Backing Up Your Personal Computer

If you have a computer, and don’t currently have a backup strategy in place, you are taking a big risk. As people in the industry know, it’s not IF your hard drive will fail, but WHEN. And it can happen suddenly. Everything can be working fine, and then one day your computer just may not boot up ever again. Sometimes hard drives can be recovered, but often times, the only recovery option possible will be cost-prohibitive. As a result, it’s critical that you have a copy of the contents of your hard drive, or you will lose everything on your computer – your pictures, documents, emails, financial records, etc.

You can backup your hard drive locally or online. Both options have pros and cons. A local backup can be made easily and quickly to another drive, such as an external hard drive (EHD) or a network attached storage (NAS) device. However, if your computer is stolen or destroyed (by fire or flooding), your local backup may also be stolen or destroyed. On the other hand, online backups are slow, and your initial backup can take weeks or months. But if something happens to your home, an online backup is off-site and your files will be recoverable. As a result, we recommend a blended approach, by using a local backup AND an online backup.

Local Backup

You can easily setup a local backup by purchasing an external hard drive at a local retailer, such as Best Buy, Costco, etc. If there’s not much price difference, it’s better to buy a larger drive, so you won’t run out of space in the future. We recommend at least 2TB. If you plan to move files off of your computer on to your EHD, that data won’t be backed up. In that case, you should buy two external drives – one EHD for archiving files off your computer, and a larger EHD for backing up both your computer and the archive EHD.

While most backup drives come with their own software, they are often not well-written and can waste time and resources on your computer. For Windows 7 and 8 users, the easiest way to back up your files is with the functionality built into Windows 7. Windows 8 has similar functionality that can be enabled, and Apple users can use Time Machine.

To setup Windows 7 Backup & Restore: 

  1. Click the Start button and type “Backup”.
  2. Select Backup and Restore.
  3. Click Set up backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard.
    NOTE: If you’re prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  4. On the first screen, choose your backup EHD.
  5. On the next screen, we recommend choosing  the option to let Windows decide what files to backup.
    Windows will backup all data files that are saved in libraries (such as My Documents and My Pictures), on the desktop, and in default Windows folders for all people with a user account on the computer (such as application data, downloads, and favorites). If there is sufficient space on the EHD, Windows will also take a system image of your entire disk for a very quick and easy restore process.
  6. On the last screen, confirm the day and time that the weekly backup will occur, and click Change Schedule if needed.
  7. Click the button to save your settings and exit.

If you need to recover a computer configured in this way, you can simply insert a new hard drive, boot off a Windows CD, and it will detect the system image on the EHD and prompt you if you want to restore from that backup. Then you can let it run and when you come back to it later, you will be ready to log in and everything will be just as you left it at the last backup, and you will have lost only up to a week’s worth of work. That’s where your online backup comes into play – you can then restore files from the previous week from your cloud backup.

To setup Windows 8 File History:

  1. Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search. If you’re using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search.
  2. Type “File History” in the search box, and then select File History.
  3. Select a drive, and choose your backup EHD.
  4. Turn on File History.

Windows 8 will build a history of all your files, but this does not include the System Image like in Windows 7, which makes recovering after a hard drive failure quick and painless. Windows 8 does not provide a built-in option to schedule a system image, but you can create a system image backup whenever you would like, by going to the File History screen using the steps above, and then clicking “System Image Backup” in the bottom left. Tech-savvy users may be interested in reading this article about advanced usage of the Windows 8 backup tools.

Online Backup

Online backup is very easy to setup and runs in the background. The initial backup takes a long time, but after that it continually backs files up as they are modified. It will also save backup copies of previous versions of files and will retain files after you delete them for a period of time. We use and recommend BackBlaze for online backup.

Using a backup strategy that includes a combination of local and online backups ensures that you can restore your computer to it’s previous state and retrieve all your files in the event of a hard drive failure or other catastrophic loss.