Guide to backing up your important files.

backup guide

Welcome to our guide to backing up your computer.
Backing up files is a very important part of maintaining a PC and can save a lot of hassle if ever the PC has a problem. The time it takes to create a backup of your important files is minimal compared to the time it would take to redo the work that could potentially be lost.

What is backing up and why should I do it?

To backup (back-up) is to make spare copies of files and store them separately to the originals.

Computers have a tendency to go wrong from time to time, these days total hard drive failure is rare but it does happen.

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One of the more common problems nowadays is the threat from viruses, with some of the more serious infecting the master boot record of a hard drive's file system.

If the master boot record of a hard drive is infected with a virus then the Fdisk utility, or similar, would most likely have to be run. The chances are the data on the drive would be lost or at least costly to recover.

Operating system failure and bad software installation are other things that can cause problems when it comes to recovering files.

How frequently you backup will depend on how often you use your PC and what you use it for.

The average home user will probably just have to backup any important files as and when they are changed, and possibly do a full backup once a month depending on how much the system is used.

When PCs are used in a home office scenario then backing up should be done more frequently.

If your important files change daily, backup daily. If they change weekly, backup weekly, and so on.

Back-up Devices

Floppy Disks
Although becoming less common floppy disks are great for backing up small files. The average 3.5" floppy disk can hold up to 1.44MB of data which is sufficient for any letters or important text documents.
Backing up with floppy disks is as simple as copying the file or saving the file directly to the floppy drive. A ZIP program, such as Winzip, can be useful to compress any files that are too big to fit on a standard floppy disk.

USB Flash Drives (memory sticks)
These fantastic little devices are great for backing up your data, although not as reliable for backing up as a CD or DVD on which the data is physically "burnt", USB flash drives provide a quick and very easy way to backup your files.
Their storage capacities range from around 1GB (GigaByte) up to 16GB and beyond. The low cost of USB flash drives also makes them an inexpensive way to store fairly large amounts of data.

To backup to a thumb drive you simply copy the files or folders directly to the device.

CD Writers/DVD Writers
With CD/DVD writers becoming ever more commonplace they are ideal for making backups of large amounts of data. A typical CDR disk (blank CD) holds up to 800MB of data and costs pennies, a typical DVD disc can hold up to 3.4GB of data.

CD/DVD writers are also very easy to use. The software that comes with them is normally very straightforward and can create backups of your data in minutes. You will also find that most operating systems allow you to save a file directly to a blank CD or DVD. For example, in Windows this can be achieved by right-clicking on the file and selecting "send to" and then choosing your optical drive.

A CD or DVD is probably the most reliable medium for backing up important files. This is because the data is physically burnt to the disk and is immune from magnetic interference which may corrupt data stored on magnetic devices. The CD or DVD should be placed immediately into its packaging, labelled with the date and then stored in a suitable location.

ZIP Drives
Zip drives are still a popular media for backing up data. Both internal and external ZIP drives are available and some models can store up to around 750MB of data. These drives normally come with their own special software which is usually very simple to use.

External Hard Drives
External hard drives are a great way of backing up large amounts of data. Their large capacities make them ideal for storing video and music files which might not fit on other types of backup medium. If you use your computer for work then it pays to have a dedicated external hard drive solely for the purpose of storing your work backups.

To backup is simply a case of copying the important files across to the drive. It is good practice to create folders on the drive with the date of when the backup was made, this allows you to create new backups without overwriting the data from the previous backup.

For more about these devices see our guide to external hard drives.

Back-up Software Packages

There are many backup software packages available. They are reasonably priced compared to a lot of software and can be invaluable for creating full system backups.

Good software will allow you to create a full drive backup including operating system files with a few clicks of the mouse. This means if the worst happened you could have your PC system up and running again within hours.
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