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Back Up Your PC, Back Up Your Life

Many of us have not only spend a great deal of time on computers, but we also store a great deal of our lives on them now too. It’s hard to believe, but most of our pictures, videos, and documents are now all digital. That’s helped make many of us amateur photographers, and it’s definitely given us more room in our houses throwing out those old file cabinets.

Unfortunately many people take computers for granted and don’t take proper precautions to safeguard their data. This usually happens for two reasons:

I never got around to backing it up. Stop right there, find an opening on your calendar and book it! This is very common and is usually the excuse given by members of the IT community that should know better.

Data loss, say what? If you fall in this group, keep on reading. The second most common excuse people give for backing up their data is they didn’t know that their computer could crash and their data could be lost. That’s ok, we’re telling you now!

The first step you have to take is to identify what data you need to backup.  Think about what you would would worry about first if your computer was fried. This could be family pictures, birthday party videos, your resume, taxes, etc… Make a list and find the location of everything, it may be a good time to do some folder restructuring to make your backups easier.

The second step is to find a target location for your backups. This could be an external hard drive (preferred), or a NAS device. I would not recommend a second hard drive in the same computer or another computer in the same house for the following reasons:

  • A second hard drive in the same computer is more likely to fail due to power surges or a manufacturing defect if they were produced at the same time.
  • A second computer in the same household is not recommended because there are too many variables that could affect your backups. Are the devices on at the same time? What if your backup affects the other user’s performance while they’re trying to write a paper or watch a movie?

Another thing to consider is getting your backups in multiple locations or offsite. This may seem a bit over the top for some people, but what if you had a fire in your house? You now just lost your computer and your only backup of it. There are three economical solutions I’ve used in the past that you may want to consider:

  1. Buy a second external hard drive and make a copy of the first one. Take it to a friend or relatives house for storage and update it quarterly.
  2. Burn copies of your most important data to CD/DVD and take it to a friend or relatives house for storage and create new ones quarterly.
  3. For a few GB of data, online storage such as Mozy, Carbonite, or Dropbox work great.

The next step is to select and configure your backup software on a schedule. Because of differences in Mac vs PC, free vs paid software, and a number of other factors, I won’t go into much detail here. I will link you to some other guides that do, or you can ask your trusty IT buddy what their preference is.

Five Best Offline Backup Tools
Back Up Your Data on a Windows PC
Back Up Your Data on a Mac
Geek to Live: Automatically back up your hard drive

The final step, and the one that is almost always over looked is to TEST your backups. This is one you should do regularly. You don’t have to actually delete your precious pictures and files to see if they work, but move them to your desktop and see if you can recover using a backup from a few weeks ago. Each time you perform a recovery test, try to use different files so you know that the whole backup system is working correctly.

Any questions or tips? Leave them in the comments…

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