Hard Drives Are Not Forever
Yesterday during startup I got an error that said 'Drive Seek Failure' but then it seemed to start up okay. Now I'm worried that my hard drive may be failing. What do you recommend for backing up my files?
Backing Up Your Files
Sooner or later, something terrible will happen to your hard drive. That's not a very happy thought, but the good news is you can survive a hard drive failure with only minimal inconvenience -- if you back up your files first.
Hard drives can fail without warning, a virus or power surge could wipe out your data, fire or flood could damage the drive, or it might even get stolen. You might accidentally delete a file or an entire folder of important files with an errant click. And it's not only emergencies that make backups important... if you buy a new computer, a backup can make it much easier to copy your files from the old computer to the new one.
So do you need to backup all your files, or just certain ones? That depends on how you use your computer, how important your data is, and how much you want to think about backups. If your drive fails, you can reinstall the operating system and all your software.
But the data you've created and stored (word processor documents, spreadsheets, emails, photos, music, etc.) may not be replaceable. See my article Should I Backup ALL of My Files? for help deciding on your personal backup strategy.
At a very minimum, you should decide which are your most important files and make backups. If you're going to backup just a few files of folders, here are some easy ways to do so:
- Open a free web-based email account, and send the files to yourself.
- Copy them to another computer on your home or office network.
- Burn them to a CD.
- Copy them to a flash drive or external hard drive.
- Upload them to free online storage. See Free Online File Sharing With Dropbox for one suggestion.
Do this often - daily, weekly or monthly - you decide based on how often you update the files and how critical it is to have access to the most recent data in the event your hard drive crashes and burns. But be warned that recovering from a hard drive failure will be a nuisance if you opt to backup only your data files. It will take quite a few hours to re-install your operating system and all the software that you had. If you downloaded software, you might have lost the license or registration keys along with your data, too.
Backup on Auto-Pilot
I strongly advise an automated full system backups, because EVERYTHING is safely squirreled away, and restoring your data can be accomplished with a few clicks. You could back up your data on a bunch of CDROMs, but you'd need a LOT of them to back up a modern hard drive, which can store 1000 GB or more. CD-ROM disks hold about 700MB of data, so even with compression you'd need over 1000 of them to get the job done. Not very convenient, especially if you ever need to restore the data.
Since hard disk drives are cheaper than ever, I recommend you get a portable external hard drive and use it as a backup device for one or more computers. You can buy a large capacity external drive for well under $1 per gigabyte. My article Choosing a Portable Hard Drive will help you select a backup drive that meets your need for speed, capacity, ruggedness and security.
If you're going to make backups on a regular schedule, backup software is a must. This will help you automate the process of making automatic full or incremental backups, and to restore just one deleted file or the entire drive. A good backup program will even allow you to store multiple versions of a file, so you can go back in time and restore a file to the way it was a day, a week or a month ago. Windows 7 has a decent backup and restore feature, and the File History feature in Windows 8 is even better. But I'm partial to the Acronis True Image commercial software, which I have used for several years.
Another option that's becoming increasingly popular is online backup. Online backup services such as Mozy and Carbonite can be easily configured to back up one or even multiple computers. See my article discussing Online Backup Security, then review the pricing and features of these online backup services to see which one makes the most sense for you. Keep in mind that there are some practical limitations on recovering your files in the event of a hard drive failure. See my article Recovering Data From Online Backup for details on that point.
Losing data that you've spent countless hours creating is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to a computer user. When it comes to backups, don't think too hard about whether or not it's worth the trouble. It takes only a little time and money to set up automatic backups that give you peace of mind and protection from data disasters.
What's your personal backup strategy? Post a comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 1 Aug 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Hard Drives Are Not Forever (Posted: 1 Aug 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved