New subscriber Dee wrote me to ask for some help in understanding the process of backing up her programs and data.
HELLO TERRY –
My question has to do with “BACK UP” of which I know little about. Why do some people use an External Harddrive, and others use some system like Acronys – ?
I am using a pre-owned Dell PC with XP. It has numerous worthwhile programs which should be saved, and perhaps, some that can be eliminated because I do not use them.
My main concern is “My Documents” which contains important information such as photos, documents, etc. More than any other info, I would like to save this. To make it easy for myself, should I simply copy it to a CD-? Then – for the remaining info and programs, copy them to an Ext. harddrive-?
When I need to use the backed up info on the Ext. harddrive, do I need to have someone switch the internal with the extenal -? I do not quite understand how this is done if I want to COPY everything from the Ext. H, and still maintain the original copy as the backup -?
Your suggestion and input will be appreciated. Thank you. Dee
Acronis (or rather, Acronis True Image Home 2011) is a software package designed to make full image backups of your hard drive and its partitions, and to allow you to restore anything from individual files through entire drives, including the C: drive. Normally, Windows blocks copying of a large number of operating system files that are in use. ATIH can also make “incremental” backups – e.g., on Monday make a full backup, and on Wednesday make an incremental backup, which would back up only those files that changed since the full backup. Of course, ATIH is still backing them up into an “image file” so that the whole chain of backups (full + any incrementals from that full backup) can be reinstalled in one step.
Think of it as making Recovery DVD’s, but instead of restoring your computer to factory condition, it would restore your computer to the exact status when you made the backup – with all your programs and all your data.
Simply copying program files doesn’t actually accomplish much, other than taking up space on your backup media. When programs are installed, most also write some of their critical information into the Windows Registry. Say your hard drive failed and you had to get a new hard drive. If you reinstalled Windows, and then copied your Program Files directory to your new hard drive, Windows would not know how to run most of them, because it would be missing all the configuration information that the program had written into the Windows Registry when it was installed.
Of course, Windows itself won’t let you copy the Windows Registry. You’ll get an error that the file is in use. It takes a program that’s designed for backing up your hard drive to actually be able to copy the Registry and some other files like that.
You’re correct, you need to back up My Documents.
The problem with simply “copying” is that, when Windows runs into any problem while copying a bunch of files and folders, it just stops. It tells you there was a problem copying a file, and I think tells you the file. But, it doesn’t tell you what it had already copied and what it hadn’t. No log and no real value to the error message.
That’s why simply copying the files to an external drive isn’t a good solution.
Backup software, of whatever kind, is designed more robustly so that it can usually stop, give you an error message or log the error, and then keep going and finish its backup task.
If you hook up an external drive and simply copy the files to it, it’s just another drive as far as Windows is concerned. You can use it for reading and writing – but don’t think that it’s a “backup” if you do. At that point, it’s just another drive and just another copy of the file.
When you need to use the backup – to copy the saved data back to your regular internal hard drive – you connect it to your computer’s USB port. Your computer will recognize it as a regular hard drive. At that point, your process of copying/restoring data from the external hard drive to the internal hard drive depends on how you created your backup copy.
If you used a backup program like Acronis True Image Home 2011, then you use that program to restore data. Acronis will let you “mount” a backup image as a “hard drive” as far as Windows is concerned – just copy the files or folders you need. You can also use its restore functions to restore whole partitions.
If you use an external drive for backup, after you backup your data, disconnect the drive. Unplug it. Put it in another room.
As long as it’s still connected to your computer, it’s just another drive subject to malware, user error or even hard drive failure. Have you ever copied a file, deleted the original, and then deleted the copy? I have – that’s a “user error.”