How To Back Up Data from a PC
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You don't have to use back up software; opening a window, selecting folders or files and copying them to the storage device is a perfectly good way to do it. The biggest problem with this method is locating all of your data each time you want to back it up. One way to simplify this is to structure your PC's data storage so that everything is stored in one major folder (such as "My Documents") which contains subfolders (for organizational convenience).
Certain files, such as Outlook's file that contains copies of your emails and settings is stored in a special location and is not easily found. Any software that uses similar procedures will also require special attention. You can research your software's procedures for backing up data and then take steps to make certain that it is copied to your back up media.
What Should I Use to Back Up Data?
The media for data storage can be an external hard drive, tape, flash drive, CD, DVD, a second PC on your network, or even uploaded to a data storage service on the Internet. The amount of data may be a factor in your choice.
I am partial to using flash drives for back up storage. They are small, easy to store, hold lots of data and most importantly are very easy to copy data onto and off of. Their ease of use makes flash drives my favorite choice. The cost is more than a CD or DVD, but for the convenience and confidence in the result, I find the added cost acceptable.
Uploading data to a storage service is a good way to keep your data safe off-site and makes it available from anywhere. However, you must place a lot of trust in the company. Companies sometimes go out of business, they can have disk crashes and lost data (rarely) and of course there are privacy and security concerns.
Storage onto CDs or DVDs are good options. It requires that the PC has a CD or DVD burner and software to write the data onto the disc. While it is always prudent to verify the saved files, because of the high occurence of errors when storing onto these discs, you should always verify that files can be opened from the media. Also, discs carry the risks of damage from scratches and also slow deterioration over a period of years.
External hard drives attach to the PC and function just like a built-in hard drive. Typically the drive is connected to the computer with a Firewire or USB connection. The advantage is that the capacity allows you to copy the entire contents of your PC onto the drive, also it is portable and can even be used to back up multiple PCs.
Finally, if you have very serious concerns for the safety of your data, consider using a "mirrored" drive. This is a second hard drive inside the PC that contains a complete copy of everything that is on the primary drive. Every write to the primary disk is also made to the mirror drive. It protects your data from a disk crash, but it does not protect you against theft or destruction of the PC. Off-site storage of backups are still required. The key benefit is the protection against a crash and that the data is backed up continuously so that absolutely nothing will be lost. Also, restoring the data to the PC is fairly easy, it requires making the mirror drive the primary drive and replacing the damaged drive.
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