| By Lincoln Spector |
It’s no exaggeration to say we keep our lives on our PCs — that career-making report, those plans for Fiji, a thousand kid photos — and you can lose it all in the blink of a hard-drive crash.
Windows comes with apps for backing up that data, but there’s free, third-party software that’s more flexible and easier to use.
Multiple schemes for full system protection
Hard-drive crashes are not your only worry. Fire, floods, theft, hard-disk mites, and the dreaded Delete key can all vaporize your irreplaceable information. (Just kidding about the mites.) See my Technologizer story, “When will they ever learn (to back up)?” for a very real nightmare scenario that a simple backup could have fixed.
I’m sure you know how important backups are. But how often should you run backups? That’s easy to answer: how much data are you willing to lose? Developing a routine of running full backups and daily incremental backups is the best way to protect your data files. (These are the files that reside in the C:Documents and Settings folder in Windows XP and in the C:Users folder in Vista and Windows 7.) And the process is easily automated. You should run a full backup of your data files every week or two.
Archiving your data is only a part of protecting your system, however. For a complete backup, you also want an image backup — it takes a snapshot of everything on your hard-drive partition. Should your hard drive die or Windows become hopelessly corrupt, an image backup will get you back up and running much faster than the tedious process of reinstalling Windows, your apps, and your data. Scheduling image backups is a bit like changing your oil — do it every three to six months or whenever there’s been a significant change to the OS or apps.
In most cases, the brand of backup software used is independent of the device that the data is backed up to — an external hard drive, a network-attached storage drive, or an FTP server out on the Web.