[ANSWERED] Should You Backup EVERYTHING?

Category: Backup

All I can say is THANK YOU... and Wow! Since my Tuesday post laying out 9 Good Reasons for Backups, I have received so much positive feedback about my upcoming ebook 'Everything You Need to Know About Backups'. Since we've covered the WHY, today I'm going to talk about WHAT you need to back up. (Do YOU have all the bases covered?) Read on...

What Files and Data MUST Be Backed Up?

Before I begin, I want to share something that happened to me. The doorbell rang, the dog barked, and I could see the mailman waiting there, with two packages and a stack of letters. One in particular caught my attention. It was a handwritten letter from James, one of my AskBob readers.

The final paragraph of his letter absolutely made my day: "I love what you are doing in providing so much information about computers and internet... There is no one like you. You are an answer to the prayers of all of the computer-internet technology ignorant people like me. Thanks, and keep it up, please!"

I hope you don't mind me sharing that. I've been writing about computers and the Internet since 1994, answering questions, and as another reader put it, "translating for the technology impaired." Feedback that like really inspires me to keep pressing on.

Backup Everything

So let's get down to business. One of the most common things I've heard from readers when discussing backups is confusion (or strong opinions) about what really needs to be backed up. Some say they occasionally copy their documents to a CD or flash drive. Others have a list of folders that they routinely back up to an external hard drive. A few mentioned that they use Google Drive or Dropbox to keep files or folders synced to online storage. Some prefer the simplicity of online backups with iDrive or Carbonite, which attempt to identify and back up your "important" files.

Others make a clean distinction between "system files", "program files" and "user files". Some create partitions on their hard drive to separate each type of data. They do backups for all files and folders that are created by them or the software they use. But they don't back up the operating system and installed software, because it can be re-downloaded or re-installed from CDs in the event of a hard drive crash.

Did you miss the previous article on this topic? See Why Backup? Here Are NINE Good Reasons (and ANSWERS to YOUR backup questions). I'll bet some of those reasons will surprise you...

Theory and Practice

In theory, there's nothing wrong with any of those ideas. But in practice, it's not the best approach, unless you're (A) a bit geeky, (B) you feel lucky, and (C) you have lots of time on your hands. If your hard drive fails, you'll need to re-install the operating system, apply any needed security patches and updates, reconfigure all your customizations and personal settings, then install all your programs. Locating the software installation media (CDs or downloaded files) and license keys for paid software can be a big hassle. Only then can you restore your user files from backup.

That whole process can take MANY hours, often requires a bit of technical know-how, and you're never quite sure that everthing is put back the way it was. Quite often, people find that they forgot something. A critical file, folder, program, or device driver is missing from the backup.

A Better Way (and my success story)...

By contrast, I recently had a hard drive go bad. It took me just 23 minutes to restore 60+ gigabytes of data, and I was back up and running like nothing happened. I was able to recover so quickly and easily because I do full system backups (also called "image backups") every Sunday, and incremental backups every weekday at 3AM.

An image backup rolls EVERYTHING on your hard drive into a single file that can be stored on a flash drive or external hard drive. It can be used to restore the entire hard drive, or just selected files and folders. All that happens automatically with my favorite free backup software, so I never have to worry about remembering to do it.

There's a chapter in my ebook with step-by-step instructions and screen grabs for doing exactly that. When my hard drive refused to boot up, and I couldn't even detect a single file on it, I didn't panic because I knew that every single file was safely backed up. As I mentioned in my last posting, CONFIDENCE beats HOPE every time! (I actually take my backups 2 or 3 steps further, but I'll discuss my personal backup strategy in my posting next Monday.)

To those who say "I don't need to do backups" let me point out that I've had TWO instances in the recent past where a NEW HARD DRIVE went on the fritz, and it seemed like a total loss. Stuff happens... hardware failure, viruses, power surges, data breaches and natural disasters. Things can get lost, stolen, wet or broken. And there's always human error and those annoying "senior moments".

So YES! Everyone who uses a computer needs a backup. And ideally, you should backup everything, automatically, and often.

Hard Drive, CHECK. What Else?

Any backup is better than nothing, but hopefully I've convinced you that it's a good idea to make full system (image) backups. Free software is available to make it a simple and automatic process. All you need is an inexpensive USB flash drive or an external hard drive. And in my book, you'll learn about free online backup options.

So that covers the hard drive on your desktop or laptop. Have you thought about the data on your mobile gadgets? If your phone was stolen, or went through the wash, just imagine losing your address book, photos, apps and text messages. And here's something else to consider. More and more, our lives are moving online. What would you do if your email, your Facebook account, or online files got hacked, wiped out, or your password was lost?

Continuing the Conversation...

I want to hear YOUR backup success stories! Have you had a hard drive failure or data loss, and then recovered with a backup? Tell your fellow readers about it here, by posting in the comment section below. Next Monday, I'll share your stories, talk about what else needs to be backed up, and answer more of the questions you submitted in my ebook survey. See you then! -- Bob

P.S. -- If you're a fan of the "Seinfeld" show, you'll get a kick out of the clip I'm sending next week. George Costanza didn't know it at the time, but he had some great advice for computer owners. :-)

 
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Most recent comments on "[ANSWERED] Should You Backup EVERYTHING?"

(See all 26 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

snert
14 Feb 2019

first like james, thank you...anything personal, medical, bills, musics, pics, and info are backed up on my own external drives 2x's...never use clouds or whatever, don't trust them...again thanks bob


Posted by:

Art Hunter
14 Feb 2019

I keep all my data (documents, pictures, email PST file, etc) on a separate HDD partition and back it up automatically every night. I also run Synctoy manually from time to time as a secondary backup to this same data onto a different hard drive. I have 9 hard drives on this system so space is not an issue. Then, every Friday I do a complete system image of my C: drive which picks up any downloads or other files I may have missed getting over to my data partition.

You can tell I have been bitten with losses since buying my first XT computer in 1984.

Recovery must be tested from time to time. by this I mean a full recovery is actually done using your backups. Again, the school of hard knocks has let me down in the past when the recovery failed when I needed it. Hence having more than one backup, using different software and different destinations is the safest way that works for me.

I use the cloud (google groups) to track and maintain forum discussions and I upload important files into this forum. This then works as a backup for others who often don't know how to manage data.

Hope this helps.


Posted by:

Smoky
14 Feb 2019

Well did the complete back on to a external drive all went well as to checking it.But, my drive failed I used the external drive to restore my new disk,but it wont work as it tells me there is no boot file.So stuck with a back up that wont work and have lost all my files.I know I did a complete system and total back up what went wrong have o idea.


Posted by:

Jeannie
14 Feb 2019

One thing I learned while slaving...er...working for Corporate America is to keep copies of everything (it saved my ample asset many times). Though retired now, I still backup everything to the teeth. I've had several occasions where doing so has saved my bacon...er...data. I've used images to restore my System (OS and programs) to an earlier date and used my data backups (essentially duplicate data drives created and updated using a folder/file syncing program) to restore lost data due to senior moments (I'm very "senior") and other mishaps, like dead or corrupted drives.

I'm running my life as paperless as possible (I only keep physical copies--titles, birth certificate, etc.--when I'm required to by law) so backups are extremely critical for me, thus well worth the additional expense of my extreme backup routine. For people who don't keep much, or any, important data on their computers, far simpler (and less expensive) backup routines would be adequate.

I only use full imaging. I do not recommend incremental or differential images; they just open up too many failure points. Also, I do not recommend using imaging for backing up data. Imaging is essential for backing up and restoring System files but, for data, it just takes too long, creates too many drive writes (critical when using SSDs), and eats up too much storage space. Folder/file syncing is much better for backing up data, being faster, less write intensive, and taking up far less drive space.

Most people image more often than necessary. If using imaging for backing up system files and not data files, the only times one needs to make an image is just before (or just after, both if being really cautious) making any kind of change to the system, such as updating the OS or a program, before installing or uninstalling programs, and/or changing settings. Daily or weekly is a waste of time (and writes) if nothing has changed.

The only time I recommend partitioning drives is when one has only one drive in a computer. System files and data files should be kept segregated for efficient backing up. Ideally, the System files should have their own drive and the data files should be kept on their own drive(s). Partitioning should never be used to categorize data; it's simply too cumbersome and inefficient for allocating adequate space for each category. Using folders are a far more efficient way to segregate data into categories.

However, segregating System files from data files is not possible on a computer with only one drive, such as my little notebooks, without partitioning. For example, my notebooks have four partitions: System Reserved, OS and programs, Data, and the factory recovery partition.


Posted by:

BobD
14 Feb 2019

I keep my personal files on an external disk. Once a month, I run a full Macrium data backup to each of two external disks. Every few days, I run a differential backup, alternating between the two disks.
I run Acronis system backups the same way. (Acronis writes files smaller than Macrium's 30 GB differentials.)

I learned the hard way that backing up means nothing unless you can restore. I learned this when some weirdness prepended 16 null bytes to a bunch of files on one of my backup disks.


Posted by:

Jeannie
14 Feb 2019

@John Tyler You still need to have recovery media. If your drive ever went belly up, you would have no way to restore your image since the rescue media on the computer that you can access from the boot menu is also on the drive.

Also, it's a good idea to have more than one rescue media in case one goes bad in storage.


Posted by:

Jeannie
14 Feb 2019

@Steve While cloning is a viable way to back up a drive, it's not the only way and, in fact, it is not the best way. Imaging System Files is far more efficient and takes up less storage space. It's far easier and more practical to store multiple images than multiple clones.

Data files are best backed up using a folder/file
syncing program. It's faster and takes up less storage space.


Posted by:

Jeannie
14 Feb 2019

@Art Hunter Keeping your backups on a partition of a drive, or even another drive, in your computer is a very bad idea. If the drive the "backup" partition is on dies, your backup goes with it. If a virus infects your computer, your backup is likely to also get infected, whether on a partition on the same drive or on a separate drive. if a thief takes off with your computer, the backup is also gone. There many other ways you scenario can go horribly wrong.

For data to be reasonably safe, it MUST exist in three separate places. For most people, this is on the computer, on an onsite backup drive, and on an offsite backup drive. For a backup drive to be a true backup drive, it must be kept powered down and disconnected from the computer and stored away from the computer except while updating a backup (this pretty much rules out automatic backups, btw). Also, one should run antivirus and other antimalware scans before updating a backup.


Posted by:

Roger Woody
14 Feb 2019

A few months ago the hard drive of my desktop was acting a bit squirrelly. It was 7 years old so I suspected it to be past its useful lifespan. Sure enough, it died. Fortunately, I kept a mirror image of the 130GB of data on my hard drive on an external drive. I bought a new hard drive for my desktop and was back in business in less than 2 hours. The cost in money and time of the external hdd, new hdd and software were minuscule next to the cost of time and aggravation of replacing all of that data piecemeal. From past experience, that would have taken about a week.


Posted by:

Ken McKenzie
14 Feb 2019

Thanks Bob, I regularly silently thank you for value at no cost for you insights and training. I have bought a number of your publications, partly as a thank you for your support in your excellent free guidance. I am meticulous in Acronis differential backups of full image, daily, weekly and monthly off-site. This has saved my arse (USA ass?) many times over the decades. Please keep up your excellent work. In appreciation, Ken, Cape Town


Posted by:

Howard Lewis
14 Feb 2019

Lore from ancient history: While working for a nursing magazine, I did a technical, labor-intensive chart on my Radio Shack Model 3. It set out all the blood components that could be transfused and for each gave the dosage, contraindications, side effects, etc.

I got so involved in the project that I didn't want the distraction of backing up. When I typed the last period in the last cell, the computer froze. All my work was lost. It was like a devil was in the machine waiting for the exact moment to screw me.

I learned the only way to beat the devil: Back up.

Howard


Posted by:

Bobbie Smith
14 Feb 2019

Thank you for this explanation on what to back up. I do have an external hard drive I have put things on and hopefully your new ebook will help me understand better how to use it to back up everything. You are really good at explaining things, and I do appreciate you and the work you do to help folks like me, I am in my 70s and if not for you and your help, probably would have given up when I received my first computer. Keep up the good work and hurry with the ebook


Posted by:

Tiger (James E. Goss)
14 Feb 2019

Bob, I am an ancient relic. I still have an old flip phone (Samsung) which is tough as nails; but I can scarcely use most of its capabilities, simply because I am not digitally oriented. I am an analog man, lost in a digital world. Every time "they" "improve" things, I get farther behind! In truth, most of what you write I don't even understand! I'm certainly not stupid; I am in the 99th percentile of IQ. Thanks for "listening".


Posted by:

John
14 Feb 2019

I back up with Macrium Reflect - making full image backups to an external drive. Depending on the PC, mainly whether it has a USB3 port, a backup takes from 15 minutes to 2 hours. I run it overnight.
A year ago I had an HDD crash during the operating day. I had a salvaged HDD of adequate (but smaller) size. I popped it in, and 20 minutes late the PC was exactly restored = OS, partitions, programs, documents, email, browser favorites, even desktop icons in the same position.
(Then I bought a new HDD, made another image, and restored everything on the new HDD.
Image backup is the way to go.


Posted by:

Stephen Earle
14 Feb 2019

Hi Bob,
I use the same basic strategy as you: a weekly image copy and daily incrementals to an external hard drive. I also then copy the weekly and the dailys to a second external hard drive - a backup of my backup - on a daily basis. The main backup is scheduled, so I never have to worry about it. This has saved my bacon more than once. Once in a while, a program like Thunderbird will go south on me (or I break it), and trying to recover all the piecey-parts can be a nightmare. A full restore is faster, and has the broken application up and running again in no time. I've also recovered individual files from time to time. Recently the power supply on my computer burned out, and since the computer was several years old, I decided to invest in a new one. I have a lot of programs that I use or want to have around, and I've done the bit of having to reinstall Windows and all my applications more times that I care to remember. It always takes at least a day (on a good day). When my new machine arrived, I started it up and let it install all the necessaries, then ran a full image copy, which I named Original State and set aside, in case I ever need it. Then I ran a full image restore of my "old" system, and I was back in the saddle again. The whole process took around four hours, and was as smooth as silk. Macrium Reflect Backup is my weapon of choice. It's pretty easy to use and understand, and it runs like a champ. To anyone who still hesitates, I'm with Bob - back up your whole system routinely - some day (and the day will come), you'll be happy you did.


Posted by:

PgmrDude
15 Feb 2019

I have both DropBox and Google Drive "copies" of several of my file folders (the really important ones). However, NEITHER of them ever seem to be current. I'll save a new file to my disk, and the copied/synced folders online are NOT updated. I've looked at both DropBox and Google Drive, and found NO place to check settings or get the Sync to work.


Posted by:

Bob Hill
15 Feb 2019

Some of you guys make backup so COMPLICATED. It is so simple to follow Bob's advice, and make an image backup of everything, in one step, followed by incremental images every day. It can all be automated (scheduled). All you need to do is swap the USB disks and check the logs!

Why make it difficult?


Posted by:

Jeannie
15 Feb 2019

@Bob Hill For starters, automating "backups" requires that the backup drive be powered up and connected to the computer at all times. That exposes the "backup" to the same viruses and other malware the computer can catch.

If the computer is set up correctly, using full images only for the OS and programs and folder file syncing for data is actually quite simple and takes far less time and storage space than imaging everything.


Posted by:

dleippe
16 Feb 2019

I'm with Jeannie on backing up and partitioning.
Even though you have a full image of your hard drive you can have backup drive failures.
I occasionally make a full drive image backup.
More frequently I will make a system image, especially before every new Windows 10 semi annual up date.
Then even more frequently I use the old fashioned copy/paste backup for my data. All on different drives.
Having had images fail, it helps to have more than one.
In the worst case scenario, if you have to rebuild the system from scratch, you really want to have a printed copy of Belarc Advisor...
Also, I have been using Acronis forever with excellent results. You should note that there are free versions of Acronis at Western Digital and Seagate. In order to install either free version you need to have one of their drives installed or attached to the computer, even if you don't use it for the source or target drive.


Posted by:

Gary Southeast wisc
18 Feb 2019

Having a printed, recent copy of a Belarc Advisor (free) summary is absolutely priceless!!


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