If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Backup strategy

Request for help from the Geek community.

Last year, I lost about 6 months' worth of photos and other stuff when the hard drive of my little Acer netbook died on me.  I had a lot of help and offers of assistance from readers here, and I thank you for that (you know who you are).  However, when I weighed up the material lost (none of it world-shatteringly important) and the hassle and expense of retrieving it (proportionately large), I decided to go with the flow, accept my fate, give in to karma, and forget about the damn thing.

I started using the old Medion (Lidl special) laptop that I had retired when I got the netbook, and that served for a while, but then that one started getting a bit flaky, so I decided to push the boat out and get a new one. Hey presto, one Toshiba laptop from the bargain basement at Curry's*.  It's, er, OK.

I had managed to back everything from the Medion onto a 640GB external drive which was, even without the missing six months, quite a bit of stuff.  And after a lot of messing about (Windows Backup doesn't like you changing computers, apparently, and treated me as an impostor), I backed all that up onto the new Tosh.  Then, as if by magic, the external drive started clicking and whirring, and the next day it was unreadable.  But I have all the files, thank your deity of choice.

So I now have a working lapdog, and I have just bought a Western Digital 2TB external drive.  Everything from the Tosh is safely backed up onto that using the Win7 inbuilt backup software, and I can relax - for the moment.  But now I am thinking - what if the WD drive gives it all up?  I'm wondering if I might get another WD drive and alternate backups, so that at least one is always almost-current.  Or keep backing up to WD1 (as it were) and have a routine of copying everything from WD1 to WD2, say weekly?

Then it occurred to me that someone who reads this blog - either of you would do - would surely have a better idea.  Better backup software (although the built-in Windows program is very easy to use, a key thing for me), and perhaps a better system of using two external drives?

How do you do it, O men and women of the interwebs?

* Actually Currys, but I couldn't bear to write that.  Hang on, I just did.


  1. Simply include folders with names such as Ricin, Dengue Fever and Tetraazidomethane on a hard drive, and CGHQ + CIA will back them up for you.

    On a more-serious note, if your data is that important, store one of the back-ups away from home. [Eliminates risk of total-loss by fire, earthquake or burglar.]

    1. Thanks Joe. I'll consider the ricin option in due course. Off-site storage is a bit overkill for my porpoises, but data is distributed around the house (i.e. a CD here, a CD there) so that short of nuclear attack I will probably be able to recover some of it.

  2. I don't use backup programmes. They always seem to be complex and inherently designed for systems like servers where there are intricate setups and real time material to preserve but little long-term fixed user data. A PC isn't so complicated and most data is long term storage with just a few new additions so I just keep an external drive with a regularly updated copy of the photos folder, my docs folder, MP3 folder, email folder etc. If the Pc dies or gets replaced I can reinstall the software and copy my files back. I have a third, less up to date copy of irreplaceable photos, on spare capacity in my music system drive.
    I did have a bit of a panic recently when a thunderstorm killed my main external drive (and my scanner!)but fortunately it was only the external circuitry and PSU that was destroyed, the drive worked when moved to a spare carrier.

    1. I quite like the Windows backup routine, as it is easy to use and can be set up as a recurring automated task. The routine in 7 can also save a disk image, which saves all the hassle of forgotten passwords to rarely-visited sites and so on. But I am not clued-up enough to know if the Win7 offering is good by geek standards or if there is something far better - hence the query.

      However, I also do manual backups of the entire Documents, Pictures and Music folder 'as is', so I can easily recover individual files and folders without needing the software. I guess the really secure thing would be to copy this regularly onto a separate drive which is kept disconnected (lightning risk) and in an other room (fire and theft risk), but is that overkill? I suppose it depends on how anal you want to be about your data. I regret losing the stuff I have lost, but it isn't a life-changing experience.

  3. It is a nightmare - you can take it to ridiculous extremes...

    The problem with 'backup software' is that it might not 'allow' you to restore your data when you need it - or you might have moved on to another machine or platform that doesn't support it.

    My solution is to copy raw data to an external device. I use a NAS (a QNAP TS-210) that has two mirrored disks in it. So you always have three copies of your data (one on your PC and two in the external drive).

    I also get the QNAP to backup the data to an external drive once a week (four copies).

    As Joe Public says, if you want to be totally secure you can take another copy of your data and post it to yourself once a day so you have another copy off site!

    The QNAP also does a virus scan on itself whenever you like and acts as a media server too!

    1. Thanks for this. I hadn't considered NAS before, but this looks like a great solution, if a little pricey. I like the idea of the mirrored disks.

      I need to do a bit of research here, as the NAS concept is a new one.

  4. Backup schmackup. I prefer to roll the dice with the iMac. We have all of our photos and such on the laptop, iMac and iPad so hopefully if one goes we can pull info off one of the others.

    At work the boss pays a company called CrashPlan to automatically back up my work iMac since our accounting program is on there. They guarantee to send you a disk with your hard drive info within hours of your hard drive going down and it apparently backs up through the interweb several times a day. Not sure how well it works, but I know it isn't expensive.

    1. Distributing the data seems to be a good idea, although randomness can open the door to errors, gaps and sheer forgetfulness. I don't plan to go to a third party for this, though - just an external drive or two so I don't lose my stuff :)

      If I had remembered to back up my netbook more carefully, we wouldn't be here.

  5. The whole point is to store a backup which can then be restored to a new drive if neccessary. There is no harm in having a couple of copies of the backup.

    The best software, without doubt is ToDo Backup. Its free and will create a rescue CD which does its work outside of Windows. The backup files are also mountable as virtual drives.

    In my household there are 2 desktop PCs and 2 laptops and I keep backups for all of them on a large USB drive. The backups are complete systems, including boot sectors and can be restored to a blank hard drive within a few minutes. Once a backup file is created it gets refreshed incrementally after that to keep it up to date.

    Get ToDo Backup (free version, fully functional) from here:


    The first thing you should do is to create the rescue CD which you would only need in the case of restoring to a non-bootable hard drive or a new blank drive, then create a full system backup or even a sector by sector copy. Backups are created from within Windows and you can even schedule ToDo Backup to do the incremental backups automatically.

    The rescue CD in the free version of ToDo Backup boots into Linux, which makes it very reliable. However you can create a version which works on WinPE if you prefer (WinPE carries the Windows Recovery Console). This is a bit more involved to do, but you know where to find me if you need any help.

    1. That's very helpful, and perhaps ToDo Backup is what I am looking for. I'll go to the link when I get a minute (working tonight and busy today). I like the idea of being able to restore an entire system onto a blank drive. That would save a lot of hassle.

      Thank you.

  6. Replies
    1. Great, but I am gradually forgetting how to write in longhand ...

  7. Agree with ToDo backup for making/restoring images of the system software. I had to make use of the bootable disc recently, when my PC got completely corrupted. However I didn't find it particularly easy for just keeping My Documents up to date. For that I employ Allway Sync. There is a "portable" version available here: http://allwaysync.com/download.html (select the middle version) which doesn't require any installation.

    I have a copy sitting on all my external drives. Just fire it up, select the source and destination folders (and if you want it to propagate modifications and deletions), and press "Analyse". Once it's compared the two it will show you all the relevant details, and if you're happy press "Synchronise". The only downside to the free version is a limit on how much data it will deal with in a 30 day period. However I've found that once the initial backup is made the amount of alterations in a typical month are not that great, and I haven't been "bugged" since. It will only copy/delete any files or folders that have changed, so after first use it's pretty quick. Since it's free and won't leave anything on your PC why not give it a try?

    I've got 2 separate external drives which both have a complete copy of "My Documents", and all the O/S images made with ToDo, so I think I'm fairly well covered. Make sure you have up to date AntiVirus installed and all your files have been scanned, or you might end up copying some "nasties" to your backups!

    1. Very helpful, thank you. I'll have a look at all that. I was wondering about backing up viruses ... looks ,like there is no magic wand to back-up without them. Cleanliness and hygiene is the rule!


  8. Its primitive, but apart from backing up data manually to a large USB drive anything really important but non confidential I email to myself so I have a copy I can access anywhere.


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