Backing up your PC

After all your hard work getting your computer just how you want it with a patched operating system, up-to-date security software, and not to mention all the other software that you have installed and all your own files, it would be a shame if something happened that resulted in a partial or complete loss of your system.

Every PC owner should have a backup strategy to ensure that you can recover from a computer virus or malware infection, a Windows update failure or crash, or a hardware failure such as hard drive corruption or complete failure.

There are two main backup strategies: file-level and image-level.

Backing up your data

File-level backup is where you backup files that you specify only. These can be your documents, photos or application data. You can manually copy them to storage media such as an external hard drive or memory stick, or burn them to a CDR or DVDR disc, or even copy them into cloud storage. Just make sure that you remember to backup often. Set a reminder on your phone to backup at least once a month, or more often if you create new files on your PC daily and losing that data would be devastating to you.

There are tools available to automate the copying of your files. I like the free SyncToy available from Microsoft. You can configure it to backup the contents of specific folders on your PC to an external hard drive. For example you can configure one rule to backup your documents folder and another to backup your pictures folder. Just connect your external hard drive, start SyncToy and Run All.

Image your hard drive

File-level backup only backs up your files. It does not back-up Windows and all your applications. How would you feel about starting from scratch if your PC crashed and you had to reinstall Windows and all your applications again? It could take the best part of a day to get your computer back to how it was, and that's assuming you have a fast enough broadband connection to download all the installers.

Imaging your hard drive means that you take a copy of everything installed on your hard drive so that if you need to recover from a complete failure then you can restore from your last image backup and you haven't got to reinstall anything.

Taking an image of your hard drive will take longer than just backing up your files. The bigger your hard drive and the more software on it the longer the backup will take. Most image backup tools also use compression so that the copy is smaller than the original. This also adds to the time it will take to backup your whole hard drive. As an example my 1TB hard drive takes one to two hours to backup depending on how full it is.

You can only image a hard drive that is not in use so you will need to boot the imaging software from a device other than your PC's hard drive. Use either a CD or DVD disc or USB flash drive. I use either RedoBackup or Clonezilla on a disc. All you have to do is select the option to boot from the optical drive after turning on your PC and then attach your external hard drive. Once your image backup software has started select your PC's hard drive as the source drive to backup and the external drive as the destination and follow the on-screen prompts to start your backup.

Backup strategy

A good backup strategy is essential in order to reduce the risk of loosing your important files and preventing the need to have to reinstall Windows and all your apps from scratch. I perform a file-level backup at least once a month, more often if I have been creating and saving a lot of files to my PC. I image my PC at least once every three months, more often if I have installed or changed the apps installed on my PC recently.

Last updated: 15th May 2016

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