A good backup will save files, and your sanity

I get a lot of letters about backing up computers and hard drives and the best tools to make this process happen.

I get a lot of letters about backing up computers and hard drives and the best tools to make this process happen.

Really, the only problem with backup today is that users still aren’t doing it routinely. I was shocked the other day when I plugged in my laptop to run an incremental backup (the kind you do when you have a full backup on file and just run one to catch up) and found it had been 91 days since my last one.

I still get calls every week from weepy people with “everything is gone” stories.

It bears repeating: One of the reasons why hard drives have gotten cheaper is, in my opinion, because they have gotten less reliable. If you use computers at all, you are very likely to see a “BOOT DEVICE NOT FOUND” message in your lifetime. And if you are prepared, it is so much nicer.

I called a woman the other day after struggling with her laptop for a week. I told her that she was looking at a much more expensive hard-drive recovery service if she needed her data back.

“That’s OK,” she said. “I back everything up every night to my flash drive.”

That is forward thinking; just don’t lose the flash drive. One-terabyte hard drives now cost less than $100 in external enclosures, so there is no excuse not to back up your data. You simply plug the drive into a USB port on your computer, drag files to the external drive and shut it off. That’s it.

If you want to get fancy and use a backup program, try Acronis True Image (www.acronis.com) and back up your entire computer or just certain files and directories. I use the program and recommend it. If you have someone who is not very computer-savvy, Rebit (www.rebit.com) makes a simple backup.

The very simple way, however, is to just buy a USB drive and plug it in. It will show up on your computer — probably as drive E: — and will act and look just like your normal drive. When you put photos or documents on your regular drive you can either manually copy them to the external drive or use a sync program to automatically copy them.

Many external drives also come with backup programs; even Windows comes with a basic program. Just get one started and at least save your data, especially your priceless digital photos. Without negatives anymore, once your photos are gone, they are gone forever.

James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer-repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard.

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