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Computer Care: Back it up or risk losing it forever
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Most computer users have systems with sufficient technology to accomplish the tasks they were purchased to perform. They have hard drives large enough to store all the data necessary, plenty of RAM and fast processors to allow the system to function quickly and all of the proper updates installed necessary for security. Yet one thing I have found is that many of them lack an important component: a comprehensive backup.

Should disaster strike, whether in the form of an operating system crash, hard drive or motherboard failure or from a virus or malware infection, if you don’t have a proper backup all of your data, could be placed in jeopardy.

If you have documents, photos, videos, music, tax forms or anything else that you can’t afford to lose, you should have your system backed up on a regular basis. It’s prudent to have one, if not more, copies of things you can’t afford to lose.

Why gamble having just one copy of your baby’s first steps video, photos from Nana’s 80th birthday party or the new resume you just spent hours creating?

Many alternatives exist. You either need a program, a website or someone to back up your system. Various utilities are available, some of them free.

You’ll need access to an external hard drive, a network hard drive or a cloud-based storage account. As long as you save your backup to a place other than what is being backed up, you’ll be fine.

In other words, if you’re backing up your C drive, don’t save it to that same drive. Put it on your D drive, if it’s a hard disk, on DVDs or to another external source.

There are different types of backups. Imaging creates an exact clone of your hard drive, but can be large. There are full, incremental and differential backups, each saving different things. Some use more space than others and take longer to save and restore.

Incremental and differential backups save only the data that has changed since your last backup, thus saving space and time.

You’ve got to decide what you want to archive and how often you want to do it. If you have a system disk (a copy of your operating system I.E. Windows XP, Vista or 7), you won’t need to copy it. You could simply duplicate your programs and data (files), or maybe just your data, if you also have the program disks.

Even if you do, it can be more convenient to create a complete system backup or clone every few months instead of worrying about having to reload the operating system, then the programs, and then replace your data.

Windows 7 will ask you when you initially set it up if you want to create backup disk. It’s always a good idea to do it while you are reminded of it. Put it off and it may be too late. Look on the Start Menu under Maintenance.

There is the need for an emergency startup disk as well as the series of backup disks. Each serves a purpose in a computing disaster.

Some external drives come with comprehensive backup programs built into them. If yours does not, you may want a standalone utility, although you could drag and drop files without one.

Available for download are tools such as Acronis True Image, Norton Ghost and others. For a review of these utilities and more, go here.

As always, I also suggest you visit download.com and do a search for backup or clone utilities. You’ll get an idea of what users think of the programs and in most cases, an opportunity to test-drive them.

There are some good free tools, but you’ll find more options in the paid versions.

Alternatively, there are web sites as Mozy, Carbonite, SOS Online and others that provide the software and the storage space for you in the cloud. Most have free trials with some free space available.

A good video primer on backups can be found online from YouTube. While there, look on the right margin for similar videos.

If your system fails and you have no plan in place, I may be able to save your photos and tax forms as long as your hard drive hasn’t failed. But if you don’t have a way to reinstall Windows, you may find yourself suddenly looking for a new computer.

When I get called to do a repair and discover, for whatever reason, that the computer has failed, my first question is, “Have you backed up your stuff?”

Depending on the type of failure, without a backup, all too often the data is gone. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you tell me you have not created a backup, there isn’t much I can do but assist you in finding a new system.

Redundancy is good when it comes to data. Failure is imminent; it’s not a matter of if, but when. Whatever else you do with your computer, back it up.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page.

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