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
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
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
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.
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Originally published 30 May 2008