Think of a computer backup like a safety belt in your car. In the event of a crash, a backup saves the valuable information on your computer from being lost forever.
Your computer drives (internal or external drives) are the main storage location for the Windows operating system and your installed applications, so backing them up is critical.
If you haven't done a backup lately, the following information will help you get started on this important task.
There are three main ideas to consider when backing up your computer:
How often should you back up your files?
In my opinion, computer backups should be done as frequently as your most important data changes. If you are working on a large important project every day, then you should be backing those files up every day.
It depends on how valuable your electronic files are to you, and how stressed you would be if you lost them.
What files should you back up?
Personally, I include the following in my backup procedure:
- Electronic photographs I want to keep
- Software or other files that I bought on the internet and downloaded
- Music files that I bought on the internet and downloaded
- Personal files stored in the My Documents folder
- My e-mail address contacts
- My calendar information
- My favorite bookmarks
- The files from my Turbotax, Quicken and other banking/business software.
What methods should you use to backup you computer data?
Here are three of the most common ways. Option “c” is my favorite if you want to cut to the chase.
- Buy an large external drive and back up your entire computer. This is a great idea that takes some time. I do not back up my entire computer. I figure that if my PC crashes, I can reinstall the software from my original CDs, and there’s no need for me to store those files twice.
NOTE: I do back up software I downloaded from the internet. I’ve been burned several times by not saving software I’ve purchased. Many companies will only support older versions of software for so long. You may find that great craft program you downloaded a year ago is no longer available and you have to either upgrade or buy a new copy.
So, when you buy software from the internet, save and backup the compressed file that you download and include it in your computer backup procedure.
- Buy CD burning software and read-writable CDS and burn your files to CD. I don’t recommend this method. The technology is old and unreliable in my opinion. I used to do this and found the process so cumbersome. Sometimes, the burner wouldn’t work, or the CD was bad or some other silly issue would crop up, so I gave it up.
- Buy a large capacity external hard drive and back up just your data files. This is my preferred method. I buy pocket sized 1TB external drives and back up my valuable data every day. I used to use Flash or thumb drives but discovered that after so many read/write operations, they get corrupted and fail. And nowadays, small external hard drives are so cheap, it makes sense to use them.
Backing up to a small external drive is by far the best way to get a reliable computer backup. I say this because:
1. It's EASY, which means you and I will actually do it and..
2. It's PORTABLE, which means you can take the saved data out of the house when you leave. I bought a little case for my Hitachi external drive, and I just throw it in my suitcase if I'm going to be away from home.
There's not much point in doing a computer backup if the backup unit is sitting right next to your computer when your house floods or burns down.
So, here are the steps to perform a manual computer backup with an external harddrive:
1. First, of course, buy a large capacity external drive if you don’t have one. They are available at any office supply or computer supply store, or you can buy one from Amazon or any other reputable online store. (Just type in external drive in the search field). A 500Gb drive shouldn’t cost more than $75 USD.
2. Once you have the external drive, turn on your computer and wait for it to finish booting up. Then plug the drive into one of your USB ports. These are the ports which have a 3 pronged arrow symbol next to them. Here’s a picture of the symbol and the ports on my computer:
3. You may see a hardware symbol pop up in the system tray of Windows, (that's the tray in the bottom right hand corner that holds the time) or this dialog box: Click Cancel if it comes up.
4. Open Windows Explorer by right clicking on your Windows Start button, and left clicking on Explore. The drive will show up as another drive letter, most likely E: or F: drive.
5. On the right side of the Explorer window, find the folder on files that you want to back up.
6. Right click on the file or folder and drag it and drop it onto the external drive letter. Choose “Copy Here” from the menu that appears. The file or folder will begin copying onto the drive.
7. When you are done, close Windows Explorer. In the time tray, look for an icon which has a green arrow on it, and says Safely Remove hardware when you point to it with your mouse. Click on it and then choose to eject your device. When it is ready, it will say "Safe to Remove Hardware". You can unplug your drive now.
Reminder: Once your backup is done, don’t leave your drive plugged into your computer. Backed up files should be moved to a separate location in case you have a fire or other disaster that destroys your computer. Take it with you when you leave the house. You can buy a portable hard drive case for your drive to keep it safe while it's out of the house.