How to back up your computer

By | February 26, 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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6 thoughts on “How to back up your computer



    1. infoave Post author

      You can’t backup your hard drive to the same drive that Windows is on. You have to choose another drive – a USB Flash drive or external hard drive.

      1. Edna Guiducci

        I purchased a’click-free’ automatic back-up system which reminds me to back-up every 30 days. You can choose the back-up reminder to any date you want, when you install it. This was not a freeby and it is pricey but I feel it is well worth it since a severe lightning strike ‘fried’ my electronics last summer. I never lost any info..not even my e-mail!!!

        1. infoave Post author

          You should be aware that Click Free does not create hard drive images (clones), it is a folder-by-folder (file-by-file) backup system. If your hard drive fails, you won’t be able to image the new hard drive with your hard drive image, all you’ll be able to do is put all the files and folders back on your computer – and few, if any, of your programs will work. Before you can load your backups on your computer you’d have to reinstall Windows, then load all your backups, and then reinstall all your programs. If those programs require registration, you’d have to find your registration keys and re-register them. With a hard-drive image type backup… if your hard drive fails or your Windows system becomes unbootable, you simply insert the rescue disk or USB you created when you installed the cloning software, and restore your computer to exactly as it was before the problem occurred – no reinstalling Windows, no reinstalling programs, no searching for registration keys, no re-setting your Windows preferences. File-by-file type backups are better than nothing, but certainly don’t compare to good image-based (clone) backups like those created by Acronis True Image, Paragon, Ghost and other hard drive cloning software.

  2. Terry

    I do make clones(images) of my laptop with a boot cd and have had to use them once to restore the system. It works great; but it was only restoring back on the same drive since it had’nt crashed and was to fix a problem. I have a new drive ready to install and clone in case of a crash and my question is this. When I install the new drive how do I format it so I can put my clone on it? It did not come with a disc. I do have an operating System CD that came with the laptop. Do I boot with that to format the drive & then insert my boot cd for my cloning program & proceed from there? Thanks, Terry

    1. infoave Post author

      Most software that creates HD clones have you create a boot CD with tools for formatting new hard drives. And most hard drives (at least all the hard drives I’ve ever purchased) come with a disc with tools available for things like formatting a disk. You just have to remember, after you’ve installed the new drive, to insert the disk into your DVD/CD drive and then power down the computer. Wait a minute and then power it up and it should boot from the CD. You will find tools on the disk that comes with the hard drive for formatting the drive. Acronis, Ghost, and Paragon all help you create a recovery disk – that has these kinds of tools on it. Once you have formatted the drive, insert the disk you use with your backup program and find the restore feature, locate your backup archive and restore it onto your new drive. Just make sure that the new drive is as big or bigger than the old drive.


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