Computer Advice Centre Newsletter - April 2009

Advice on backing up your computer files, photographs, Email contacts etc

We regularly receive calls from panic stricken customers with computers that have suddenly crashed and fail to start up. Surprisingly, many have not backed up their data recently, and some, never at all. So we thought that you might find this month’s Newsletter interesting, and, hopefully, prevent you losing your data in the future.
Do you need to backup your data, and if so, what data should you back up?
Modern hard drives are extremely reliable, but because of this fact, it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, and believe Hard Drive failures only affect other people. However, at some time, a Hard Drive will fail, usually with no warning. A famous quote says "there are only two types of hard drives - the ones that have failed and the ones that will fail."

To help you decide whether you need to backup your data, and what data you should back up, just imagine what would happen, if say, tomorrow, when you switch on your PC, Windows does not start up and your computer monitor displays an error message telling you that it cannot boot up from your hard drive. Is there anything on your hard drive that you cannot afford to lose? For example, family photos, Emails and Email contacts, your latest CV, your collection of music that you have spent months loading into iTunes, videos of holidays, or your business accounts. How about that family history you collected over the years and put into a database? Maybe you have a document for work, such as a presentation or a spreadsheet that you created at home and don't have a copy on your work PC? Think about that saved game of your favourite game where it took you weeks or months to get to that level etc.

Most of us would be painfully affected by one of the above scenarios. If you are one of us, then you do need to backup your data.

Generally Windows, and application programs, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, cannot be backed up, however, their data files, such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations can be backed up.

On your main Hard Drive, usually Drive C:, the folder named "My documents" contains most of the User's data, including My Pictures, and My Music. If you have several User accounts, such as Mum & Dad, David, Mary and Roger, the Users data for all accounts will be found in the "Documents and Settings" folder. However, some applications save their data in other folders. We suggest you prepare a list of the data you wish to backup and then find the location of each piece of data to ensure that you back up everything you need.

We also suggest that you calculate how much data you need to back up. This will help you decide which type of backup device is best for you. A general rule is to choose a device that can hold more than double the amount of data you need to backup.
How often should you backup your data?
This depends upon how important the data is, and how often it is updated. If you only write a couple of letters a month, and you only upload photographs from your digital camera after you return from your annual holidays, then backing up your data once a month may be sufficient. However if you run your business accounts on your PC, and raise invoices every day, then backing up your data once a day would be sensible.
What is the best backup device for you?
This depends upon the volume of data and the frequency that backups are required.

The choices may include, Floppy disks, Internal Hard Drives, Flash USB Memory sticks, Writable CDs and DVDs, External Hard Disks, and External Internet file servers.

If you wish to be absolutely confident that you will not lose any data in the future, you need to have more than one backup copy of your data. For example, if you were to backup your data to an external hard drive which is permanently connected to your PC, then you should consider including one more backup device. Why? Consider what would happen if there was to be a fire or flood, or, if a thief was to break in and steal both your computer and your external hard drive, then your data will be lost. So you may wish to choose more than one backup device.

For those who are not familiar with storage device capacities, 1,000 Bytes = 1 Kilo Byte (1 KB), 1,000 Kilo Bytes = 1 Mega Byte (1 MB), 1,000 Mega Bytes = 1 Giga Byte (1 GB) and 1,000 Giga Bytes = 1 Tera Byte (1 TB).

Floppy Disks are seldom used as backup devices these days because their capacity is only 1.44 MB.

Internal Hard Disks can be used as backup devices, however, if your PC is destroyed by fire, or is stolen you will lose your original and your backed up data.

USB Flash memory sticks are convenient backup devices, and the lower capacity devices, up to about 8 GB, are cost effective. But for larger capacities, 8 GB plus, external hard drivers offer better value.

Writable CDs (CD-Rs) are very cost effective, costing as little as 20p each when bought in bulk. You cannot delete information on CD-Rs, so you cannot re-use them, however, their low cost means they can be disposable. Their capacity is only 700 MB so you may need several for a full backup.Re-writable CDs (CD-RWs), have the same capacity as CD-Rs, but you can delete the data from them so they can be re-used.

Writable DVDs (DVD-Rs and DVD+Rs) come in two flavours; single layer, with a capacity of 4.7 GB and cost around 30p each if bought in bulk, and dual layer, with a capacity of 8.5 GB at a cost of around 60p each. They have the same limitation as CD-Rs in that they cannot be deleted and reused, but their capacity is much larger.

Re-writable DVDs can be deleted so you can re-use them.

External Hard Drives make excellent backup devices. They are fast, they are available in capacities exceeding 1 TB, can be re-written, and can be used to back up data from several computers.

A 500 GB external Hard Drive can be bought from around 60.00. They usually connect to your computer through a USB cable.

Finally, a rapidly developing backup option is to upload the data you need to be protected, onto a secure Internet file server. Several well known Internet Server Providers (ISPs) offer this type of service. Your data is encrypted before it is uploaded to the secure server, and only you have access to this data. You will need a fast Internet access connection, to benefit from this option; otherwise your PC will be tied up for a long time.
Do you need to have more than one backup device?
Yes. Most of us use an external Hard Drive as our primary backup device, and most of us keep this device permanently connected to our computer. If our computer is stolen, then it is most likely that the backup Hard Drive will also be stolen. Similarly, if the computer is damaged in a fire, then most likely so will the backup Hard Drive.

And please don't fall into the trap of believing you can delete data from your Hard Drive because you have a backup of the data on an external Hard Drive. Your external Hard Drive is just as likely to fail as your PC Hard Drive. You need to have at least two copies of your data to feel safe.

We suggest that you use another backup device that is kept somewhere well away from your computer. You can use recordable DVDs which can be stored well away from the PC, or you can use an Internet file server, as described above.
Choosing Backup Software
Windows Vista Home Premium comes with it's own backup software which is adequate for individual users and small businesses. Windows Home Basic, however, does not come with backup software. If you need more control over backing up your data, there are many commercial Backup applications. One popular Backup application is Symantec's Norton Ghost, which offers more options, such as full, incremental and differential backups.
Is there a way of automating your backup procedures?
Yes, and frankly, you should use an automated backup procedure whenever possible. We all mean to back up our data regularly, but left to our own devices we will usually have 101 reasons why we can't or haven't got the time to backup data right now.
How do you go about restoring your computer?
Most home users do backup their data. However, as we learned earlier, Windows and application programs cannot be backed up. Let's look at what would happen if one day your PC won't start up and you determine that this is because your Hard Drive (Drive C:\) has failed. You are not too concerned because you have dutifully backed up all you data yesterday evening.

First, you will need to arrange to have a new replacement Hard Drive installed. Then you will need to have Windows installed on the new Hard Drive, using the original Recovery CD that should have been supplied when you originally purchased your computer. If you cannot locate the Recovery CD, then you may need to purchase a new copy of Windows.

Installing Windows usually takes just over an hour. You will then need to install software drivers for your computer's hardware, such as for your Graphics Card, Ethernet port, Keyboard and Mouse. These software drivers should have been supplied with your computer. If these cannot be found, they can usually be downloaded from the computer manufacturer's web site.

You will then need to install the software drivers for any external devices you have connected to your computer, such as a Monitor, Printer and Scanner. These drivers should have been supplied by the device manufacturers. These software drivers would take approximately 30 minutes to install. Then you will need to install all application programs that have been installed since you purchased the PC. This may include Microsoft Office, Accounting software, Games, Photo Editing software, Anti-virus software, Email software etc.

Then all your backed up data files need to be copied from your backup device onto your new Hard Drive.

Finally you will need to set up Internet Access.

As you can imagine, this can be a very time consuming exercise, which can take several hours, or longer, if you have a large number of application programs to install.
Is there a better way to backup your computer?

You can back up the data from your Hard Drive as a single Disk image. This is like taking a photographic image of the hard disk and saving it as a single image, rather than backing up each individual file and folder. The beauty of backing up to a single Hard Drive image is that when you restore the backed up image onto a new Hard Drive, everything is restored, including Windows, your software drivers, application programs, data, Emails, Internet access etc. The backup can take as little as half an hour, and your PC will then be returned to the exact same state it was in when you performed the last image backup.

You can schedule these backups. For example, you could backup a whole disk image on Friday evenings, and then have incremental backups (only backing up what has changed since the previous backup) every evening from Saturday to the following Thursday. You then create another whole disk image on Friday evening, and repeat during the following week. You can instruct the backup software to keep a maximum of two or more whole disk images, so after so many weeks, the first week's disk image is deleted to make room on the backup Drive for further backups.

In order to perform this type of backup, you need an appropriate Backup Application and a Backup Drive that is at least three times the capacity of your main Hard Drive (Drive C:)

The most popular application program to perform this type of backup is Symantec's Norton Ghost. It is what we use on the Computer Advice Centre's server computers, and has saved us losing data on more than one occasion.
What's the next step?
Take action today!

Just imagine how you would feel if your computer Hard Drive suddenly failed this evening, destroying all your family photographs and music etc. You were so close to backing it all up, but put it off until another day. It can, and often does, happen.

Just give us a call and we can arrange to supply whatever backup devices and backup software that are most appropriate for your particular situation. We can also deliver and set it all up for you, so you can rest assured everything has been taken care of professionally.

Our telephone number is 0118 9617194

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