Back Up Your Computers!

With this being January, it’s new year’s resolution time. People make all kinds of resolutions, most commonly to lose weight, get fit, make more money, spend less, or spend more time with the family. And all of these are good. But one that I suspect many leave out is, to back up your computers. Now, many businesses, especially the larger ones, do this all the time, but how often do you back up your home computer?

Why is this important? If your computer should have a catastrophic failure, and many do unexpectedly after a time, you could lose your data, which can include your pictures, scans, documents, favorite or bookmarked sites, music, and written or artistic documents, and anything else that you have saved on your computer.

Don’t think it can’t happen because your computer is working fine? My first computer worked fine for 7 years, then developed a wiring problem that experienced techs told me was “fatal“. So, I bought a new computer and it worked fine. For a year. Then it suddenly died and was proven to be unfix-able. So now I have my current computer.

Luckily for me, I’d worked for a company that made a point of backing up its computers and I was assigned this task, so I was in the habit of backing up my own computers from the get go. So when my own computers failed, I didn’t lose any of my data. 

How to do this, and what do you need?

You will need a portable hard  drive (HDD) or a flash drive (Often called a thumb drive) if the amount of data you have is small (128 gigabytes  is the largest I’ve heard of currently, but they are being made with higher capacities as time goes on.)

You can also use CD-R or DVD-R’s but this is much less convenient, especially with higher capacity computers.

You can also back your data up to the “cloud“, that is, online. There are services that allow you to do this. The advantages are that you can access your data from any computer anywhere in the world, so if you lose your laptop in Bangkok, you can still access your data. Also, you don’t have the worry that something like a fire will wipe out your data because both your computer and portable HDD were burned up.

However, there are disadvantages here, too. Currently, you may have to pay a fee for the service or downloading of the necessary software. And, as we all know, the internet isn’t always secure. So a breach on the part of the backup service can render your data being accessible to anyone who may want to look. And, if your service provider is doing maintenance or is otherwise shut down for some reason, you won’t be able to access your data. You can grab your portable HDD or flash drive out of your desk drawer right now and have use of the data whether you have internet service up and running or not.

16 gb flash drive.

16 gb flash drive.

Flash drives do have the advantage of having no moving parts and being solid state, and their construction is much less delicate. Add to that their small size and this makes them very easy to carry and store. But, they have limited storage capacity compared to a portable HDD.

Portable HDD drives are probably best now, as they have shrunk greatly in size and grown greatly in storage capacity and ease of use.

The first HDD I had only had a capacity of 80 gb, half of my first computer’s capacity. Also, in addition to having to be plugged into my computer, it also had to be plugged into a wall socket. And it was somewhat large, about the size of a small to mid-sized phone book or hard cover/text-book, such as the cookbook in the picture below.

16gb Flash Drive at far left, 750 gb Portable HDD upper left, 1 tb HDD lower left, and cook book which was the size of the 80 gb capacity HDD I once had.

16gb Flash Drive at far left, 750 gb Portable HDD upper left, 1 tb HDD lower left, and cook book which was the size of the 80 gb capacity HDD I once had.

Now, there are small portable HDD drives that are about the size of a man’s wallet and some are almost as thin as a smart phone. Some I’ve seen can hold up to 4 terabytes (tb) of data. That’s 4,000 gigabytes (gb), more than the capacity of most computers being sold today, in 2015!

1 tb HDD lying flat on left and 750 gb HDD on it's end at right.

1 tb HDD lying flat on left and 750 gb HDD on it’s end at right.

And they can often be had for well under $200, many 1 tb and under portables are less than $100 with enough capacity to satisfy most users’ needs.

They usually come with their own USB cable and all you do is plug them in. No need for a second plug-in to  a wall socket, either.

Now, many portable HDD’s will have their own backup software, which can often perform continuous backup so long as they are plugged into your computer. This can be very convenient as you won’t have to do periodic backups.

However, if you are like me, you may want to go into folders from time to time, whether to make changes, such as renaming folders or clicking and dragging one sub folder to another parent folder, or to retrieve a picture or document to attach to an e-mail, using the portable HDD software may not be for you.

I tried using the portable HDD software with my first computer, to save time. However, when my first computer went out and I attempted to transfer my data to my new computer, I found that the portable HDD software had created different folders with different names. or actually number and letter designations, and had completely rearranged the stored data, so I had pictures and documents on the same folder, and other things which were originally together, now separated! So, while transferring my data to my new computer was easy, I had to reorganize all my data once it was on the new computer!

So, before using the portable HDD’s backup software, be sure you read all the instructions first, and test it first by viewing the contents and folders on the portable HDD after a backup.

If you are into manual organization of your data files and folders, then you may just want to back up your computer by simply clicking and dragging your user files and folders to the portable HDD once you have it connected to your computer. I do my backups this way and find it convenient, as well as knowing that, if my computer dies, I know exactly what to look for when I transfer my data from my portable HDD to my new computer.

Computer main folders. Click on arrow next to "Users" folder to view sub folders.

Computer main folders. Click on arrow next to “Users” folder to view sub folders.

Also, for those of you who are brand new to backing up your computer, you only need to back up your data files, which should be under your computer name folder (whatever name you gave to your computer when you first got it and set it up.) In the picture below, the computer name folder’s title has been ‘blanked’ out. It is the folder immediately below the “Users” folder and includes sub folders from “Contacts” through “Tracing“. These folders will contain your documents, music, pictures, favorites, and video files, among others. It would be these folders that you would copy to your portable HDD for storage. I also include the “Public” folder below the “Tracing” folder as well for good measure. And, while this applies to Windows PC’s and laptops, this probably can apply to Apple/Macs to a degree as well. 

"Users" folder expanded to view computer's "Name" folder and it's sub folders.

“Users” folder expanded to view computer’s “Name” folder and it’s sub folders.

There’s no need to back up system or other files outside the “Users” file as any new computer you get will already have a more advanced version of these files anyway.

How often to back up your computer? It depends. If you make few changes over time, I would do it once a year at least. If you make lots of changes, then possibly weekly. It’s up to you. I usually do it every 6 months, but sometimes as soon as every 3 months if I’ve added lots of pictures or made a lot of changes in that time. If there’s a point of time in which updating would be a major chore, or a major loss if the data was to be lost, then back up sooner than that.

In any event, if you have a serious data loss you’ll be really glad that you backed up your data.

Happy computing!  And thanks for reading!

If you like what you’ve read here, please let others know of this post, site, and blog! 🙂

 

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