Backing up Personal Computers

As a result of the Back up, back up, back up! entry, several have asked what and how to back up stuff on a personal computer since the article focused on business computers.
Backup on business computers is typically not the user’s concern unless it’s a small business. A business should have a policy in place for managing backups especially due to Sarbanes – Oxyley.
Four options for backing up:
* External hard drive
* CD-RW (CD rewriteable) drive
* Tape
* Network server
Two options for what to back up:
* Everything
* Data files (.doc, .xls, .db, .ppt, .txt, etc.)
Personally, I use an external hard drive (this is a 120 gig hard drive, they also have 20 gig, 40 gig, 60 gig, and 80 gig available. I suggest getting one that is 20 gigs bigger than your hard drive.). It saved me when my computer had to be reformatted a few months ago. Typically, the hard drive is supposed to be rebootable and load everything back exactly as it was before the crash.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. It worked out for the best because some of my system files were bad. The hard drive still had my data files and programs. First, I referred to my latest copy from Belarc Advisor. This is a free program that lists all the applications on your computer. Since I don’t have a CD of every program I use, this was handy.
Using this list, I reloaded all applications first starting with the most important working down to the least important. It takes time to load everything, so you won’t want to reload everything in one sitting.
As soon as an application was reloaded, I copied all of its data files from the external hard drive back on the computer. I try to keep all of my data files in as minimal folders as possible. That is where My Documents, My Music, and My Photos comes in handy, but I hate those names. For the most part, I have /docs, /media (with subfolders for music and photos), /sites (for Web-related docs).
Keeping data files in as few folders as possible makes it easier to keep them organized and to find them when you need to restore data.
Programs like Norton’s Ghost, AlohaBob, and NTI Backup Now are useful for creating and managing back ups.
Using a RW-CD and tape back up are also viable solutions. I prefer the external hard drive since I don’t have to use an external media like a tape or CD. No sitting around and waiting for the CD or tape to fill up and inserting the next one.
Thumb drives (portable hard drives) are helpful, but typically can’t hold enough if you have as much data as I do. It’s great for critical data and data that you need at all times.
When buying a USB drive, make sure you have USB 2.0 not 1.1 as most the drives require 2.0.
At a minimium, back up your data files – the products of your work. Have a copy of these file somewhere other than your hard drive. Ideally, I’d like to back up my data on a network server because:
* if my house were on fire (ptpthpthpth), the files are safe on a server located somewhere else.
* if the computer goes crazy and ruins everything in its path including the back up hardware, the files are safe on a server.
However, storage is not cheap enough for personal use just yet. I am sure it’s one of the future options we can expect to become a regular part of safe computing.
Next question?

15 thoughts on “Backing up Personal Computers”

  1. if my house were on fire (ptpthpthpth)

    LOL! What is “ptpthpthpth”? If it’s what I think, then properly pronounced it should get my keyboard all soggy? 🙂

    Regards, Bullitt

  2. Myself I just use a batch file and Task Scheduler as in the following example. This one backs up data to a mapped drive on a storage tower. I have about six of these backing up data that I use on a daily basis.

    Watch using this one because it wrapped when I posted it.

    @echo *********************************************

    @echo Backup Title

    @echo *********************************************
    @echo Simple Backup Batch File
    @echo Created By Internet Fixes
    @echo Compares and Backs Up Files That Have Changed
    @echo Have Questions Goto
    @echo File Closes When Transfer Is Complete
    @echo To Stop Running Press Ctrl C
    @echo *********************************************

    @echo off
    echo %date% – %time% > Y:\xcopy.log
    xcopy “C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Desktop\backup*.*” Y:\backup\ /c /s /r /d /y /i >> Y:\xcopy.log

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  4. This leads me to another question:
    I don’t like the default names for the folders either. Unfortunately, that’s where XP goes every time I try to save a picture, for instance. Is there a way to change that behavior?


  5. I’ve often wondered what “backup” is. You mean Meryl I must go buy a hard drive and write my built-in hard drive to the new outboard one? Anyway I’m glad I found this your site.. Best te yer, Old Bob.

  6. I’ve often wondered what “backup” is. You mean Meryl I must go buy a hard drive and write my built-in hard drive to the new outboard one? Anyway I’m glad I found this your site.. Best te yer, Old Bob.

  7. >
    That’s Thbbbbbttt…or thhhpppp…have a few waves of raspberries too 😉

    As for backups…sadly I really need to do this…I am leaning towards a secondary external hard drive….but alas gotta wait til money rolls in….
    the other problem I have is HOW to back up…I get so confused easily with all the options /programs out there.

    The Belarc Advisor is a great idea. I used that to get info off a IBM ThinkPad I put on EBay – it was returned to my friend (who I helped) with no CDs and no manuals OYE.

  8. Try the Belkin Hi-Speed 2.0 External Drive Enclosure. You just install a hard drive (or dvd-rw cdrw etc.) as you would in your computer so if you want 120Gb then you put in a 120 gb drive. It’s about the size of a good dictionary (but much lighter)so just do your back up and take it round your mums, in case ther’s a fire (ptpthpthpth). Cost about £40 in UK.
    Cheers Alex

  9. A comment or so on your backup story #2:

    1) External drives are available up over 200 gigs, now.
    2) There are other options available for backup, these days-
    a. Backup to Internet-based servers
    b. Backup as part of a RAID 1 array (mirrored drives)

    Options on what to back up #3- a drive image of your boot disk plus backups
    of any data you don’t want to lose. Backing up software, unless it was
    downloaded and is the only copy, is seldom necessary. Data, on the other
    hand, is critical.

    And, you can refer people to the site I helped write, if you like. It’s

  10. Just a couple of questions:

    First of all, everybody seems to want you to buy some sort of backup software. What is wrong with the Backup Utility that is included with Win XP Home. It seems to be capable of make full backups, as well as incremental and system state…and it is free thumbs up. Is there a reason that everything I read says I should buy third-party software to accomplish this task?

    Secondly, for monetary reasons, I am currently restricted to CD-R/RW as my medium. I have read, however, that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to use XP’s Backup Utility to back up to the CD drive. Perhaps this is the motivation for buying third-party software? hhhmmmmm

    Anybody with some info on this or that could at least point me in the right direction would be much appreciated.


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