Back up data to keep moving forward

Whether your computer’s hard drive has moving parts or uses solid-state technology, it eventually will break.

  • Sep. 28, 2011 5:29 p.m.

Whether your computer’s hard drive has moving parts or uses solid-state technology, it eventually will break.

Sometimes it takes years, but it usually fails when you’re in the middle of something crucial — say, a doctoral thesis or as you’re putting the finishing touches on your family tree. You need to prepare for that day with a regular and reliable backup system.

There are two methods for backing up data, and you can use one or both. That depends on how much you’d miss the photos of your kids’ first steps (hint, you should do both). The first method is to create a local backup, most commonly on an external hard drive.

There are many choices, but I’m a fan of Seagate’s GoFlex line (www.seagate.com). It includes two versions. A network-attached drive (US$130) connects to your wireless network, which lets you back up multiple computers to the same drive. Or, its USB-attached drive ($90) is intended for a single computer. Setup for both systems is as easy as running a software disk. Answer a few questions, select the files you want backed up, or select everything. Default selections are probably your best bet, because they’ll regularly, automatically back up your files. One handy feature: You can restore entire backups or select files. You can even choose versions of files, so if you spent two hours rewriting your paper on Magical Birds of the Amazon, and decided your third version was best, you’ll be able to restore it.

Seagate’s software makes the daunting backup process quick and easy.

The second method — and the one I recommend if you’re as lazy or as busy as I am — is to create an off-site backup. CrashPlan (www.crashplan.com) works on both Windows and Apple computers. Choose to back up to another computer on your network, a friend’s computer, a local external drive or to its servers.

I recommend using its servers for several reasons. First, this route is cheap; you can back up one computer for a mere $3 a month or as many as 10 computers, with unlimited storage, for $6. It’s reliable. Backing up content to another computer on the network or a friend’s computer has the same risks as backing up to an external drive: the all eventually will fail. CrashPlan has redundant or multiple servers, increasing safety. After running through its simple setup, access your files through the program installed on your computer or through its website.

Choosing which files to back up is important, too. Most back-up software will remind you of data stored in obvious places, such as your documents and pictures folders. But data can hide in obscure places, too.

Don’t overlook your desktop items, your Internet bookmarks and your emails. If you use bookkeeping software such as Quicken, you’ll want to look for where you’re storing its data (usually in program files/intuit/quicken). Send me a note for my list of other neglected but necessary files to back up.

Mom showed me how to balance a checkbook. Now I hope I’ve returned the favor by telling her, and you, how to back up a computer system.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea

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