What's the Best Way to Backup What I Need to Backup?

Lincoln Spector, PC World

Oct 13, 2008 7:43 am

I'm going to concentrate here on backing up your data (in which I include photos, videos, music, and so on), because that's your top priority. Should your hard drive die, you can reinstall Windows and your applications from the cd's you have. You can't reinstall your tax records or your children's baby pictures.  Hence, the backing them up.

Any decent backup program should know what files and folders need to be backed up. But just in case, here are the likely candidates in Windows XP. All of these folders reside inside C:\Documents and Settings\login, where login is the name you use when you log into Windows:

And in Vista, where you can find these folders inside C:\Users\login:

  • Documents
  • Pictures
  • Desktop
  • Music
  • Contacts
  • Videos
  • AppData
  • Favorites

You should back up every day that you use your computer or after you have loaded/created important documents or pictures. An intelligent backup program will, on most days, only back up files that have been created or changed since the last backup.

One more general rule: Your backup should be physically separated from your computer. A backup that will be robbed or destroyed along with the rest of the computer is not a secure backup.  You can back-up to an external hard drive, flash drive, or to a DVD, provided you keep the back-up off site or in a fire safe.

I recommend backing up to an external hard drive if you think you can develop the backup habit, and to the Internet if you want to set up an automated system and forget about it. Although you can set up automated backups with external drives (most backup programs assume that this is your first choice), it's not really a good fit. Either you have to remember to plug in the drive at the right time (so much for unattended backups), or keep the drive plugged in at all times, which means your backup isn't physically separated from your computer.

On the other hand, automated online backups make a perfect fit. And physical separation between your hard drive and the backup is as great as it can get. The problem: It's slow--horribly, horribly slow. Your first full backup can take days. Fortunately, it won't keep you from working during the backup.

If you go with an external hard drive, check out the backup software that comes with it. If you don't like it, search for something else.

On-line back-up can be as simple as going to your private web space located at your ISP.  Almost all ISP's gives each user a certain amount of space.

Cox, for example, gives you 10 meg of space for each e-mail you have.


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