Your computer's hard drive has an 'MTBF' - mean time before failure. This means it's a question of WHEN will it fail, not WILL it fail. Because of this, it's necessary to keep all your important files backed up and in a safe place so if anything does happen to your computer's hard drive, you don't lose everything. I tend to keep several backups just in case.
Many hard drives fail within the first six months, but then many last for several years so it can be luck of the draw, and other components and casing can have an impact too.
There are several ways to back up your data, including physical disks, online storage and backups to other drives (e.g. an external hard drive). Backup software can fall into all of these categories.
You can buy a series of DVDs that come with special software to back up your important photos, music files etc. However, these are often hideously overpriced, and not worth it at all. Avoid 'backup software discs' if you're backing up onto discs, and instead just buy blank DVDs, drag and drop the files onto it and then use a free DVD burning program to burn the data onto your discs. You don't need anything more special than that.
Online storage can be a good option for extra security, but bear in mind there's a small chance your files can be viewed or downloaded online by others if there's a security breach. One such service for this is Mozy, but you have to pay a regular fee depending on how much space you use.
Backing up to another drive can be done automatically. If you buy a LaCie external drive, for example, you have access to the LaCie Backup Assistant, which will backup files onto your hard drive in a schedule of your choosing. Mac users have the Apple-branded Time Machine software which will do the same thing. Be aware that this drive too can suffer a failure though.
Overall, there are a variety of different options, but it's best to have at least two different backups - losing an essay or irreplaceable family photos is something you'll definitely regret!
I am writing this opinion specifically to mirror my experience with Windows XP, but much of what I have penned should still be relevant for many other systems, particularly in the Windows 9x family. Out of all the things you CAN do with a computer, backing "your stuff" up, as the makers of ZIP drives will insist on calling it, is probably the least sexy, and therefore the least likely to get done, particularly in a domestic environment. After all, I'll ONLY be glad I did, IF the hard disk gets corrupted or some other calamity befalls me, and according to the man in PC World, this never happens, particularly to people who have shelled out £300 for a five-year warranty, right? Wrong - hard disks, where your data is filed, do fail, and not necessarily after a long period either, despite what the manufacturers will tell you about their MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) running into hundreds of thousands of hours. This probably means that some discs will fail fairly soon, and that others will outlast the rest of the PC, and still be in working order as they become landfill. Other factors, like how often they are switched on and off come into it. A home PC is likely to go through many more of these cycles than an office PC, by implication increasing its fallibility. WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT? The need to back up vital PC data has become more important as people become more computer-literate and depend on their PC for all kinds of household details, home banking for example. Imagine the chaos that could be caused by your hard disk drive throwing in the towel, if, like me, you use Quicken or MS Money. Not only will you lose track of your current balance position (usually on a knife-edge in my case!), but also of all your direct debits and standing orders too. OK, I know that Quicken can also be backed-up to a floppy disk (ah yes, I remember those!) but it couldn't hurt to have the data stored in three places, not
two. We don't realise just how much TEDIOUS time and effort we have invested in the setting up of our PC's to a level where we have them just how we want them, rather than how Bill Gates THINKS we want them. Then of course there's all the software that would need reloading. Reassuring yourself that you've got the Windows and MS Office software disks if need be, is no comfort whatsoever when it comes to trying to recover the contents of a corrupted documents directory for which no rescue plan exists. Think of all the lost opinions for one thing! I HATE TYPING - I CERTAINLY DON'T WANT TO DO IT TWICE! Let's assume that the contents of your "My Documents" are the subject. To be assured of only a much-reduced risk of losing everything, a duplicate copy on some form of alternative drive or record-able medium would suffice. This then acts as an insurance policy against C:drive failure. If kept physically separate from your PC, then even better, since you have now protected your data from catastrophe (fire, coffee spillage, theft etc) in the immediate vicinity of your PC. A simple solution that I have devised is to fit my PC with a second (D:) drive, in what is known as a drive caddy. This is a pull out drawer containing the drive, which saves "getting to bonnet lid up", when removal to a safe place is needed. If this second drive is big enough, i.e. the same capacity as C:, then it would be tempting to think that, by using Windows Explorer, you could "drag 'n' drop" the entire contents of C: to D:, and have done with it. However, anyone who has tried this will tell you that the process grinds to a halt at the first sign of a file being in use, possibly by Windows itself. WINDOWS BACKUP To achieve a whole system approach, you need "proper" back-up software that is able to work around this. One such example is Win
dows Backup, a utility normally nesting in the Accessories, System Tools directory, unless, a) someone has moved it, or b) it is not yet installed. The latter can normally be rectified, by using the "Add or Remove Programs" facility within Control Panel. The former can only be rectified by chopping your kids' hands off! Not many people have a good thing to say about Windows Backup compared say to a third-party bit of software, and this is true of a lot of Windows' utilities - they work but they are not of the best. Defragmenter is another example. However, if it's free (or rather, you've already paid for it), it's got to be worth investigating for that reason alone The Backup utility as implemented in XP has three main purposes, if also you count being able to restore "stuff" following a catastrophe. 1. To create a selective backup. This gives you the ability using a typical browser screen to choose specific directories/sub-directories for back up, and then have them recorded to another drive. In creating the backup, a single file is produced of the *.bkf type. This has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that, like a .zip file, this is compressed, so even if recording to a 650mbyte CD-R, it should be possible to parcel up about 1gbyte of data, and in the case of a My Documents file, that will probably cover a large proportion of my readers' needs. Selective backup can also be set to copy only those files that have changed since your last backup, which obviously makes subsequent jobs somewhat quicker. The first time, unlike losing your virginity, will always be the slowest. The downside is that restoring requires the use of the same software, which at the time of the need to do this, may not be available, depending on the reason for the emergency. I'm no great fan of compressed files, which may or not be "backwards compatible" with other systems, an
d therefore limit you to restoring the contents to the same place in effect. One of the reasons why I like to squander disk space by merely copying actual files from one drive to another, is that I have a further C: drive in the wings, loaded up with Windows 98, and like a Minuteman, ready to roll at a moment's notice in case my wife has urgent need to use the PC (resignations to write etc). This usually coincides with my having tinkered where I shouldn't and put Windows XP off line for hours while I reload it! So you see, backing up is not just for saving time and effort - it's for saving lives too! 2. Automated System Recovery. This routine is best left to the Wizard that drives it. The whole contents of C: drive is bundled into one *.bkf (big klunky file?) including those files that the normal copying process refuses to handle because they are in use. In addition, a Recovery floppy is also created to "drive" the full restoration process should the worst happen. The only real input from you, apart from OK-ing a few options is to choose the target drive for the output of the data. In my case, the only drive I have large enough to swallow a file this size would be my alternative D: drive. However there is one drawback. To house a *.bkf file of this magnitude, let's say around 8gbytes (from 12gbytes of uncompressed data), a hard drive cannot be formatted to be compatible with Windows 98 AND Windows XP. The former needs disks of the "FAT32" format, which limits individual file size to 4-point-something gbytes, thereby ruling out its use as a common link between Windows XP and 98. The full system back-up process seems to be geared to the use of a single medium capable of handling the whole *.bkf file in one go. This rules out CD-Rs, and even DVR-R's once the compressed file size starts approaching 5gbytes. I guess if I was really flush, I'd use another drive caddy for an extra D: drive in the "NTFS&quo
t; format that Windows XP prefers, for whole system back-ups, and continue to copy across my "Documents And Settings" directory to the other FAT32 drive, from whence the files can be read from Windows 98 if need be. However, don't let me put you off - these are just local hindrances caused by my need to play at "smart-arse". In practice, any form of backup helps as long as you give some thought to why you are doing it. REASONS TO BE FEARFUL, ONE, TWO, THREE...... 1. As a bare minimum, I would recommend that, on a regular basis, you take a back up of your entire My Documents directory, your e-mail address book, your internet Favourites list and any back up files for items like Quicken for MS Money. Also, don't forget any software downloads that you have invested line-time and effort to obtain. If it's software you have paid for, beware, you may have to pay again in some cases if you attempt another download - this isn't often the case but it can happen. I would also recommend that you don't overwrite the old data, as this will prevent you from recovering older versions of documents, which may have been altered since their original production. A CD-RW machine may be a boon here, since blank CD-R disks are so cheap (say around 50p) that it won't break the bank to carry out this operation every week. Users of XP are in luck since most of what you would consider vital is contained within the "Documents & Settings" directory, including Outlook Express' Address Book and your Internet Favourites. There's nothing to stop you using your CD-RW's own software here, as long as you don't exceed the data capacity of a single CD-R. The software should tell you before wasting a CD-R on this venture. Remember to label all back-up CD-R's with their date, so that you can treat them like an archive of "snapshots". 2. Slightly less
often, depending on how important your PC is to you, you might want to take a full system back-up using a utility like Windows Backup or a (probably) superior third party item. For a home user, this could be quite costly, involving either an extra hard drive to be installed, or one of the proprietary devices specifically designed to handle back-up data, usually referred to as "tape streamers". There won't be many users whose entire system can be bundled into one file that will even fit a DVD-R disk, let alone a CD-R, so a large medium like a streamer it has to be I'm afraid. 3. Whilst not specifically a backup issue, the prospect of fitting a new and larger hard drive to a PC fills no one with any glee. The mere thought of reinstalling all that software is enough to make anyone wary of the process. Fear not, software exists that will let you copy entire drives from old to new. All it needs, is the ability to "have the bonnet lid up", and to follow a sequence of instructions. If this is the kind of copying you want, then look to PQ DriveCopy or for cheapskates, Hard Drive Copy from http://www.webmasterfree.com/software/2173.html as a free download. OTHER CONSIDERATIONS Personally, I'm not that bothered about "full system back-ups" as I'm semi-retired with the time to reload software. What does worry me is the thought of losing all my hard work (well it's hard when typed with 2 fingers!). I also like to be able to see my duplicate files in Windows Explorer on my D: drive as and when I want them, for example, when running my machine with an alternative C: drive in place, for example, Windows 98 or Linux. A useful utility, which I have found, that copies whole tracts of directory structure from one drive to another is BASK, which can be downloaded from http://swoosiesoftware.homestead.com/. It is not exactly free, but you are at liberty to make a "zero donation" if you
are that tight. Unlike merely dragging and dropping files in Windows Explorer, this one does not baulk at copying system files that are in use. It merely lists them as missing files in the backup, which is fine as long as you don't expect to rescue your whole system from this process. One of the best features of this utility is that it doesn't compress files, they are there for all to see, and the disc can remain as a FAT32 volume so that Windows 98 and Linux can read it. Likewise, the ease with which an entire disk (less those missing system files) can be copied means that I don't have to worry about having excluded something that I could live to regret. If this cheap bit of software sounds like a utility for utilities sake, don't be tempted to cut corners even further and dust off all your old knowledge of DOS commands, thinking that these will do the same job. Some of the DOS commands relevant to copying files are only compatible with the old "8.3" format for filenames, like CHRISDOC.doc. As you probably know by now, Windows allows for 256-character filenames, which are only partially "backwards compatible" with DOS. For example, a Windows 9x file name like "My Life History Part 1.doc" will convert to MYLIFE~1.doc and end up stuck that way! This is fine if you wrote your life history in chronological order, but if you didn't DOS will put the "~1" tag on the oldest file. I've been forced to rescue a disk one file at a time from file names like this, and I wouldn't want to do it twice! Coming back to Windows Back-Up, the utility, I suppose it's fit for purpose, but unless you've got a tape streamer or other "proper" backup device, it doesn't really do much more than the software that comes with your CD-RW, or in some cases, as in Windows XP, you can write direct to a CD-R or CD-RW disc straight from Windows Explorer, just as if they were bl*****' large floppy disk
If only… How many times have you said that? If only I hadn’t sent that email without thinking more carefully about what I wanted to say. If only I hadn’t installed that innocuous piece of software that’s now screwed up my machine. If only I had backed up the data on my machine before it got stolen. That last one happened to me. Actually, in my case I was relatively lucky. I had backed up the vital files to a server at work two weeks before but I still lost a lost of irreplaceable stuff. It made me think carefully about being more diligent in future. But, how to back up? My hard drive is 7.6gig, (I use a Toshiba Tecra 8000 laptop). Too big really to backup in its entirety to CDs. Forget Zip drives! Maybe an external disk? There are many that plug into the PCMCIA slot but they do tend to be a bit pricey. Ideally a tape drive would be best but a colleague who has a Ditto drive, which connects via the parallel printer port told me that, although it does the job, it’s desperately slow. He starts his backup in the evening and lets it run overnight. It takes around 10 hours and he has a smaller hard drive than me! I eventually found via the Internet a company called Datawise, based in Wokingham, who had a device called a Safe-T Box. It uses a Travan drive that, on a TR-3 Extra tape would hold up to 4.4gig of data. A couple of those would backup the entire machine. Also, it connected via the PCMCIA slot with a dedicated cable. The backup should be quite fast. I contacted Datawise to find out where I could buy one but was told that they no longer supplied this device. However, they still had some in stock and agreed to sell one direct. I paid £180 for it. It came with backup software. This was what was known as Seagate Backup Exec. The software is very good and I regularly backed up the machine with it. I took a full backup once
a week. The average time taken to back up about 4.5gig of data was about 1 ¾ hours. This occupied just over one tape. Each other day I did an incremental backup of just the changed files. This took about 25 minutes. The whole week’s worth of data fitted onto two tapes. Recently I had a disaster but rather than restore the machine I decided to take to opportunity to upgrade from Windows95 OSR2 to Windows Me. However, the problem now was that I needed to upgrade my software, including Backup Exec. I now discovered that Seagate no longer owned the rights to the software but had sold it to Veritas. I would have to buy the software all over again. Now, I have been in no way dissatisfied with Backup Exec but a new copy would cost £95. That is for the Backup Exec Desktop Pro version. There are three versions varying from a very simply backup program at around £35 up to the Desktop Pro version. However, only the Desktop Pro version provides full disaster recovery capability. This is what was provided with the original tape drive. Could I do with just the basic version? Dangerous. Only the Desktop Pro version provides the ability to recover from the backup tapes to a virgin hard drive, without even an operating system. I did look around to see if any other software supplier provided an alternative but it seems that Veritas very much have the market to themselves. Perhaps that’s why they can get away with charging so much. I did try installing the MS Backup that comes with Windows Me. That also appears to be a version of the original Seagate Backup Exec but, contrarily, it only seems to provide Disaster Recovery. There seems to be no way to use it to recover individual files. That clearly was no good. Reluctantly I decided to buy Backup Exec Desktop Pro but I did at least find it for £75 (from Misco) so, a bit of a saving but not much. I installed it or, at least, tried to.
It appeared to install but it wouldn’t run. Fortunately you get 30 days free telephone support from Veritas. I phoned and explained the problem, which may have been caused by the uninstall of MS Backup leaving conflicting files around. Anyway, they recommended a solution and it solved the problem even though their problem description didn’t entirely fit my circumstances. I did my first backup with the new software and it worked just as well as the original version. I have since done a full backups and incremental ones and they take about the same length of time as before. Backup Exec keeps a catalogue of what it has backed up and from this you select to restore individual files or whole drives. It tells you what media you have used for each copy. I use four tapes. I recycle them each fortnight. Backup Exec warns you that you are about to overwrite an active tape and gives you the option to continue or to use another tape. I feel far more reassured now that once again I am protecting the data on my machine. Veritas Backup Exec supports a very wide range of devices, not just tape but Zip dives and also backup to CD-ROM. I can recommend it to anyone who is concerned about protecting their data. I rate it four stars only because I think it is over-priced, not because of the quality of the product.
Unlike Norton AntiVirus, it has not harmed my system. On the contrary, this software has been essential in keeping my computer operational. Norton, a line of products bought by Symantec, has been renowned for their effectiveness in doing their task. Norton AntiVirus, however, did not please my computer nor me and I had to reformat my hard drive before it would work again without throwing up numerous errors. I lost faith in the Norton range – until I came across Norton Ghost. Norton Ghost is a program I use for backing up my hard drive. The program allows you to make an image file of a whole hard drive or just a partition, and save it in a partition of any hard drive or removable storage. Also it allows the copying of a partition/drive to another partition/drive, and (obviously) the extraction of an image file to a partition/drive. The user interface is very simple – it is very Windows-like, with a bar at the bottom for information and the commands popping up from a button on the bar at the left. The program checks to see the number of hard disk drives installed and checks the partitions as well. From there, you select what you want to do (e.g. create an image file) using which source (e.g. C partition) and where you want the output to go (e.g. a tape drive). There are many options available – spanning allows you to use a removable drive (e.g. a floppy disk drive although I do not recommend the use of floppy disks for backups!) and the image file is broken up into parts that fit onto each disk. Another useful feature is that all FAT16 volumes can be converted to FAT32 when the destination partition is greater than 2GB, saving space on the destination partition, as FAT16 is considerably less effective at space management for large files. Once an image has been made, it can be restored with Norton Ghost or a program (supplied) called Ghost Explorer. The advantage of Ghost Explorer is that you can select specific fil
es to extract – you do not need to extract the whole image file just because you need one specific file. Why not just ZIP partitions as backup? Well, one other advantage of Norton Ghost is that if part of the image file is damaged, the non-damaged files in it can still be extracted. In a ZIP file, if only one error occurs, the whole ZIP file is lost. Also, ZIP files are not efficient for the sizes of hard disk drives today. Altogether, this is a piece of essential software that should not be overlooked. Remember to back up regularly – if you don’t, you’ll quickly regret it!
Symantec’s latest version of Ghost (V 7.0) is a must for any small business running a network. It will enable you roll out machines that have common software build (each machine has exactly the same software) and provides easy maintenance methods. One of its new features Ghost Auto Install allows the network administrators cut down the time required to install remove or update the entire gamut of applications. If, as quoted in my first paragraph you want to maintain machines with common builds if changes need to be made across the network this function will greatly assist you in achieving that end. Once employed this piece of software should greatly cut roll out times. In addition should you have a severe network failure this software can restore your system to its original settings in a very short space of time providing that a system image had been taken before the failure. This restoration facility can be used to replace everything from a single file to complete hard drives (kind of useful methinks). There is a compression facility available that can reduce file sizes substantially enabling the files that are compressed to be held on transportable media such CD’s. Definitely something that is worth having for any serious user of computer networks. Background notes The information below is culled from the product specification on www.symantec.com minimum requirements are: For Windows 98: • 32 MB RAM (64 MB recommended) For Windows NT/2000: • 48 MB RAM (96 MB recommended) • Pentium processor • VGA monitor • One of the following: ~ Windows 2000 SP1 with Internet Explorer 5.0 installed ~ Windows NT 4.0 SP6A or above with Internet Explorer 5.0 installed ~ Windows 98 with Internet Explorer 5.0 installed Symantec Ghost supports Intel Wired for Management and Pre-Boot eXecution (PXE) services —the standard in
dustry guidelines for building advanced management capabilities into PCs. The all-new version also supports Microsoft’s System Preparation utility and is the only PC management tool that is Windows 2000 certified, making it the tool of choice for migrating to the latest operating system from Microsoft.
When you install a programme on your pc or fit new hardware, loads of new files are installed. This shouldn't be a problem and your system should behave the way it did before. Things can go wrong sometimes and you can't totally reverse what you've done if you don't know. Okay, you can uninstall the programme but would you know what had been altered in the pc registry, or system files, and could you then alter them back? The answer for most people would be 'no'. This is where Adaptec Goback comes in. It doesn't just back up your stsem, it allows you to put it back as it was. It runs each time you start up and records information on your system. If you install something, or uninstall something that causes problems you haven't your files and your system. Just use Goback to put it back where it was. You can choose which point you want to go back to so that if you have done more than one thing you can backtrack. This programme is published by Adaptec at £50. Microsoft have produced a similar programme called System Restore which is part of the Windows ME System.
How long do you think it would take to rebuild your PC with all those programs, games, patches and drivers if your hard drive spun its last revolution right now? Two hours? Three hours? A day? A week? ........ How about 10 minutes to half an hour, IMPOSSIBLE I hear you cry, he's hallucinating, dreaming, a mad man. No I'm not and I'll tell you how to do it. What makes this impossible feat do-able is in my opinion the finest utility to hit your friendly local IT Technician between the eyes since the invention of the CD. The software I am wittering on about is Ghost, recently snapped up by Symantec and so renamed Norton Ghost and none the worse for it. Ghost is basically a piece of backup software, only with a difference. It will make an image of your whole hard drive or partition, which you can use if you need to rebuild your system. Just start you PC using a floppy disk, run ghost and tell it to expand your image on to your drive. This completely replaces the partition with what was on your drive when you backed up, hey presto, instant computer in a matter of minutes. No need to partition, format, install windows, reinstall windows, install drivers, install apps, find drivers that actually work, set up the internet etc etc. Get the picture yet? The real power of Ghost for the individual user lies in it's ability to place images on different sized drives enabling you to very easily upgrade to a larger drive. Ghost actually comes in three flavours, the personal edition, enterprise edition and Netware edition. At the core of all the different versions is Ghost itself, a dos program which is remarkably easy and painless to use. When run Ghost gives you the options of imaging your drive to a file, directly to another drive or restoring your drive from an image. When you choose to make an image file you are first given the choice of the source drive or partition. Next you are asked where you want to put the image file, f
or obvious reasons you can't place the image file on the drive you're imaging. Last step is to choose what sort of compression you want - high, fast, none - typically, high will give you roughly 2:1 compression of the actual data on your source drive. Then away you go. Restoring a drive is just the reverse of the backup process, less the compression step. Personal Edition ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This comes with three utilities, which are Ghost, Ghost explorer and a boot disk creator. Ghost explorer is a windows based utility, which enables you to open an image as you would a zip file and extract any files you need. The boot disk creator will create three different disks, one with usb support, one network and the last with CD support. Enterprise Edition ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ With the arrival of enterprise, Ghost is moving further away from just being a backup solution and more something akin to Zen works or Tivoli, which are remote management solutions. It has utilities to build several PC's at once, even configuring them with different IP addresses. Netware Edition ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ghost will quite happily do any partition you throw at it however with non-windows partitions it does a sector by sector copy which means the disk you put the image on will have to be exactly the same. With the Netware edition ghost will allow you to copy Netware partitions to different sized drive. Conclusion ~~~~~~~~~~ As a support technician I can honestly say Ghost has had an enormous impact on my life. I can't recommend it highly enough, incredibly easy to use and turns a whole day of a job into half an hour. If you are getting errors on a system you can immediately rule in or out hardware by using ghost, if the errors persist after ghosting the system it's a hardware problem, i.e. not mine ;-) The only criticism I could lay on it would be that if you have identical drives and are ghosting from one to the o
ther, it can be very easy to ghost the wrong way and replace the good drive with the duff one which has happened to yours truly on more than one occasion (hangs head in shame). Ghost blows any other form of backup out of the water. If you'll take my advice go and buy it today and sleep soundly at night.
There is a great way to back up your system, and it's called Drive Image. It's probably the fastest and easiest way to backup your entire C: drive with all your desk top settings Internet settings and programs. When things go wrong and Windows starts behaving badly all you have to do is restore your last backup and you're up and running, you just click one button type yes and sit back and wait. If things go tragically wrong and you can't even get into Windows, no problem, you just insert the rescue disk in the floppy drive and reboot. It's so simple and gets you out of a lot of problems and more importantly gets you up and running quickly. You can back it up to a D: drive on your hard drive or to external storage devises, so you will need to at least partition your hard drive. I've used it for sometime now and wouldn't be without it, I highly recommend this program for everyone no matter how much or how little you have on your computer, because remember you still have Windows on it and it will at sometime go wrong!