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57. Back data up or kiss it goodbye

By Mark Alberstat

Backing up your data is critical, whether you are using a networked computer or just your home PC or Mac. Without backups, when your computer crashes - and that's a "when," not an "if" - you may lose some or all of your data. Those priceless digital photos from your trip to the Galapagos Islands will be lost forever if you haven't backed them up.

There are several ways to back up data. Most of them are fairly simple, which is good, considering how important the task is.

Data redundancy is the best method of backup. This means having multiple copies of the data, and those copies are best stored away from your main computer. Most computers today come with CD or even DVD burners. These devices are an excellent method for backing up your data.

Simply put a blank disk into your computer, start your burner software - Nero and Roxio are two commonly loaded burner packages - select the files, or, better yet, the directories you want backed up, and let the software do the rest. Most CDs can contain about 700 megabytes, which is a lot of data. DVDs can contain many times that amount, depending on compression ratios.

The failure rate of correctly burned CDs and DVDs is very low, much lower than floppy drives. However, if you feel unsure about a single disk holding all your valuable data, an incremental backup once a week or once a month is a good plan and will ensure that your data has multiple backup points.

Another backup method is with ghosting software. This software takes an image of your hard drive and stores it, often on another drive you have slaved into the machine.

The advantage here is that your backup is on a separate drive, so if your main drive dies, you can install the image on a new blank drive, and away you go. Acronis True Image and Norton Ghost are two of the more popular imaging programs. Even if you are using this kind of software, it is still best to back up your data or any changed files.

If you are a Windows XP user, you may want to try the built-in backup software. The Professional edition features the Windows Backup utility (Ntbackup.exe) ready to go.

The Home edition, however, usually does not have it loaded, so you have to add it by installing it from the original CD. To do so, browse the CD under the ValueAdd folder, then the Msft folder and then you will find Ntbackup. Double-click the file Ntbackup.msi to install the utility.

If you are worried about fire, flood or theft of your computer or disks, you could consider one of the online backup alternatives. These sites do charge you to use their storage space, but the peace of mind may be well worth it.

Companies such as Xdrive Plus or @backup are two popular providers. Both companies have free trial periods, but to activate it you have to supply them with your billing information, including credit card number. If you don't tell them explicitly that you want the service cancelled, they will charge you automatically.

Backing up your data may seem to be a chore. But if a problem occurs and you have done your backups correctly, nothing beats knowing your files are safe and sound.

A few useful links:

Acronis software:

For Norton Ghost:

For Xdrive homepage:

For @backup homepage:

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.

Chebucto's AGM will be held April 14th at 6:30 p.m. in the CIBC Auditorium, Computer Science Building, Dalhousie, 6050 University Ave., Halifax.


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Originally published 10 April 2005


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