Data backup tips

Backup your data before it is too late; there is not much more to be said. Well, there is quite a bit more. With computer data, if the computer breaks or the hard drive fails, or the myriad of other events that can occur, one cannot easily access the data without a computer. Consider a backup computer, such as a laptop, or even a second desktop to aid when disaster strikes.

Data backup options

There are many options for backing up your personal computer's data. This information is general, and we make no product recommendations. Why we make no recommendations is simple. If a backup fails, we are only offering information, not guarantees. What may be easy for one person may be confusing to another.

Pile of drives there are hard drives, flash drives, and microSD cards.

Prepare for drive failure

Too often, data is not backed up, and disaster strikes. Who knows what may happen to one's data due to a natural disaster, human error, or for some unknown reason that is always lurking. For some, not having a backup can be an extremely costly mistake. It may not be possible to recreate or recover the data, so it may be lost forever. For others having very little or no data to backup, it might not mean much to them if they lose it. However, there are so many affordable and effective ways to safeguard your data there really is no reason not to keep a copy of it.

Many people just do not know how to backup their files, and when they do they aren't sure that they have. The problem is lack of an easy way to get files backed up, and off of the PC. The reality is there is no easy way, but with a little time and effort anyone can backup their data. PCMD offers some tips on how to get your data backed up and protected from loss. Our goal is to help you understand the basics of file backup, data storage, and security. This article is by no means a comprehensive how to but basic help for those who would like to try and backup their data on their own, or gain an understanding of the different options available for backing up data.

Determine your storage requirement

The first thing to consider is how much data needs to be backed up. There are many ways to protect one's data, and it can be staggering. Usually, the simplest way is the best way to start. The first thing to do is calculate your storage requirements. This depends on what you intend to back up. We will assume you intend to backup your documents located in the documents folder to keep things clear. If you want to back up other folders, the steps would be the same.

To determine the amount of data in the Documents folder using Windows 8, open the Desktop and then open the Users folder (replace user for your login name located in the upper right corner of the start page). Once it is open, select the documents folder, and next to the top of the window with the ribbon accessible is to left-click Properties. A dialog box will open, and once scanned, you can use the stated size to determine the minimum backup drive size.

The next step is to decide the backup media type. There are a lot of options depending on how much data you have. The easiest way is to use an external hard drive or a flash drive. Selecting a 1 Terabyte or larger external hard drive will satisfy most users' backup needs. If your personal computer supports USB 3, select external hard drives rated for USB 3. It is the same for USB 4 and Thunderbolt 4. Buy hardware that conforms with the specification of the hardware.

Flash drives

For backup purposes, a simple flash drive is good for some files. Flash drives are only limited by size and price. As technology advances, there won't be such limitations. However, there are problems with flash drives. They are small, so they can be easily lost, stolen, or confused with other drives. Flash drives have proven to be very durable, yet when they fail, they fail.

Internal or external hard drives

PCMD recommends using an internal hard drive for your regular backup needs. Internally installed hard drives are less susceptible to damage and less likely to be lost or stolen. Internal hard drives cost about what a yearly subscription to an online service would cost and offer the convenience of keeping your data locally. However, an internal hard drive provides no disaster protection, such as fire, flood, or theft.

Today's hard drives are mechanical and will fail at some point; the newer Solid State Disks (SSD) or Nand-based drives have limited write lifetimes, so no matter what type of hardware you choose, failure is imminent. It is simply just a matter of time.

A group of little plastic people trying to fix a hard drive that failed.

Blu-ray, DVDs and CD-ROMs

Blu-ray disk is a good option for backing up data due to its scratch resistance and potentially long shelf life. They come in two types: a single layer that holds 25 GB and a dual-layer that holds 50 GB of data. Blu-ray was designed for high-definition movies, but their size makes them suitable for external off-site backups. However, most PCs do not have Blu-ray burners built-in.

DVDs come in two different types: a single layer that holds 4.7 GB and a dual-layer that holds 8.5 GB of data. CDs have 700 MB of data. Some programs can increase this capacity with both disk types by over burning the disk. This is not recommended for data backup.

DVDs and CD-ROMs are suitable for additional copies of your backed-up files, but they are not ideal for long-term storage and tend to fail or become damaged with time. However, I want to note this is also true of any media, may it be a hard drive or Blu-ray disk. When using disks for archival backup, be sure to use a pen designed for CDs and DVDs. Permanent markers can potentially ruin the disk over time. Using disks with printable surfaces can also reduce the risk.

As time goes by, optical storage may go the way of the floppy disk if you make a backup CD today. In 10 years or so, you may find that media or player availability is minimal. Many people still have data on floppies but do not take the time to transfer it off the disks. Floppy disks have become unreliable, and action should be taken to protect the old data.

Using local backup programs

Many programs can assist with most users' local backup needs. Some are very simple, and others are very sophisticated. It comes down to one's needs, and the price one is willing to pay. The amount of data you have can help you determine the type of program to use. A fast, efficient, and automated program would be best if your data requires daily backup. There are many programs available for purchase that range significantly in price. An example of an excellent free program for someone using Windows XP would be Microsoft's Sync Toy 2.1. It is straightforward, powerful, yet manual, and people like using it.

The cloud

In general, the cloud is the buzzword for an online client-server type relationship where applications or data are accessed remotely. The cloud gets its name from the cloud image symbol used in diagrams to express the relationship between devices, applications, and services. The cloud has many benefits, and as it grows and develops over time, there may come a day when there will be only the cloud. Data kept in the cloud is easy to access from any device that has internet connectivity and will eliminate the use of disks of any kind.

For corporations, the sizeable motivating factor is to stop software piracy. It will be practically impossible to own or store copies of data without disks. Programs will become application services that are subscribed to rather than purchased on disks. In the business world, this has already begun, and it is just a matter of time before it is implemented.

This man is trying to store his stuff in an actual cloud.

Online backup services

Online backup services are an option for small to medium-sized file backups but are not as good for extensive file collections or people with slow internet connections. Online backup could be ideal if your internet is truly high speed. However, security is a big concern, and there are subscription fees and connectivity issues that would need to be considered before committing to any online service. With online backup services, if their website goes down, you will not access or backup your data. Also, if you cancel your subscription, you lose access to your data and cannot recover it. There is also the risk of the company going out of business, and who knows what happens then.

There are several advantages to online backup services. You can access your data from anywhere, and if disaster strikes, you are protected as long as the tragedy does not affect the provider. Another benefit is that your data is constantly backed up and can be restored from any computer at any time.

Microsoft Windows 7 Backup and Restore

Microsoft Windows 8, Windows 7, and Vista Microsoft include a simple and easy-to-use backup program that allows the user folder, subfolders, and system files to be backup by default to a storage device on your PC. This program does a separate hard drive, internal or external. This does not happen automatically; one must run an initial backup. Microsoft lets you know the status with pop-ups via the notification area. These will tell if you need to create a backup or have issues. This only happens if notifications are left turned on.

To run Windows 7 File Recovery on Windows 8, open the Control Panel and select File History next; select Windows 7 File Recovery in the lower-left. Then follow the steps below.

To run Windows Backup on Windows 7 or Vista, open Windows Backup and Restore, located in the Maintenance folder under all programs. The default settings are suitable for most users, so all one needs to do is specify the backup location. The program searches the PC for available storage, and once that is done, you select your preferred storage media. You only need to interact when using disks as the backup media. Using an external or internal hard drive simplifies the process. There are more options for those who need more files included in their backup.

Windows 10 backup and restore options.

Backup files using Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10

Windows 7 has a built-in file and system backup program called Backup and Restore. In Windows 8, it is called Windows 7 Backup and Restore. In Windows Vista, it is part of the Backup and Restore Center. Backup and Restore is included in all but the basic versions of Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. It is no longer included with Windows 8.1. For the most part, it works well and gets the job done. However, it is constrained regarding options, such as when to backup and recover.

Windows 8, 8.1, and 10 File History

Windows 8 include a backup program designed to backup your Microsoft User account called File History. Microsoft has disabled it by default, so it must be run the first time manually. File History can create a historical backup of all your files, meaning every change made to a file can be saved. File History does require a storage drive that is not the primary drive. There are many options, and File History will automatically search and select an available drive for you. However, Microsoft limits how much data can be backed up. Microsoft sets File History to the default of 5 percent of the hard drive selected. The maximum space allocatable is 20 percent, so a large hard drive is a significant restraint. Yet, some backup is better than none.

Backup your backups

People often keep their files on one external drive and lose everything when it fails. So, it is a good idea to backup your backup. Keeping a backup in another location is also recommended, like a fire-proof safe, a safety deposit box, or online in the cloud. Whether you choose to backup your data, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Drive failure or worst case scenario

When disaster strikes, may it be a natural disaster or hardware failure, there are services available for those who cannot afford to lose their data in situations like this. However, they have a high cost, they tend to be very specialized, and therefore very expensive, and these high-tech services cannot guarantee that they can recover any of your data. PCMD recommends using whatever you have to back up for your files before it is too late.

At PCMD, we can try and recover your lost data for you. We have successfully recovered lost deleted files from failing hard drives. It is possible to recover most lost data in many situations, and maybe even some data you forgot you lost. However, each case is different. When disaster strikes, it is very important to stop using the computer with data to be recovered so as not to overwrite the data. Please do not continue to use the computer, turn it off and call PCMD immediately.