Have you ever had your computer crash? Been infected with a virus, spyware or trojan? Or made the silly mistake of overwriting an existing file when you shouldn’t have? Installed a piece of hardware or software that made your computer malfunction? These type of things happen to everyone, experienced computer user or not.
If any of the above happens, you can loose everything. The operating system and programs can be replaced but your work (letters, pictures, etc.) can not unless you have performed a computer back up.
What is a Computer Back Up?
A computer back up is essentially a copy of the information on your computer. The copy can be a full back up, an incremental back up, a differential back up or a selective back up.
Types of Computer Back Up
As mentioned above there are different types of computer back up. Each will require a different amount of time to perform and may require a different type of back up medium.
Full Back Up
A full back up, as the name implies, is a back up of everything on the computer. The operating system, your settings, the software installed and your files are all backed up (copied) to another medium.
The full back up will take a long time to perfom (depending on the amount of information on the computer) and require the largest amount of back up medium.
Incremental Back Up
An incremental computer back up will back up only the files that have changed since the last back up was performed. The time to perform this type of computer back up and the amount of back up medium required will depend on how much has changed since the last back up.
Differential Back Up
A differential back up also backs up only the files that have changed but it keeps all the changes since the last full back up.
The differential back up time and storage requirements will also vary on the amount of changes since the last full back up. Seeing each change is added to the back up copy, the amount of back up storage required grows as time progresses.
Selective Back Up
With a selective computer back up, you select specific files and/or folders on the computer to be backed up.
Again, the time required and the amount of back up storage medium required will vary depending on how much has to be backed up.
What Should I Back Up?
Everything that can not be replaced needs to be backed up. This would include:
- The operating system if you do not have the original installation disks for the operating system.
Computers with preinstalled operating systems may not have the original operating system installation files supplied with the computer. When purchasing a new computer, as for these. If computer supplier won’t give them to you, find another store or contact the operating system original supplier and ask for a copy.
- All the software that is installed on the system, especially if you do not have the original installation disks.
Like the operating system, a new computer with software installed may not come with disks to reinstall the software.
- Your computer settings.
All the customized settings you have set up should be backed up. If you can’t, no big deal, you’ll just have to redo them.
- Your email.
Back up your email accounts, rules/filters, folders and messages.
Backing up your email accounts, rules, folders and messages is very important, especially if you are running a business. Making a computer back up of your email items will also be a time saver if you have to restore the email program.
- Your data.
Your data includes any letters, graphics, music, databases or other projects you have created on the computer.
Each program you use will store your data somewhere on the computer but not necessarily in My Documents. When you install a program (or reinstall a program) try to have all the documents saved in one spot (e.g. My Documents). This will make performing a computer back up much easier.
Note: Some programs will not like having it’s default storage location changed. You will have to experiment to find out which do not like the storage location changed.
Computer Back Up Medium
There are various types of mediums that can be used for backing up the computer. The type required will depend on the type of computer back up being performed and the amount of information being backed up.
Some ideas for computer back up mediums would be:
- Tape back up
A tape back up can hold lots of information. This type of back up medium can be slow to use and be costly for an average computer user.
- CD-R or CD-RW
CDs and CD-RWs can be a more cost effective alternative. You will require some software to be able to write to the cd.
CD-Rs you can only write to once. You cannot replace the information on the cd with updated information. It can appear that you have erased something from the cd but you have not reclaimed the space on the cd for use again.
CD-RWs on the other hand, can be rewritten. It would be more cost effective in the long run if you paid the higher price for this back up medium if you have information that is continually changing and being resaved. When a CD-RW is erased, the space is reclaimed and therefore reusable. A program like Nero which compares what is on the CD with what you wish to copy to the CD can then overwrite old versions of files if you wish.
- External Hard Drive
An external hard drive is investment worth considering the time to reinstall things and the number of disks that would be required if a lot of information has been backed up.
The added benefit of an external hard drive is that it is portable (if you go on a business trip you can take it with you) and can be stored somewhere secure for safe keeping.
Performing a Computer Back Up
There are various ways to perform a computer back up:
- Back Up Software Included with the Machine.
If you are using a computer with Windows installed Microsoft has a back up utility included with the operating system. With this back up software you can select the type of back up you wish to perform, what to back up and specify a regular schedule to perform the back up.
Note: I have found this back up software time consuming and a drag on the resources of the computer.
If you cannot find Microsoft’s back up utility in your list of programs, go to the Control Panel, select Add or Remove Programs, select Add/Remove Windows Components, find Microsoft’s back up utility in the list of components and install it.
- Third Party Computer Back Up Programs
There various third party computer back up programs on the market. You will have to try a few out to find the one that works the best for your requirements and skill level.
I have tried a few but have found SyncBack meets my needs right now. Like Microsoft’s back up utility, you can select the type of computer back up to perform, what to back up and set a schedule.
Using cds and manually backing up your information via the cd writing software maybe the right option for you. You could have seperate cds for different purposes so it is easier to find like items when reinstalling/restoring items to the computer. I have the miscellaneous programs I like to use on one or two cds and specific projects on other cds.
- External Hard Drive
If you are going to use a computer back up program with or without a schedule the external hard drive will have to be connected at the time you wish to back up the computer.
As mentioned above, the advantage of the external hard drive is that you can take it with you when working away from your base computer on your laptop or at another computer.
- System Restore
Windows XP has something called System Restore within the operating system. This program has to be turned on to be useful. What System Restore does is records the state of the machine at different intervals, daily and when software or hardware is installed/removed.
In the event of a small problem, assuming System Restore has been turned on, you can restore the system to a state when it worked properly if there is not any major damage.
Note: Do not rely on System Restore a the only computer back up system you use. If the computer fails or if there are serious problems with the operating system you will not be able to restore the computer to a previous state. The System Restore also does not over write your data. So if it doesn’t over write your data, then it isn’t backing it up either!
Computer Back Up Tips
Here are a few tips when organizing your computer back up:
- Keep in mind that a full back up being restored on to a new hard drive will require that the new hard drive be set up identically to the old hard drive or the software being used to restore your information may not work.
- Keep your computer back up medium organized! If the back up is spanned across multiple disks for example, they have to be used in the same order when restoring as they were written in.
- Always store your computer back ups in a safe place. In a business situation storing them off site would be a good idea in case of fire, flood or break in.
- Back up on a regular basis. A computer failure can happen at anytime and without notice so being prepared will save you a lot of grief.
- Schedule the computer back up for a time when you know the computer will be on! If you are going to use the schedule feature of the back up software, the computer has to be on at that time. This is something someone who is new to computers or not very familiar with computers tends to forget or does not realize. Yes the computer keeps time when it is off (there’s a little battery in the computer that does this besides a few other things which are beyond the topic of this post) but all scheduled updates and programs need to computer to be on and the operating system loaded to perform the tasks.
- Keep the files you use the most often backed up more regularly. Files that change or are added frequently need to be backed up more often than other parts of the computer. A daily back up of these items might be prudent if you work on the computer a lot.
- If you are using a computer back up program, have it verify the files once the back up is complete. This will check that the back up is a good working copy of the files. If the back up is faulty, it isn’t much use to you later when you need it.
If you have done the computer back up manually buy selecting specific files (e.g. Burning specific files to cd), just try opening them once backed up to make sure the copy works.
Hopefully you now realize why it is important to perform a computer back up, how to perform a computer back up, what is required to back up a computer and that having a regular computer back up schedule (manually or automatic) will save you from loosing important information on the computer and ultimately save yourself time and grief should you have to restore the computer.