what is a computer backup?
What exactly is a computer backup? How do you do it? Who should do it?
The advice to make back ups is everywhere, on the Internet, newspapers, magazines, maybe even friends & family. And it can all get a little confusing.
So I thought it'd be useful to define what backups are and look at the different types of back up that we could do.
what is a computer backup?
A backup is simply a copy of something. It could be as simple as a copy of a file or folder, or as complex as copying the entire computer.
But whatever, it's a copy and generally it should be stored somewhere off the computer.
Let me give you an example.
Your house key, your car key, the key to your bike lock.
How many do you have.
You know that you should have at least one spare key. At least one copy.
And you wouldn't keep the spare, on your normal key ring.
You 'd store it somewhere else, somewhere safe, somewhere that you can get it if you need it.
In this case, the spare key is your back up. If your regular key is lost, then you fall back onto your spare.
And it works exactly the same on your computer.
why make back ups?
We make back ups to protect our files and/or computers.
When things go wrong with a PC, they can go wrong very quickly.
That's when having up to date copies of all our files and folders, all our stuff, is going to become very important.
Let's say we've got this picture. It's the only one we've got. It means an awful lot.
Only having the one copy of it means it's vulnerable.
If something goes wrong with the machine, if we get infected, virus, ransomware, whatever, it's gone.
The one file we wanted is gone.
It doesn't really matter how many files you've got, you could have just half a dozen or hundreds. The principle is the same.
You will have files (photos, documents etc), on your computer that you really don't want to lose.
Hopefully this hasn't happened to you, but trust me, when it does, it's a right slap in the face.
That's where the back up comes in.
Once you've fixed the machine, got rid of the virus, sorted it all out.
Then you return the picture (or whatever files you got backed up) onto the computer and all's well with the world once more.
The sheer joy & relief of getting your stuff back makes all the effort worthwhile.
Slaps on the back and smiles all round.
ways in which to backup.
OK, so a backup is just a copy. But how do you, or how should you, create these copies?
Well that's a good question and it'll vary from person to person. It all depends on how you use your computer, what you've got on your computer and what resources you have available.
You see, backups are all about protecting your stuff. That's what they're for, that's what they do.
Just as with the spare key example above, if you lose something, you replace it with the copy.
We'll start by looking at how to protect just your files. Just your stuff.
a USB stick.
You can use a USB stick. They're cheap and readily available and easy to use.
You simply Copy & Paste your most important pictures, documents, videos etc, onto the USB stick.
And for a lot of people, that's all they'll need to do. No more complicated than that.
Backing up like this suits anyone that doesn't add that much to their computer.
You may have several files/folders or several hundred files to start with, but once they're on the stick, your not likely to add much more throughout the year.
The downside, is that you have to be pretty switched on about it. If you do add important files, then it's up to you to back them up. It's up to you to copy them onto the USB stick.
It's not automatic, the machine won't remind you. You have to do it.
There's nothing wrong with using a backup system like this, as long as you stay on top of it. With this type of backing up you really do have to keep everything up to date.
And that can be a pain. We all get busy, or maybe lazy, and neglect to do the chores.
Which is why it's best suited to people who only rarely add new, important files, to their machines.
windows file history.
File History is Windows own back up tool for creating copies of your files.
It's built right into your computer. So you already have it installed on your computer, all you need to do is to turn it on.
And yes, that will be another guide.
File History will suit a lot of people, and it's free with your computer.
The only thing you'll need to supply is a USB stick, or maybe an External Hard Drive, depending on how much data you've got.
Using Windows File History, you choose which folders are to be backed up.
Then choose how often. Every hour is the default, but you can choose between every 10 minutes to daily.
File History then creates a copy of any file in those folders that has been changed since the last time it ran.
But here's the thing, it keeps the older version as well.
File History was designed for use by businesses, in an office. Where they're constantly using, updating and amending various documents.
But it's just as happy backing up pictures, video and music files.
And the best thing about it for us, is that it's automated. Once it's set up, all we need to do is check it every now and then to make sure it's still doing it's thing.
backing up to the cloud.
Backing up to the cloud, just means dropping your backups onto a computer that's on the Internet.
Generally, for home users at least, this is another way of saving your most important files.
And I'll put together at least a couple of guides for doing this.
But there are pros & cons to it, so below we'll have at look at those.
The best thing about cloud backups is they are generally automated.
Simply put, you choose a folder, that you want backed up.
Then anything placed into that folder, will automatically be saved into your account on the Internet.
So any pictures, documents, videos etc, saved into the chosen folder, will be copied and uploaded to the Internet for safe keeping.
There's another great thing about using the cloud for backing up your stuff.
When you've sorted out your computer, your up and running again, when you sign into your account, all your files come flying down the wires onto your computer.
It all returns without you having to a great deal.
But there are downsides.
It all, obviously, relies on you having an Internet connection.
And because it's all stored on the Internet, there is always the possibility of having your account hacked into.
It's rare, but it can happen and it does happen.
As a general rule of thumb, I'll suggest to clients, that they should think carefully about what files are stored in the cloud.
Maybe avoid storing sensitive/private files online.
Another issue with cloud storage, is that of space.
There are many companies that offer some free cloud storage, but they all charge if you go over the limit.
Microsoft offer 5 GB of free storage, which isn't bad, and Google will give you 15 GB for free, which is about the best I've seen.
So it all depends on how much data you've got to back up.
Online storage is an on going cost, you pay per month or year. However, using the cloud can be more convenient.
So, much depends on how you use your computer.
whole computer backups.
Up to now we've talked about backing up just your files and folders. Just your data.
But you can backup the entire computer and everything on it.
Windows itself, programs, settings and files and folders, everything.
These types of backups are called system images. They require a lot of storage space, so would generally need to be stored on an external hard drive.
External hard drives aren't that expensive these days, and are incredibly useful and many of you will already have one.
A system image takes what's called a snapshot of your computer. It's a copy of the whole computer, and everything on it.
Then later, if your computer won't start, or you get a virus, you can use the system image to return the computer to how it was when the image was made, ie working.
The caveat here, is that if the system image is a month old, then your computer will return to how it was a month ago.
That's a good thing, in that a month ago it was working OK.
But it's also a bad thing in that, everything you've added to the computer in the last 3 or 4 weeks will disappear.
So before using a system image to recover your machine, you need to be sure that your not going to lose anything important that you've added since the image was made.
Windows can back itself up.
It can create an image of the computer which can then be used to restore the whole machine should it go pear shaped.
Using your computer's built in back option, means that there's nothing else to install onto your machine.
The only cost is the price of whatever your going to use to store the backups on. Either USB sticks or USB hard drives.
third party software.
You can of course use third party software to take care of your back ups.
These are extra programs that you'll download & install onto your computer.
These programs bring a whole host of options and enhancements to the party.
Not everyone will need them, but if your serious about protecting your computer and all the stuff on it, then these programs have to be considered.
There's lots of programs to choose from but I've only really used a few of them.
For the last few years, the back up tool I've been using is called Macrium Reflect.
It's available as both a free version and paid for.
I'll definitely put up a guide to using the free version.
EaseUs Todo Backup.
I've used this and was reasonably happy with it.
Again it's available as both free and paid versions.
Acronis True Image.
Only available as a paid for product.
But it is good.
No one solution will suit everyone. So much will depend on how you use your computer, what your doing on your computer and what you've got available to use as storage.
At the very least, you should be copying your files onto a USB stick.
File History can be a big help, particularly for students or anyone that regularly uses files that simply can't be lost.
The same goes for cloud storage. Albeit with the proviso of space and security.
Creating system images can also be a big part of any backup strategy. But again we have the issue of finding space to store them.