The Chore That is Easy to Ignore

There are some activities that we all know are important, but still have a hard time remembering to do. For example, flossing is one of the best things we can do to keep our teeth healthy, but many people don't floss on a regular basis. Another example is backing up the data on our computers.
It's a chore that is easy to ignore, but sooner or later you will either be glad you did it,
or wishing that you had.

In this article, I want to discuss why and how to backup your computer's memory.
First, let's define what we are talking about. A "backup" of our computer's data is nothing more than a copy of the data, stored somewhere else. The hard drive in your PC stores your data in files that are organized into directories. There are several reasons why you should keep a backup copy of those files somewhere other than your PC.

So, there are many ways our data can be lost, corrupted, or destroyed. The best way to safeguard it is to keep a backup copy somewhere else. (Let me say in passing that there are businesses that specialize in recovering data from hard drives. Even if your drive is physically damaged, they can sometimes recover your information.  However, their services are not cheap, so I tend to regard them as a last resort and only for data that is valuable enough to warrant the cost of recovery.)

So what are some of our options for backing up our data?

1. second hard drive
2. external hard drive
3. USB "thumb" drive
4. CD or DVD

1. Most home PCs come with one hard drive.  Often this drive may be divided into separate partitions, i.e., C: and D: , but it is still a single hard drive.  In that situation, copying data from C: to D: doesn't protect your data.  However, you can add a second hard drive when you order a new PC or  Then you can your data simply by "dragging and dropping" the directories from your main drive to your backup drive.  This is a relatively quick and easy way to protect your data against a hard drive crash.  You can even buy software that will copy your data automatically, so you don't have to remember to.  The problem with this approach is that it only addresses the first part of our definition.  Yes, there is a copy of your data, but it is not "stored somewhere else".  If a tree crashes through the roof and lands on your PC, then your data is lost.

2. An external hard drive gives you the advantages of a second internal hard drive (quick and easy backup with large capacity), yet is portable.  You connect it to your PC via a USB (Universal Serial Bus) cable and then drag and drop directories to it.  When you're done, just disconnect the drive and store it in a safe place.  The unit shown here is a 100 GB (gigabyte) drive with USB 2 interface.  If you choose to use a external drive, get one that supports USB 2, which is much faster (480 Mbit/s versus 12 Mbit/s for USB 1). External Hard Drive
3. Another good option is for a backup device is a USB "thumb" drive.  These amazing devices are smaller and cheaper than an external hard drive.  If the volume of data you need to backup isn't too much, then a "thumb" drive may be your best option.  The one shown here holds 128 MB.  Once you plug it into a USB port, your PC will see it like another drive, so you can drag and drop files to it.  Just remember to store it in a safe place when you are done with making your backup.. USB Thumb Drive
4. One more option to consider is to burn your data to a CD or a DVD, if your PC has that capability.  A CD can hold up to 700 MB (megabytes), while DVDs have capacities greater than a GB (gigabyte).  CDs and DVDs are easy to label and store in a safe place. Compact Disc (CD)

How often should you backup your computer?  The answer depends on

For example, at work I back up my PC every Friday at the close of business.
I do it as a matter of habit, so I that I never lose more than a week's worth of work. 
If during the week I put alot of effort into some project, I will back it up immediately.

On my home PC, the situation is different.  Some weeks there isn't much activity and therefore no reason to make a backup.  After all, if the information on my computer drive hasn't changed much, then the backup copy is still current.  But, let's say I download 100 pictures of our family vacation from my digital camera to the PC.  At this point the backup copy isn't current and those pictures are at risk, so a new backup copy is needed.

Please note that the emphasis in this article has been on making backup copies in a homeschool computing environment, especially in the context of recovering data.  We really haven't talked about the long-term archival of computer data.  If you have the need to store digital data safely for a number of years, say for the purpose of a small business, then the options and trade-offs you have are somewhat different.  In a case like that, you should probably consult a reputable vendor for help in designing and implementing a backup system to meet your needs.

Although it may be a chore that is easy to ignore, if you develop the habit of making backup copies on a regular basis you will be protecting yourself against the loss of your digital property.  Think about it this way: what other valuable property can be protected so easily?  I mean, wouldn't it be nice if we could make a backup copy of our car as easily as we can our data?

Come to think of it, it's about time for me to back up my PC.

For more help with homeschool computing, visit us at StrongTower Software .

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