The right way to backup your computer

By | June 21, 2011
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Peter says you tell us to backup our computers but you don’t tell us how
You are constantly telling us to back up our computer regularly . But how do you do that, do I put each individual File and Folder one at a time onto a memory stick or disk. Is there a way to download the whole lot in one go onto a disk. Is it a special type of disk. So many questions, as you say, there is no such thing as a stupid question?

Our answer
Your question is a very good question..

There are two types basic types of backups file-by-file (or folder-by-folder) and image-based backup (or hard drive clones). The former is troublesome. If your hard drive crashes you have to reinstall Windows, set it up, and then spend hours reinstalling your programs (if you’ve remembered to backup the programs installation file or you have the CD). Then if a program requires a registration key, you’ll have to sift through your emails or wherever you saved the email with the registration key, find the key and register the program. If you don’t have a lot of programs or a lot of files and folders, this may take you only a few days. If you have a lot of programs and a lot of files and folder it may take you two weeks or more.

With an image-based backup, you clone your entire hard drive, including the operating system, all programs, all files, all folders, all settings, everything. And if your computer goes belly up or your hard drive fails, you’re only about 45 minutes away from getting your computer back up and running exactly as it was before disaster struck – even if you’ve installed a new hard drive.

Here’s how image-based backup programs work:

The first time you run the program, you’ll be asked to create a bootable CD or USB you can use to boot your system, even if Windows is not on the hard drive. This special CD or USB allows you to format new hard drive (prepare it so you can use your image-based backup), it also allows you to restore your hard drive (or new hard drive) using your image-based backup.

Then you’ll start the backup process (creating an image of your hard drive). The first time you run the image-based backup program, it will take you several hours, since your starting from scratch. After the initial run, however, you can do incremental backups, in other words, only data which have changed are backed up – there’s no sense backing up anything that hasn’t changed again – it’s already backed up.

There’s no doubt that using an image-based backup program is harder than dragging folders from your hard-drive to USB drive, but in the end, you’ll be glad you took the time to learn how to use an image-based backup program. The time you spend learning how to use it will be well worth it if you ever have to use your image-based backup to restore your computer or clone your backup to a new hard drive. You won’t spend days or weeks getting your computer back up and running, you might spend an hour.

There are two image-based backup programs we’ve used. One offers a free version, the other doesn’t. Paragon’s free image-based backup program has saved both of us on at least two occasions when our main hard drives failed. So we know it works. It’s just not really easy to use. But if you follow the instructions, it’s a great program that works very well.

Acronis is also a great program that we’ve used to restore our computers. It’s not free, but it is a bit easier to use than Paragon – in fact it’s a lot easier to use. Both work in basically the same way, both require you to create a bootable CD or USB when you first run the program – and don’t skip this step. Without that bootable CD or USB you won’t be able to access your image backup and/or you may not be able to boot your computer. Important step – so don’t skip it.

You can get more information about Paragon’s free image-based backup program from here:

Learn more about Acronis True Image backup program from this location:

Oh, one more thing. Before you start making image-based (clone) backups, remember they’re very large. Never store your backup image on the same drive on which Windows is installed. If that drive goes bad, your image-backup will be useless. We strongly suggest you spend about $70 – $90 and buy an external hard drive of at least 500GB. If you have a large hard drive and you have a lot of data and programs, we suggest you get a 1 terabyte or larger external drive. Use the external drive for nothing other than storing your image-based backups.

Remember file-by-file backups are OK if you’re saving photos, music, or movies for safe-keeping. But storing program folders is basically useless – you can put them back on your hard drive, but there’s a greater than 90% chance those programs won’t work – you’ll have to reinstall and re-register them if the program requires a registration key. With image-based backups, EVERYTHING is backed-up. Your hard drive and everything on it is backed up sector by sector, including your operating system.

There’s only one kind of backup that we recommend for everyone and that’s image-based backups. If you still want to back up file-by-file do it for photos, movies, documents, and music files – things you might delete by accident or things you want to have easy access to. But never depend on file-by-file backups when it comes time to restore your computer.

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9 thoughts on “The right way to backup your computer

  1. Tony

    No mention of the back up program that comes with Windows 7.
    I understand that this has the option to take a disc image. Has anyone used this?

  2. James

    Macrium Reflect is another good image back up that is also free and has saved my butt at least once.

  3. John Hatchard

    Excellent advice – too late for me though when my hard-drive very suddenly and completely refused
    access completely as if it had been shot though
    the head. Perhaps it had!!!
    I had photos, articles and installation files saved
    but many were out of date and of limited use.
    Two highly skilled IT guys tried to help but the cause
    of the ‘death’ eluded them.
    I have received a tip that I have yet to try – put the
    hard-drive in the fridge for a while then try it. I was told to beware of condensation so I have stored it for a few days in a very dry place and will put it in the special bag my new one came in before putting it to cool down! I live in hope.

  4. elaine

    I used the Paragon free image backup successfully, but cannot read the data on my external hard drive.Have tried to read the lengthy Paragon manual but it’s beyond my limited understanding of pc technology.Am I only able to read after a restore?

  5. Dean

    What is the difference in backing up with one of these programs and the Click Free Drives? Do they do the same thing?

    I am considering getting one so hope someone can tell me before I waste my money if it isn’t what I need.

    1. infoave Post author

      There’s a great deal of difference between a piece-meal (File by File) back up and a hard-drive clone (image backup). The differences are too many to mention here. You can back up your Windows folder using piece-meal backups — but that does not backup your Windows installation. If you use an image-based backup you can restore your computer – all programs, all files, all settings, and the operating system. Click Free does not create image-based back ups. There is a huge difference. Not saying there’s anything wrong with Click Free – it’s fine if you just want to back up some photos or music or documents. But it’s not a substitute for a full hard drive clone.

  6. Karen W

    The last time my PC guy had my computer (Win8 pc, upgraded to Win10), he set up regular backups for me onto 1 of my 2 external drives. I don’t run a business, but have over a decade of purchased digital embroidery files that would be devastating to lose.
    A few weeks ago I discovered that something had changed my settings & the backups were not being done. A friend said it could have changed during an update & that if I had my computer go into “Sleep Mode” or if the screensaver was running, the backup might not work. So, I turned those off & as a precaution, I did an full image backup & couldn’t believe it took nearly a full 24-hours!! OMG! Then I set it up to run incremental file backups of crucial folders (Documents, Photos, etc) onto the 2nd drive (where my previous backups were going to) on a weekly basis, but I keep getting error messages, saying it didn’t complete the backup. This is so frustrating! Any advice? BTW, I did a new system image onto DVD’s & boot CD when I bought my computer.

    1. infoave Post author

      Karen, if you’re using Windows 10, you should be more concerned about backing up the files you can’t replace than a system image backup. I don’t have enough information here to help you much. You don’t mention what backup program this “PC guy” installed, or how it was set up. But I can’t imagine a backup program that would stop working because your computer went to sleep or a screensaver was running – that’s kind of a stretch.

      My advice would be to concentrate on file & folder backups of those irreplaceable files and folders, and not worry about an image backup. You don’t seems to be concerned so much about your programs you have installed, but your precious files.

      Image backups are good if your hard drive fails, but Windows 10 makes image backup less important than ever before. You can create Windows 10 installation media free of charge. If Windows 10 has already been installed on your PC then you would not even need a product key to reinstall Windows. Most programs can be reinstalled without any problem. It’s your irreplaceable files you need to worry about.

      You can use Windows 10 File History to back up your critical files and folders. You can supplement this with manual back ups. The only folder you have to back up is C:\Users\Your User Name. That folder contains everything (Pics, Docs, Videos, Music, etc).


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