive. Focus on protecting your personal files like letters, projects, sent e-mail messages, your e-mail address book, and any other information that is essential.

Deciding what to back up is highly personal. Anything you cannot replace easily should be at the top of your list. Before you get started, make a checklist of files to back up. This will help you determine what to back up, and also give you a reference list in the event you need to retrieve a backed-up file. Here are some file suggestions to get you started:

  • Bank records and other financial information
  • Digital photographs
  • Software you purchased and downloaded from the Internet
  • Music you purchased and downloaded from the Internet
  • Personal projects
  • Your e-mail address book
  • Your Microsoft Outlook calendar
  • Your Internet Explorer bookmarks

Don't try to copy programs like Microsoft Word or Outlook - they can be reinstalled from the original CDs you purchased. Likewise, the operating system software - Windows itself and any software provided by your computer maker - can usually be recovered from the installation or System Restore CDs that came with the computer.

Copying files the easy way

A simple backup in Windows XP requires no special software or skills. To copy a file or folder, just right-click on it and select Copy from the pop-up menu that appears. Choose the disk or drive where you want to store the duplicate copy, right-click again, and then select Paste from the pop-up menu.

You can also copy files in other (95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, 2003) Windows operating systems using a drag-and-drop method - hold down the right mouse button while dragging a file or folder, then select Copy Here from the pop-up menu that appears.

Your e-mail messages and address book list can be exported and then backed up along with other personal data. This process varies depending on which e-mail software is used on your computer.

Storing your information

External storage refers to any type of backup format that isn't on your computer. This can be a piece of hardware, software, or even a Web service. There are many types of external storage available.

Floppy disks

You should avoid using standard floppy disks for long-term backups of important information. Floppies are less reliable than hard disks and are best for short-term storage of small files.

There are many other options available to protect your personal data, including Zip disks, recordable CDs, DVDs, and tape cartridges. You can even upload your data to an Internet-based file storage service.

Zip drives

To find the solution that's best for you, compare the convenience, price, and ease of use offered by each approach. For example, a 100 MB Zip drive costs much less than a tape drive, but a single tape cartridge can hold as much as 300 Zip disks. And, a tape backup can take place automatically while you sleep.

Tape drives (Streamers)

Tape has been the medium of choice for a number of years. Tape backups are relatively slow, but the process can be automated. You can schedule the backup for when you're sleeping.

Tape drives have a capacity of 10 to 40 gigabytes, with the data uncompressed. Most advertise that they'll hold twice as much if the data is compressed. It's true that they can hold more compressed data, but you're unlikely to get double the storage. Some file types just don't compress.

Most tape drives cost several hundred dollars. Tapes are relatively expensive, too. And the software can be difficult. Tape is a great backup medium, once you understand it. It has its drawbacks in terms of the time and work involved. But once you get a system down, it can go smoothly.

CD/DVD writing devices

A CD/DVD-RW is a CD/DVD compact disc onto which you can burn information if you have a CD/DVD-RW drive. RW stands for read-write. Many newer computers come with a built in CD/DVD-RW drive. CD-RW discs can hold up to 700 MB. One DVD-RW disc stores gigabytes of information.

Label disks clearly, noting the date and time of the backup. Don't erase the previous backup until you have made a newer one.

Online backup services

If you're especially concerned about safety, you might want to consider an Internet backup. There are many services on the Web that will store your data for you, for a monthly fee.

An online backup service lets you back up files online. If you have Internet access, you can get your files from the online backup site whenever you need. Online backup service automatically gets your information out of the house or office, and it includes download and back-up software. You may be required to pay a monthly fee for backing up and storing your files. If the company's servers go down, you may not be able to access your files, and if the company is hacked, your information could be stolen.

Mini USB flash drives

For backup on the go, look into the mini USB flash drives with big capacity that can fit on a key chain.

Scheduling regular backups

How often should you back up your data? If you use your computer occasionally, a weekly backup might be enough. If you use your computer every day, a daily backup is a good idea.

Finally, whatever backup option you choose, be sure to check that it works. Duplicate a single folder or group of files, and then try to recover those backup files to a different drive or folder. Don't wait until it's too late to find that the restore process doesn't work.

Tips for protecting your backup copies

Backing up is just the first step. You'll want your important personal files and information there when you need them. Here are a few suggestions to help you protect them:

  • Get your information out of the house or office. Keep your backups away from your computer - in a separate room, in a fire-proof box. If you use a safety deposit box to protect valuable paper documents, keep your backup disks there, too. To really be safe, the backup medium should be removed from your site. If you are backing up to CD, for instance, and you leave the CD in the machine, you'll be protected if the hard drive fails. But if the equipment is stolen, or the office burns to the ground, the backup will be lost.
  • Make more than one copy. Keep the backups in two separate locations, so if disaster strikes one area, you still have your secondary backup.
  • Keep your storage tidy. From time to time, delete old files or compress information so it takes up less space. You can get free compression software such as WinZip.
  • Protect your information with a password. Some media formats include password protection. Consider this feature if you will be backing up personal or sensitive information. Write down your password and keep it in a secure location, such as a home safe or safety deposit box, along with your other personal documents.


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