Time and time again, people tell me that they’ve bought an external hard drive to backup their pictures, music and documents. Great, right? Sadly, that’s not always the case.
There’s one simple rule about backups that everybody needs to fully understand: Your files should exist in at least two places, or it’s no longer a backup — and your data is at risk.
It’s time to educate people on proper backup strategy, so we’ll run through your options and talk about the pros and cons. These days, you’ve got plenty of choices on the Windows side of things, Mac users have Time Machine and there’s online backup for anybody.
Backing Up to a Local Source
The most important thing to remember when backing up your data is that you can’t delete it from your main system once it’s been backed up to an external drive. By doing that, you’ve left yourself with only a single copy of your important files, on an external drive that has just as much chance of dying as your internal PC hard drive. Think it can’t happen to you? One of my external drives died last week.
Backing Up to an Online Source
Backing Up a Total System Image
These tools are the best way to recover from a total system failure, but they usually aren’t quite as easy to restore a single file from, which is a much more likely scenario. There’s been dozens of times that I’ve needed to restore an older version of a document, and was able to easily grab the previous version from Dropbox or my external drive.
What Should You Backup?
- Your entire Users folder: either at C:UsersUsername for Windows 7 or Vista, or C:Documents and Settings for Windows XP. This folder should contain all of your documents, settings, etc.
- Your Data Folders: If you’ve created other data on your hard drives, you should include those as well.
What you don’t need to backup?
- Your Program Files Folder: There’s simply no reason to backup your installed applications when they all have to be re-installed if you had to restore your machine. It’s a waste of space to do so.
- Your Windows Folder: The only real good reason to backup your Windows folder is just in case you can’t find the same drivers again. On the other hand, there are any number of tools to backup your drivers, and you should do that once in a while instead of backing up the entire Windows folder.
Best Backup Strategy: Combo
Your best bet is to combine a number of different methods into your backup strategy.
- Create a System Image: Use one of the many system restore tools to create a complete image of your PC, which will protect you in case of a catastrophic system failure. You’ll want to backup this to your external drive.
- Use a Backup Tool: Just pick one, any one and start using it. Backup your data to an external drive, another PC, or anywhere else. Just make sure you don’t delete the data from the primary PC.
- Use an Online Backup for Important Files: Even though you are backing up to an external drive, you might want to start using something like Dropbox or Mozy to backup your most important files.
Just remember, all of your files need to be in at least two places at once. You don’t want to get Journalspaced. Do you always keep your data in more than one place? Share your backup strategy in the comments.