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133. Saving your data with backups

By Andrew D. Wright

Ben thought he'd lost it all: his children's photos, his saved work, his desktop icons, even his desktop wallpaper was missing. His kids had been playing on the family computer and by the time they had finished with it, everything was gone.

Ben was lucky. Windows XP had saved a system restore point from the day before and he was able to put everything back the way it was. System Restore has its limits though and isn't always able to restore everything.

Find System Restore under Start - All Programs - Accessories - System Tools.

There is an old joke that when the weather's good there's no need to fix the hole in the roof and when it's raining you can't fix it anyway. Backing up data is like that. It's something you need to do when everything is working properly, not after it's too late. Just imagine losing the only copies of your child's photos, gone forever with a hard drive crash.

The simplest form of backup is to just copy files to a different folder. This is okay for a working copy of your data. You're editing a photo and there are two copies of the original to fall back on if you mess up.

Another form of backup is to copy a file to a different disk. You burn your indispensable files to a CD or DVD. The advantage is that your data is now safe from a hard drive crash. The disadvantages are that CDs and DVDs hold much less than a hard drive and they are easily lost, stolen, mislabeled or damaged.

A better solution is an external hard drive. A 500 GB hard drive costs about $90 now and an external enclosure for it that plugs into a USB port is about $30. Smaller drives are cheaper but you should get one at least twice the size of the data you wish to back up.

Windows will automatically detect an external USB hard drive and setting it up only takes a few minutes. A new unused hard drive will need to be partitioned and formatted before it can be used. This only needs to be done once.

To do this go to Start, right click on My Computer and click on Manage. Under Storage go to Disk Management. The new disk will be there labeled as Unallocated. Right click on it and select New Partition. A New Partition Wizard will start up to guide you through setting up the new drive and assigning it a drive letter.

Unix and Linux users will be familiar with a very useful backup utility called rsync. Windows users can easily use this as well thanks to a free Open Source program called DeltaCopy.

DeltaCopy uses rsync to make a backup copy of any folders you like or the entire hard drive. This backup can be scheduled to run daily at a time of your choice or on whatever schedule you prefer.

The first time DeltaCopy runs it will make a copy of the entire folder or disk you have selected. This copy can go to your external USB hard drive or a networked computer somewhere else. I found that copying from one drive to another ran at about 12 GB per hour and it was best to leave the computer alone while it was running. This backup rate will vary depending on the speed of the computer and its hard drives and whether you are copying files directly or over a network.

The next time DeltaCopy runs it will only have to copy new files and parts of files that have been changed so the backup will just take a few minutes. This is called an incremental backup.


DeltaCopy (free):


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Originally published 30 May 2008


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