BOOT CAMP 279 (10/06/03)
If you’ve just bought your first PC you can be sure of two
things; you will suffer at least one catastrophic crash resulting in the loss of
important or irreplaceable data and – assuming that you don’t give up --
eventually you will want to upgrade your computer.
Ironically both events are connected and being well prepared
for a crash actually makes it a great deal easier to transfer your data to a new
PC. Crashes are all but inevitable, (and don’t let Mac owners tell you any
different), but even the most reliable PC will eventually wear out or run out of
puff and need to be replaced or upgraded.
The key to surviving a computer crash is to make frequent
back ups and these days it couldn’t be easier now that most new PCs are fitted
with CD writers. There are plenty of backup strategies and lots of software to
do it all for you but when it comes to the crunch none of them is any good
unless you actually use them. The other problem is that the first time you’ll
use a backup system in anger is in the aftermath of a crash, at which point you
have no way of knowing if it is going to work, or even how to use it if you’ve
never done it before.
Whatever method you use your backups should always be on a
separate storage medium that is easily removable and readable on another PC
without the need for any additional hardware. In other words, even if your PC is
damaged in a fire, blows up or is stolen you should be able to resume work on
another PC in as short a time as possible.
Fortunately computers rarely self-destruct these days but if
you use your PC for business or it is vulnerable to theft and damage or it is a
laptop then ‘off-site’ backup storage is essential. That means physically moving
your backup discs to another secure location, uploading data to a remote server
if your PC is connected to a network or even making use of your ISP’s free
allocation of web space.
When it comes to the choice of physical backup media there
are really only two options for most users: recordable CDs or a removable hard
disc drive. Tape backup systems are slow and can be temperamental and in common
with other ‘non-standard’ disc formats, depend on dedicated drive mechanisms.
Recordable DVD is a possibility but at the moment it falls down on readability
since DVD-ROM drives are still comparatively rare and there are a some
compatibility issues with the various disc formats.
CD-ROM is near universal; discs can hold reasonable amounts
of data – up to 700Mb – moreover they are cheap, reliable and robust. A second
hard disc drive has the advantage of even higher capacities and although not as
portable as CDs, can be easily installed in a second machine as a slave drive
and a ‘caddy’ or cradle arrangement simplifies removal and off-site storage.
There is an on-going debate over exactly what you should
backup. Some favour the whole disc/total system method where the entire contents
of a PC’s hard disc is copied to another drive. This requires specialist
software that ‘mirrors’ and preferably incrementally updates the disc’s content,
as files are modified or new ones created. It is theoretically possible to use
recordable CDs for whole disc backup but I advise against it, it is time
consuming and notoriously unreliable.
A complete disc backup, containing the operating system,
programs and data files promises to get you back up and running in the shortest
possible time, but if the problem that killed the main drive – a virus for
example – was also copied to the backup drive, then that too could be affected.
The alternative is to only backup your data files. In the
case of a hard disc failure it will mean re-installing the operating system and
programs but there’s less chance of something going wrong and if the backup
files are on CD they can be quickly transferred to another PC. This technique is
also low maintenance and it’s easy to verify the integrity of backed up files.
Automated backup software works well for a lot of users but
since most of these programs operate in the background they are easily
forgotten. You might not be aware if it stops working or you could miss
scheduled backups if you change your working patterns. There are a couple of
other points to bear in mind when auditioning backup software (see also Tip of
the Week). Avoid programs that save data to a separate partition on the main
hard disc drive, this is just asking for trouble if the main drive fails or
suffers a virus attack. Programs that compress data, to save space, introduce
another layer of uncertainty and complexity into the recovery process so
wherever possible backup your data in its raw unadulterated state.
Backing up your files up manually makes sure the job gets
done but it does require a certain amount of discipline. There’s no need for any
additional software and if you are backing up to recordable CDs you should
investigate your CD burner’s UDF/Packet Writing format (Adaptec/Roxio DirectCD
or Nero InCD, etc.) facilities. This turns a recordable CD into a huge floppy
disc and you can drag and drop your files and folders onto it moreover it can be
nominated as a destination drive in applications that have an automated backup
facility. Blank CDs cost only pennies when bought in bulk so you should get into
the habit of swapping your backup disc on a daily, weekly or monthly basis,
depending on how much new data you generate and in part two next week we’ll look
at the sort of data you should be backing up.
Next week – Survival strategies, part 2
Removable container for a hard disc drive, enabling it to be
quickly extracted for storage or installation in another PC
Once a master backup has been created, to save time only new
files or files that have been changed are added to the backup
Method of organising data onto a recordable CD so that files
can be added or removed; however the disc has to be ‘finalised’ before it can be
read on another PC that doesn’t have appropriate software
TIP OF THE WEEK
Choosing the right backup solution can be difficult. No two
PCs are alike and the almost infinite variations of hardware, operating systems,
applications and user requirements means that you should do some homework before
you purchase any software. You can get a feel for the market at the Tucows web
site where you will find more than fifty commercial, shareware, freeware and
demo programs (www.tucows.com/backup95_default.html),
with potted reviews, user ratings and links to download the programs.