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Introduction to backup

Rickaber asked the Utilities forum to explain the basics of backing up.

Not backing up is like not wearing a seatbelt. You can go months or even years without a problem, then disaster strikes and you're in serious trouble. Only a few hours before writing this article, I received an email from a reader who couldn't access his hard drive, which contained files vital to his business. His letter didn't even include the word backup.

It's a simple rule: Never have only one copy of anything.

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com or post them on the PCW Answer Line forum.]

You absolutely must backup your data files every day. And no, you don't have to copy each of those files every day. Any decent file backup program can do an incremental backup--copying only the files that have been created or changed since the last backup.

By data files, I mean your documents, photos, spreadsheets, songs, and so on. If you back up all of your Libraries, or everything in the Users folder, you should get all of these.

This is usually done as a file backup, because it backs up your files.

You might also consider backing up your system--Windows and your applications--although this isn't essential. Should some disaster render Windows unusable, you can always go through the long process of reinstalling the operating system, personalizing the settings, and reinstalling all of your programs (see Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Data for details). But if you have a system backup, you can simply restore that in much less time and with much less effort.

The only way to reliably backup Windows is with an image backup--which creates a record of everything on the drive or the partition. You don't have to do this regularly. I back up the system four times a year (if I remember to do it).

Windows 7 and 8 both come with decent backup programs capable of both file and image backups. I prefer the free version of Easeus ToDo Backup, which is more versatile and also does both.

What do you back up to? External hard drives are reasonably cheap and fast, and are clearly the best options for the two programs I just recommended.

But you might want to consider online services that will back your files up to the cloud. Online backup puts a great deal of physical distance between your computer and the backup--the same fire, flood, or burglar won't deprive you of both. But it's slower and, in the long run, more expensive.

I've been using MozyHome for cloud backup for years. I can't say it's better than its competitors, but I can say that it works reliably.

Read the original forum discussion.

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