Computer Health Part 1: Backup!
In a multi-part series, I want to help my family and friends ensure they’re taking care of their computers!
Of all the things you need to do with your computer, backing up your data has to be the most important. As Alex Lindsay says regarding data on your computer, “if you don’t have two copies, it doesn’t exist”. The bottom line is, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when your computer’s hard drive will crash. The unfortunate truth is hard drives typically last 3, 4, or 5 years, but when they die, they typically die hard. Thus, the day they fizz out, you’ve lost everything on them!
So if you have any digital pictures or videos you cherish, you absolutely need backups! So, in order to have at least 2 copies of your important data, you need to have one (or more) of the following:
- Another computer – I know I like to have copies of my pictures on both my laptop and desktop computers. Right away that gives me two copies.
- External Hard Drive – these are so cheap now that it’s scary. I typically stick with Western Digital or Seagate as a brand. Size-wise, you can get upwards of a Terabyte for $100. (In case you don’t understand quite how big 1TB is, it’s roughly 300,000 mp3 songs!) Although you can find them at any computer shop, for the best price I suggest newegg.com or amazon.com online or MicroCenter if you live near one of their stores.
- Online storage – this type of business is growing like crazy. Companies like mozy have become quite popular because you can use it to back up 2GB for free. But from what I’ve heard, the best may be Carbonite. Unlimited, automated backup for $50 a year is hard to beat!
- Why do you need storage outside of your home, you may ask? Fire, flood, electrical surges, external drive failure, etc etc. Depending on how much you cherish your data, you want it backed up in numerous physical locations!
- CDs/DVDs – although this option is becoming less popular because of the aforementioned ones, it’s still feasible. Back up files to disk and if you want to take it offsite, store them at a relatives house or at work.
So, the first step is where you will store your data. Just as important is the second step – routinely backing it up! You can manually go and save off files every week (more or less frequently depending on your level of paranoia) or you can have it automatically done. Many of the online services will do it automatically for you. Other than that, I like Microsoft SyncToy because it’s free and has a simple interface and it makes backing up files easy. There are many other synchronization tools out there, though.
Finally, my last piece of advice is to think long and hard about what files you need to backup:
- pictures, music, movies, and files you use every day
- a good place to start for Windows users is their “My Documents” folder
- e-mail and contacts if you still use a desktop e-mail program (although, I recommend moving to “e-mail in the cloud” like gmail)
- internet bookmarks (another recommendation – xmarks – free service which saves all your bookmarks online and can sync them with all of your computers)
- financial data from programs like Quicken, MS Money, or TurboTax
- run Belarc Advisor and save / e-mail the results (a list of all your installed programs and installation codes) to yourself for future reference
Look around in the programs you use with all the previously mentioned data – most have some type of backup functionality which will save off all of your data and settings.
I know this is a lot to consider, but I’ve heard from too many people who are heartbroken over losing irreplacable data! Don’t let this be you! Back up your data today!!