How would you cope if the hard disc drive in your PC suffered a catastrophic failure or a virus scrambled all the data? A lot of PC owners gamble that it won’t happen to them, but what if it does, have you worked out how much you stand to loose? A faulty disc drive can be replaced, and you should have original copies of all the programs on your machine, but every letter, document, database or file you’ve ever created or downloaded from the Internet could be lost forever. If you use your PC for business, organise your personal finances, or those of a club or society, the consequences could be very serious!

Thankfully hard disc crashes are quite rare these days and you take all sensible anti-virus precautions, don’t you…? Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of other ways for data to be lost, from tinkering tots to power surges.

You know where this is leading – it’s all about copying or backing up essential data, so that if the worst should happen, you can get your system up and running again. The trouble is few PC users take the threat of disaster seriously, until it is too late!

It’s not as though you have to buy a lot of expensive hardware; Windows 95 has a capable backup utility built-in. You can find it in My Computer. Simply right click on the C: drive icon, select Properties from the menu and then click on the Tools tab. Start the Backup Wizard and follow the instructions; this will enable you to save your irreplaceable files to floppy disc. Backup compresses the data, thus saving space and it can be set to subsequently copy only those files that have changed. Backup can restore files just as easily, though obviously it only works when the system and Windows 95 are operating normally.

Half a dozen floppies should be enough to keep all of your important word processor and account files safe. However, this method quickly becomes tedious if you want to store more than a few megabytes of data. It’s clearly impractical for large image files or applications and no one in their right mind would contemplate using it to backup an entire system.

The alternative is a mass-storage device. Basically there are three types: magnetic disc, magnetic tape, and optical disc drives. Magnetic discs include high capacity floppies, and removable hard disc drives. There are a number of magnetic tape systems -- sometimes called ‘streamers’ – using QIC, DAT and 8mm data cartridges or cassettes. Optical disc storage covers recordable and re-writable CD-ROM, and the forthcoming DVD format.

High capacity magnetic disc drives are the simplest, cheapest and most flexible solution, suitable for the majority of PC users. They work in exactly the same way as a standard floppy drive, except the discs --- they look like fat floppies -- have a capacity of between 100 megabytes and 2-gigabytes (or up to twice as much when the data is compressed). Drives such as the Iomega Zip and Jaz or LS-120 drives from Panasonic and Imation fit inside the PC case. External models are also available; they communicate with the PC via an interface card, or use the parallel printer port. Most drives are quite easy to fit – external models are the easiest  -- once installed Windows 95 treats them as another disc drive, automatically assigning them a drive letter, usually ‘E:’. Files can be saved or copied to disc in exactly the same way as a normal floppy and as an added bonus they read and write data between 5 and 20 times faster.

The E: drive can be used in conjunction with Windows 95 Backup, or the utility programs supplied with it. LS-120 drives can also read and write data to standard 3.5 inch floppies and are normally configured to replace the A: drive. Prices start at around £85 for the Iomega Zip and Panasonic LS120 drives, with a capacity of 100 and 120Mb per disc; blanks cost between  £10 and £15 each. Jaz drives are available in 1 and 2 gigabyte versions, costing £200 and £400 respectively, 1GB carts are £65 each.

Removable hard disc drives are a good way of keeping a complete system backup though compared with high capacity floppies they’re quite bulky and mechanically fragile. Prices have come down a lot recently; 2-gigabyte models now sell for less than £200.

Magnetic tape drives – internal and external types are available -- can have an enormous capacity, up to 24 gigabytes in the case of some professional devices, though most models can store between 2 and 4 gigabytes of data. That means it is possible to copy the contents of an entire hard disc -- including Windows 95 and all of your programs -- on to one tape. The main disadvantage of tape is that is quite slow, a 2-gigabyte download can take two hours or more. That’s not a problem for routine backups -- it can be done whilst you’re working -- but if you just want to restore or update a single file it can take a long time for the tape to wind to the right spot. If the file size has changed the whole tape may have to be re-written. Nevertheless, tape systems are reasonably inexpensive. For example, the Hewlett Packard Colorado 5GB internal tape drive, with a capacity of 2.5 gigabytes (5.2 gigabytes when compressed) sells for less than £140, tapes cost between £8 to £15, depending on the size.

Optical disc drives use recordable CD-ROMs with a capacity of up to 650 megabytes. CD recorders can read normal CD-ROMs and audio CDs as well, so they can replace the original drive fitted to your PC. There are two types of disc: CD-R discs can only be recorded once; CD-RW discs can be re-written, though normally you can’t change files by simply writing over them, and it may involve re-writing the whole disc. CD-R discs can be read on any CD-ROM drive, CD-RW discs require the drive to be ‘MultiRead’ compatible.  Recordable CD drives such as the Mitsumi CR2600 cost from as little as £250. CD-R discs can be found for as little as £1 each, CD-RW blanks start at £17.

DVD drives are now reaching the shops, and recordable versions (DVD-RAM) are not far behind. DVD drives can play CD-ROMs and audio CDs but the important feature is disc capacity, which starts at 1.7gigabytes. Further enhancements, including double-sided and multi-layer discs will increase storage space to 7 gigabytes, but that’s still some way down the line. It’s a little too early to talk about prices but it’s likely they’ll be comparable with recordable CD within a year or two.  

Most types of drive can be fitted in a few minutes, and they all come with relatively simple operating software and instructions. However, whatever system you use it’s important to adopt a strategy, and stick to it. That means making regular backups. Most software can be programmed to do it automatically, at a particular time. If you are creating a lot of frequently changing files that could mean backing them up at least once or twice a day. It’s no good keeping the tapes or discs in the machine; they must be stored separately. If your data is particularly vulnerable you should think about making multiple copies, and keeping at least one of them off-site, in a secure location.


Hewlett Packard 0990-474747,

Imation, (01344) 402000,

Iomega, 0800-973194,

Mitsumi, (01276),

Panasonic, 0500-404041,




Video and data recording system using 8mm wide magnetic tape; cassettes are roughly the size of an audio cassette


Digital Audio Tape, high quality recording system using even smaller matchbox-sized tape cassettes spooled with 4mm wide magnetic tape


Digital versatile/video disc – high capacity optical disc system, using 12cm discs. DVD-RAM is the name for recordable DVD machines (RAM = random access memory)


Quarter Inch Committee; standards organisation responsible for devising data storage system, using quarter-inch wide magnetic tape



In the early days it is easy to loose track of the files you create on your new PC. Come to think of it, it can happen at any time, even experienced users sometimes forget to check what they’re doing, before clicking on the Save button...

Find is one of the most useful and powerful facilities in Windows 95 and it’s readily accessible on the Start menu. If you know the name of the lost file, and roughly where it has been stored just enter the details. Use the Browse button to narrow down the choice of folders, or search the whole drive. However if you only remember vague details, such as the when it was created, Find can still help. Click on the Date Modified tab and try searching a day or two at a time. Better still, if the file contains text, and you can think of a keyword -- preferably one that’s not used in any other documents -- click on the Advanced tab, and type in the word or words in the ‘Containing Text’ field.  Click on Find Now and off it goes. Double click on any of the files found to open them up.

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