How much would you miss the stuff you have on your computer?

Do you even know what all you have on your computer?  If you lost it, would you want it back?

Yeah, most of us would.  That's why backups are so important.  It's like flossing - you know you should, you don't always, but you'll regret it if you don't.

What needs to be backed up

The information on your computer comes as two parts:  programs that run, and data that is stored.  Keeping that in mind, to be completely covered in case of a crash you need:

  • current backups of all your data (spreadsheets, letters, email, photos, receipt copies, etc.) 
  • an "image" backup ofyour computer from the date of the last installation of new softwarea
  • installation discs for all your software, or a hardcopy of the receipt/instructions for software bought online

Data Backups

Most people understand the concept of backing up your data.  You get an external storage drive (everybody sells them, even Walmart), plug it into an USB slot, and just copy & paste your My Documents folder into its directory.  If you store info anywhere else besides My Documents, you copy and paste that over, too.  Very simple.  

You don't need to back up every single piece of data on your computer, just what you want to keep.  For home computers, the top items are Outlook files (.pst files that hold your calendar, email, tasks, etc.), photos, and financial records.

Image Backups

But what if data backup is all you do and your computer crashes - and you can't find your installation disks for your software!!!  You are stuck either buying more software or just getting another computer.  BUT, if you have an image of your computer, you might save yourself a lot of money and headaches.  If you have an image, your scenario is cheerier: you fix your computer, then you install the image, you copy back all your data, and phew! Disaster averted.

Now, the image process has some limitations.  It only works on the computer you took the image of, or one almost exactly like it.  So, if you fix your computer with parts that do not match what was there before, the image may not work. If your computer is broken beyond reasonable repair, restoring your software from an image will not work on your new computer. ** Also, images take a long time to make, so this is not a good option for frequent data backup.  This should be done in addition to data backup.

** UPDATE 2016: This is no longer an issue if you buy pro versions of imaging software.

Installation discs and software records

This brings us back to installation disks and installation records.  The easiest way to keep all these things together is very low tech - a large Ziplock® baggie.  Put all your installation disks and online purchase printouts in that bag.  Write on the bag what computer it goes to, and then file it away.  Anytime you get new software - even free software - file the discs/documentation in that bag.  If your computer truly crashes beyond hope, you have a record of all your software in one handy place.  Even if you end up buying new software with your new computer, everything that doesn't come with the new system will be easy to find and restore.

Ready to backup?  Here is what you need:

  • External hard drive or storage device that is about twice the size of your computers hard drive, if you will be saving the image on it as well as your data backups.  The ones that connect via USB are the easiest to use.  Or, you can use an online service. These are more expensive in the long-run, but very convenient and easy.
  • Imaging software.  We recommend Macrium Reflect.
  • a large Ziplock® baggie, one for each of your computers.  Fill it with every installation disk you can find. Go through your emails and print everything you can find on software you downloaded online, and stick that in there, too.