Saving Files vs. System Backup
We've spoken a length about the various devices currently available for storing personal computer files, in the event something happens to our PC's. Having one or more of these external storage devices on hand is an inexpensive and invaluable addition for all PC owners. With a little planning, saving personal files is as easy as drag-n-drop. More importantly, by taking a few minutes each week, or each day, we ensure that those files are always available to us.
Computer system backups are a horse of a different color. Our nightly ritual of copying files to our USB drive takes only a few minutes and a relatively little storage space. On the other hand, a system backup may require an external hard drive and several hours, depending on a number of factors, to successfully complete. So why would we consider the trouble and expense?
While our daily ritual saves the personal data that's important to us, a system backup preserves all of the other software on our PC's that allow us to use that personal data. The intent of a backup is to preserve both the data and the programs that access them in such a manner that they can be restored to the same condition as they existed prior to the backup. If you've never had to rebuild a computer from a collection of installation CDs, I can tell you that it is a mind numbingly long process. Many older computer programs require the PC be restarted at the conclusion of the program installation, each and every one of them. Newer programs tend to require both serial numbers for installation and registration confirmation numbers to run, assuming you had the foresight to save the former and record the latter. Still other programs need configuration of the user's screen or a list – i.e. SPAM filters – for optimal performance. In fact, a complete restoration of a PC in this manner can take days, depending on the complexity of the original system. A true system backup addresses these issues by capturing the entire content of the PC and restoring it in a single operation, usually no longer than the time it took to save the original backup.
So, if it requires so much storage space and such a long time to complete, then when and how often must it be done? Again, the objective is to capture the programs installed onto the PC so that they can be restored in the event of an accident. Therefore, the answer is as often as you install new computer programs or update existing ones. If that's too frequent, then do a system back up at least twice a year. Even if you miss saving a couple of new programs before you actually need to use the backup, that's preferable to spending an entire weekend, or perhaps week, recovering from a dead PC.
However, to start, you need a backup program. While there are many backup programs from which to choose, the two programs that I'll recommend are as follows. First, if you invest in an external hard drive that includes a backup program, then use it. It's often the easiest and most economical solution. Otherwise, if you don't have a backup program, then consider Norton Ghost. Ghost has a proven track record and good support.