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Back Up Your Data! - Part 1

Why do you need to back up your data?

Backing up your data is the most important task you will perform on your computer. If you don't have a backup, you risk losing your data... permanently. It's not a matter of IF you'll lose your data, it's a matter of WHEN.

Loss of data happens in many ways. The most common cause is physical failure of the hard drive that stores your data. You have everything saved on your computer's hard drive. That hard drive will eventually fail. There's a popular saying in the computer world -- "There are only two types of hard drives - the ones that have failed and the ones that will fail."

Another cause for data loss is power failure or spikes. It can result in loss of the file you are currently working on or your entire hard drive because you did not save it before the power failed.

Virus attacks can also render your data useless. There are many computer viruses out there that will delete files on an infected machine. That's why an effective anti-virus program is extremely important.

What data should you back up?

The answer is simple. Back up anything you can't replace!

  • Documents
    • Letters
    • Reports
    • Spreadsheets
    • Mailing lists
  • Email
  • Financial Records
    • Tax Returns
    • Banking records
    • Investment records
  • Photographs
  • Music
  • Movies/Videos
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Saved games
  • Computer and program settings

One way to simplify backing up is to store all of your data in one place. That's what the "My Documents" folder is for. Whenever you create a new file, like a Microsoft Word document, for example, you should save it in a folder in "My Documents". To create a folder called "Word" (you can name the folder whatever you want and create as many folders as you like):

  • Open the "My Documents" folder.
  • Select the "File" menu item.
  • Select the "New" menu item.
  • Select the "Folder" menu item.
  • Enter a name for the folder.
  • Press the "Enter" key.

Click here to see an animated demonstration on how to create a new folder in "My Documents". (valid for Windows XP and 7)

Now when you want to back up your personal data, all you have to remember is to back up the "My Documents" folder.

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Windows XP CD Copy

Windows XP has CD-Recordable (CD-R) disc burning support for most CD writers.

Figure BK-1

First set your CD-recording options:

  • Open "My Computer"
  • Right-click your CD-R drive and select "Properties". See figure BK-1.
  • Select the "Recording" tab (if this tab isn't available, your device doesn't support CD burning).
  • Check the box to "Enable CD recording on this drive".
  • Select the drive to hold the temporary files (before the system burns a CD-R disc, the system writes the files to be recorded to an intermediary area - this area must have enough free space to hold an entire CD's content).
  • Select the CD recording speed (Fastest, 4X, 2X, and 1X).
  • Select whether to eject the media after recording.
  • Click OK.

Perform the following steps to record to a CD-R:

  • Insert a blank CD-R disc into your CD burner.
  • Copy or drag the files or folders to be recorded to the CD-R drive, or right-click on the files or folders and select Send To, Writable CD.
  • After you have copied all the files, select the CD-R drive from "My Computer" and you'll see the waiting files as "Files to add to the CD."
  • Right-click the CD-R drive, and select Write to CD.
  • Enter a name for the CD-R disc, and click Next.
  • The files will be written to the CD-R disc.
  • After the system writes all the files, it will eject the CD-R disc (if you chose that option above).
  • Click Finish.

This is a good way to make identical copies of your files and folders. The CD will be readable by any computer. But backing up large amounts of data is much easier if you use dedicated CD/DVD burning software.

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Windows XP Backup

If you use Windows XP Professional, the Windows Backup utility (Ntbackup.exe) should be ready for use. If you use Windows XP Home Edition, you'll need to follow these steps to install the utility:

  • Insert your Windows XP CD into the drive and, if necessary, double-click the CD icon in My Computer.
  • On the Welcome to Microsoft Windows XP screen, click Perform Additional Tasks.
  • Click Browse this CD.
  • In Windows Explorer, double-click the ValueAdd folder, then Msft, and then Ntbackup.
  • Double-click Ntbackup.msi to install the Backup utility.

Now you're ready to begin backing up:

  • Click "Start", then "All Programs", then "Accessories", then "System Tools", and then click "Backup".
  • Click Next to skip the opening page, choose "Back up files and settings" from the second page, and then click "Next". Now you will choose what to back up. See Figure BK-2.

    Figure BK-2

    You might be tempted to click "All information on this computer" so that you can back up every bit of data on your computer. Not a good idea -- your backup could add up to many gigabytes. For most people, the "My documents and settings" option is a better choice.
  • If you know that you have data files stored in other places, click "Let me choose what to back up". This option takes you to the "Items to Back Up" page shown in Figure BK-3.

    Figure BK-3

    Check the "My Documents" box to back up all your personal data and then browse "My Computer" to select any other files you want to back up.
  • Decide where to store your backup files. Windows asks you to specify a backup location. Backup assumes you're going to save everything in a single file so you just have to choose a location for that file and give it a name. Click Browse and choose any of the following locations:
    • The hard disk (not recommended). If your hard disk is partitioned into drive C and drive D and your data is on drive C, you can back up to drive D.
    • One major drawback is that the Windows Backup utility can't save files directly to a CD-RW or DVD-RW drive.
    • An external hard disk drive (good option if available). USB and IEEE 1394 or FireWire drives have dropped in price lately. Consider getting a 120 GB or larger drive and dedicating it for use as a backup device. See our section on external hard drives.
  • After you've chosen a backup location, enter a name for the file, click "Next" and then click "Finish" to begin the back up process.
  • Set up an automatic back up schedule. When you get to the final page of the Backup Wizard, don't click "Finish". Click the "Advanced" button, and click "Next" to open the "When to Back Up" page. Choose "Later", and then click "Set Schedule" to open the Schedule Job box shown in Figure BK-3.

    Figure BK-4

    This example shows the settings for a weekly backup on Friday afternoon. You can set any schedule you want by using the options shown. After you click "OK" to save your changes, Windows XP runs the backup automatically. Just remember to leave your computer turned on.
did you know?

Now that we've covered Windows Backup, here are a few reasons why you should never use it:

  1. It does not write to a CD or DVD drive. Your backed up data should always be on media that is separate from your computer. Windows Backup will store a copy of your data on the hard drive. Whoopee! What happens when your hard drive fails? Goodbye data!
  2. Windows Backup stores all your data in one big, fat file. Isn't that special? That means you have no access to any of your backed up files unless you restore them with Windows Restore. The best backup system stores the files as identical copies of each individual file that can be read by any computer.

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Backup Software

There are backup programs available that claim to make the whole backup and restore process simple and automated.

Backup Now 4
           Rating: 1 star

I never use backup software. The main reason is this -- you cannot restore your data without using the backup software program. The backed up data is written in such a way that it is useless until it is restored by the backup program itself.

If you need to restore your data, you just run the backup program and you're done. Cool, huh? Now your hard drive dies and you buy a new one. You have your backed up data but where is the backup program? It was on the dead hard drive. No problem, you say -- just reinstall the backup program and you're good to go. But wait -- where did you put that disc? Can't find it? No problem -- just use the emergency recovery disc you made when you first installed the backup program. You know, the one you made according to the manual. Oh -- didn't do that, huh?

Guess what? Say bye-bye to your data or buy the software again. Let me repeat this point -- the best backup is one that has identical copies of your files that are immediately readable by any computer!

Return to top      Back Up Your Data - Part 2

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