Data Backup Tips

Backup your data before it is too late.

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, backups fail and we are only offering information not guarantees. What may be easy with one person may be confusing to another.

Prepare for drive failure

To often data is not backed up and disaster strikes. Who knows what may happen to ones 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, and therefore 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 safe guard your data there really is no reason not to keep a copy of it.

There are many drive options to store your data including the cloud.

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 a number of ways to protect ones data, and it can be staggering. Usually the simplest way is the best way to start. First thing to do is calculate your storage requirements, this depends on what you are intending to back up. In order to keep things clear we will assume you are intending to backup your documents that are located in the documents folder. If you intend to back up other folders the steps would be the same.

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

The next step is to decide the back up 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 you personal computer supports USB 3 then be sure to select external hard drives rated for USB 3.

Flash drives

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

For backup purposes a simple flash drive is good for some files. Flash drives are only limited by size and price, as the 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 the fail they simply 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 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 offers no disaster protection, such as fire, flood or theft.

Today's hard drives are mechanical and will fail at some point, also 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.

Blu-ray, DVDs and CD-ROMs

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

DVDs come in two different types, single layer that holds 4.7 GB and dual layer that holds 8.5 GB of data. CDs hold 700 MB of data. With both disk types some programs can increase this capacity by over burning the disk this is not recommended for data backup.

DVDs and CD-ROMs are a good for additional copies of your backed up files, but they are not good 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 DVD disks. 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 back up CD today you may find in 10 years or so that media or player availability is very limited. Many people still have data on floppies but do not take the time to transfer it off of the disks. Floppy disks have become very unreliable and action should be taken in order to protect the old data.

Using local backup programs

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

The cloud

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

In general the cloud is the buzz word for an online client-server type relationship where applications or data are accessed remotely. The cloud gets it name from the cloud image symbol used in diagrams to express the relationship between the devices, applications and, or services. The cloud has many benefits and as it grows and develops overtime 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 large motivating factor is to stop software piracy, without disks it will be practically impossible to own or store copies of data. 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.

Online backup services

Online backup services are an option for small to medium sized file backups, but are not as good for very large file collections or for people with slow internet connections. If your internet is truly high speed than online backup could be an ideal solution. 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 there website goes down you will not be able to 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 that the company goes out of business, and who knows what happens then.

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

Microsoft Windows 7 Backup and Restore

Windows 10 backup and restore options.

With Microsoft Windows 8, Windows 7, and Vista Microsoft includes a simple and easy to use backup program that allows for the user folder, sub folders, and system files to be backup by default to a storage device on your PC. This program does a separate hard drive, may be 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 if it is having 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 in the lower left select Windows 7 File Recovery. Then follow the steps below.

To run Windows Backup on Windows 7 or Vista open Windows Backup and Restore which is located in the Maintenance folder under all programs. The default settings are good for most users so all one needs to do is specify the location of the backup. The program searches the PC for available storage and once that is done you select your preferred storage media. The only time you need to interact is 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.

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

Windows 7 comes with 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 very limited when it comes to options, such as when to backup and how to recover. For more information on running Backup and Restore please visit or data backup tips page.

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 manually the first time. 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, there is a limitation set by Microsoft on 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 even with a very large hard drive that is a significant restraint. Yet, some backup is better than none.

Backup your backups

Often people keep their files on one external drive and they lose everything when it fails. So, it is a good idea to backup your backup. It is also recommended to keep a backup in another location, like a fire proof safe, a safety deposit box, or online in the cloud. No matter which way 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, in situations like this there are services available for those who cannot afford to lose their data. However, they are not affordably priced, 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 that you use 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 files that were lost, deleted, or from failing hard drives. In many situations it is possible to recover most lost data, and maybe even some data you forgot you lost. However, each situation is different. When disaster strikes it is very important to stop using the computer that has data to be recovered, so as to not over write the data. Do not continue to use the computer, turn it off and call pcmd immediately.

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