We all know we should make backups of the files on our computer’s disk drive, but many people do not bother. Why? Partly it is because disks are so reliable. I have been using hard disk drives for over 20 years and have not yet had one fail. Disks fail so rarely that some people just don’t back up. Yet we all should and sooner rather than later. But how?
A disk fault is inevitable and perhaps I have just been lucky, but on the other hand maybe I never will experience a crash or failure. Not everyone is so lucky.
A backup is an insurance policy and just like the one for your car, you hope that you will never need it. However, if you do, it makes all the difference.
Computer disks are not like cars though. If your car suffers an accident, fire or theft, you can replace it with a new one. Of course, you can replace a disk with a new one in the event of a failure, theft, fire or flood, but what you cannot replace is the data on it. Photographs and videos are unique and irreplaceable. A wedding happens only once, for example, and you cannot gather everyone together to reshoot your lost photos.
There are different types of backups and the first that you need to set up is a whole-disk backup. Basically you write an exact copy of the PC’s internal disk drive containing Windows and all your files to a backup device such as a USB disk drive. This enables you to recover any file or folder on the disk drive, or even the whole disk contents if you have to replace the PC’s disk with a new one.
There are many backup tools that can do this, although a favourite is Acronis True Image 2015. One of the nice features of this utility, is that you can back up from one PC and restore to another. This might be necessary if you lose a PC through fire, theft or flood and have to replace the whole computer.
Paragon Software has several backup tools for home and business users, such as Backup and Recover 14 Home. You can back up partitions or whole disk drives. There is even a free backup tool – Backup and Recovery 2014 Free Edition. It does not have as many features, but it has enough and it creates a copy of the disk and saves it to the backup destination, such as a USB disk drive.
O&O DiskImage 9 is another option and as the name suggests, it creates an image of the disk drive. In the event of a disaster, you can recover the whole disk or just the files you need.
Disadvantages of USB backups
The problem with backing up to a USB disk drive is that the drive is at risk from the same fire, flood or theft that the PC’s disk suffered from. They are fine for recovering from disk failures, but they will burn along with your PC in a fire.
In addition to backing up a complete disk image to a USB disk drive, you also need offsite backups too. This is a backup that is stored at a remote location, so if the building burns down, your data is still safe. For online backups, you could simply back up your most valuable files rather than perform a full disk image.
Valuable files are those stored in your Pictures, Documents, Videos and Music folders, plus email if you use a traditional email program rather than an online webmail service. A utility running in the background monitors these folders and automatically uploads them to the online storage as and when they change.
There are many companies on the internet that can back up your files to online storage and you might already be using them to some degree. Both Microsoft and Google offer online drives and they can be used to back up files. You can buy a terabyte of online storage from Google for just $10 dollars a month or 100GB for $1.99 a month if you only need to back up a small amount of data.
OneDrive running on Windows 7 or 8 is very useful as a backup service and you can ignore the Pictures, Documents, Videos and Music folders on the disk drive and use the ones on OneDrive instead. Right click OneDrive in an Explorer window in Windows 8.1 and make the files available offline. This makes sure that files are stored both on the disk drive and remotely on Microsoft’s servers.
CrashPlan is a popular online backup service and the software is free (and creates local backups to USB disks for free). You just pay for online storage. This is unlimited and you are charged per computer. One PC costs as little as $4 a month with some subscriptions.
Although you get unlimited storage, most people will only use a few hundred gigabytes. When shopping around for online backup, there are some services that charge for the space and not the number of computers. For example, iDrive, has a reasonably priced 1TB of online storage. It is normally $59.50 a year, but special offers with discounts of 25% and even 50% are sometimes available.
With iDrive, you can back up any number of devices, so if you have three computers each with 300GB of data, you could back them up to the one iDrive account.
Start your backups
Of course, there are many more offline and online backup programs and services. The important points to remember when working out what you need is:
1) Create a disk image backup to a USB drive
2) Back up important files and folders online
Some backup service can do both, storing files and folders offline and images online. However, disk images tend to be very large, so you need a lot of online space, a lot of internet bandwidth, and a lot of patience. Store files online and images offline.