BOOT CAMP 253 (26/11/02)




This week in this short series on recordable CDs and DVDs we’re taking a break from the technicalities and jargon and looking at one of the most important applications for a CD writer namely backing up valuable or irreplaceable data on your PC; next week, we turn our attention to making your own music CDs.


There are several schools of thought concerning backups, some favour the whole disc approach where everything on a hard drive is copied so in the event of a catastrophic failure the entire system can be re-installed on a new hard drive. At the other extreme there’s the incremental backup method, which means backing up only those files and folders where the contents have changed.


The whole disc/system backup method is preferred by larger commercial operations and businesses using high-capacity tape-based storage systems but it’s not really suitable for a stand-alone home PC where the only storage medium is likely to be a CD writer. Nowadays most PCs have multi-gigabyte drives and it is theoretically possible to ‘span’ the contents of a 10Gb (or larger) hard drive across a dozen or more CD-R/RW discs but when it comes to the crunch the chances of it actually working are quite small. It’s painfully slow and it only takes one corrupt file or a scratched disc to render the whole backup unusable. The situation might improve with recordable DVD, which has a much larger capacity so there will be fewer discs and hopefully less chance of something going wrong but for the moment at least the only reliable way to make the whole disc method work is to invest in a tape backup system or ‘clone’ your hard disc on a second drive.


A backup strategy that fails or is unreliable is as bad as no backup at all so you might as well resign yourself to the fact that following a hard disc failure it will be quicker and simpler to reinstall Windows and all of the programs that you use from scratch, and backup your data files separately. Before you do anything else make sure that your Windows installation CD and all of the discs for the programs that you use, plus the product authorisation keys are kept together in a safe place. After that prepare your PC for disaster by organising the files and folders on the hard disc


Backup and recovery will be a great deal faster if you group all of your data files – the ones you want to preserve -- together in a small number of ‘master’ folders. In Windows Explorer create separate ‘New’ folders for your documents and spreadsheets, another for pictures don’t forget e-mail messages and so on, then drag and drop all of the files and folders you want to preserve and backup into the relevant master folders. Most programs will let you change the location of where they save files, so the files in your master folders will be constantly updated. For example in Microsoft Word you’ll find the option to change file locations under Options on the Tools menu, in Outlook Express go to Tools > Options > Maintenance and click the Store Folder button.  


Ideally the data in each master folder should be less than 650/700Mb in total otherwise it won’t fit onto a blank CD-R/RW. Next, decide on your backup method. The basic choices are to copy the folders to discs manually -- worth doing once, to create a set of ‘Master’ discs -- or to use backup software, which can do the job automatically, at a specified time every week, (or every day or even every hour if you create a lot of irreplaceable data), and to only backup files that have changed. Backup software often includes compression facilities, to make the most efficient use of your storage media, though if possible copy the data in its ‘raw’ state as compression is just one more thing that can go wrong.


If you elect to backup manually, and your software has the facility you should use your CD-writer in Track At Once (TAO) or Packet recording mode (see last week’s Boot Camp), so you can add files and folders incrementally, as they are updated. For it to work it has to become a habit so set aside a specific time each day or week to record your backups and stick to it!


Realistically few of us are that well disciplined so it’s well worth using backup software to do the job for you. Unfortunately the backup utility included with Windows 95/98/SE & ME only works with hard disc, floppy and tape drives, so it’s not much use in this context.  Some CD writers come bundled with backup software and it’s usually worth investigating but there are plenty of commercial programs on the market, including a lot of modestly priced try-before-you-buy shareware titles and even a handful of freeware packages. You’ll find a good selection for download on the Tucows web site (use ‘backup’ for the keyword search) at  Other freeware/shareware programs worth investigating, designed to work with CD-writers, include:


Backup2001 (

BackupPlus (

Handy Backup (

NovaBackup (

WinBackup (

12Ghosts Backup (


Finally, keep at least one reasonably up to date set of backup discs physically separate from the PC, preferably ‘off site’ in case of fire or theft.


Next week – Making your own music CDs





A technique used to reduce the size of a file, making it smaller, more manageable and quicker to send over the Internet



Spreading data from a single large file or group of files – too large to fit on a single disc -- across two or more discs



Encryption or scrambling renders files unreadable by any conventional means without the correct decryption software and a unique 'key' code, which is needed to unlock the data.



If you find a CD-R/RW disc becomes unreadable due to scratching or scuff marks then it’s worth trying a CD polishing kit. These contain a mildly abrasive cleaning liquid and a soft cloth and they can be quite effective at removing light marks. However, if you don’t mind taking a bit of a gamble, and all conventional methods have failed, deeper scratches and stubborn marks can often be removed with some ‘Brasso’, a clean duster and a little elbow grease. This method can also be effective on damaged audio CDs, games console discs, DVDs etc., but only try this as a last resort, and make sure you remove all traces and polish the disc thoroughly with a clean cloth before putting it back in the player or drive tray.


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