What exactly is a computer backup? How do you do it? Who should do it?
You all probably know you should be backing up. But what exactly is a backup? What are the different types of backups.
What is right for you?
What Is A Backup?
A backup is simply a copy. A second version if you like, that is stored somewhere safe. 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 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.
You know that you should have at least one spare for each important key. At least one copy.
And you wouldn’t keep the spares, on your normal keyring.
You’d store them somewhere else, somewhere safe, somewhere that you can get to them if you need to.
In this case, the spare key is your backup. If your regular key is lost, then you fall back onto your spare.
And it works exactly the same on your computer.
Why Make Backups?
Backups help to protect your files and folders. While computers are really good at storing all your data, all your stuff, when things go wrong with a PC, they can go wrong very quickly.
That’s when having up to date copies of all your files and folders is going to become very important.
Take a picture as an example, many people store thousands of pictures on their computers, which they build up over time. If you only have one copy of each picture then they are vulnerable.
If the computer is lost, broken or infected with a virus or ransomware, then the images are lost. Gone forever.
It doesn’t really matter how many files you’ve got that are important to you, 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.
But If You Made A Backup
That’s where the backup comes in.
Once you’ve fixed the machine, got rid of the virus, sorted it all out.
Then you return the pictures (or whatever files you backed up) onto the computer and all’s well with the world once more.
Different Tyeps Of Computer Backup.
There are different ways to create computer backups and which you choose really depends on how you use your computer, what you have stored on it and what resources you’ve got available to you.
You can choose to backup just your files and folders.
Or create whole system backups.
There is another useful type of backup called System Restore. It’s not really a backup solution as such, but instead makes or creates “snapshots” of your computer configuration called Restore Points. You can then use these Restore Points to return your computer to a time when it was working properly. How To Use System Restore In Windows 10 & 11.
Backup To A USB Stick.
You can use a USB stick. They’re cheap and readily available and easy to use. These are best suited to file and folder backups.
You can simply Copy & Paste your most important pictures, documents, videos etc, onto the USB stick.
And for a lot of people, that’s all you’ll need to do. No more complicated than that.
Backing up to a USB stick would suit you best if you don’t store that much on your computer.
Maybe you add a few photos from your hols, a few documents, a receipt here and there.
Each time you add something important, you need to remember to make a copy and move the copy to your USB stick.
Which is why it’s best for people that don’t actually store that much on their machines. Although it’s easy to do, remembering to do it and staying on top of it is a bit of a chore. It’ll often get pushed back, something you’ll do tomorrow etc.
Windows File History Backups.
Back up your files/folders automatically.
File History is Window’s own backup tool for creating copies of your files and folders. It automates the process of backing up your files and folders.
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.
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 you need to do is check it every now and then to make sure it’s still doing its 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.
The best thing about cloud backups is they are generally automated.
Simply put, you choose a folder, that you want to be 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 safekeeping.
There are two great advantages to using the cloud to back up your files.
Firstly, you don’t have to look after anything, no USB sticks or external hard drives. You simply need to know your login details, username and password.
The second advantage follows on from the first, in that you can access your files from any device. All you need is your login details.
But there are downsides. Nothing’s perfect.
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.
For instance, Microsoft offers 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. After that, you have to buy extra space.
So it all depends on how much data you’ve got to back up.
Online storage is an ongoing cost, you pay per month or year. However, using the cloud can be more convenient.
So, much depends on how you use your computer.
System Images – 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 you’re not going to lose anything important that you’ve added since the image was made.
Windows System Image Backup.
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 backup option means that there’s nothing else to install onto your machine.
Third Party Backup Software.
You can, of course, use third party software to take care of your backups.
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 you’re serious about protecting your computer and all the stuff on it, then these programs have to be considered.
No one type of backup 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.
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