Just about everybody has important data on their hard drive, from digital pictures to important documents, emails, bookmarked websites the list goes on and on. In my experience people are pretty lax about backing up their PCs, and I think this really is an area that deserves attention. With a good back up set you can bounce back from a fatal hard drive crash and be up and running with all the your pictures, documents, downloads, email and favorites before you know it. Having important files stored on removable media is also a good safety precaution in case you get a virus.

There are a couple of different ways to back up important data, from the casual copy and paste to running complicated scheduled backups. There is no wrong way, as long you have a copy of everything you need.

You can save the data on a couple of different types of media (CD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, Flash memory, even external hard drives) but for home use I really recommend either CDs or DVDs. Flash memory can store data but it’s not really something you want to save data to and store away unless there is no other option. CDs and DVDs are cheap, hold a lot of data, work on any PC and are easy to store.

If you use CD-RW, or DVD-RW you can actually save money by setting up a “round robin” with your backups. To do this, you need at lest 3-4 of the same backup set, take the oldest and erase it. Now use the blank disk for the new backup, the next time you do a backup use the oldest disk in the set and so on and so forth.

As for the methods of backing up, I find it’s easiest when all my intended files and folders are organized in structured manner and not scattered all over my hard drive. This is a good way to insure that you don’t forget anything important by hunting for a bunch of individual files. An easy way to stay organized is to create a descriptively labeled folder structure and try to be diligent about saving your data to it’s designed folder.

Another good practice is to test your backups, don’t just take the burning software’s word for it. After a backup, explore the disk and randomly go through files and open them up to make sure that they’re complete and not corrupt. Learn from my experience, waiting for a complete system failure is not a good time to check the validity of your backups. This is a good way to get yourself in a lot of trouble as well —I know if didn’t back up the pictures or movies of our kids I wouldn’t be able to live with my self.

Once you have all your ducks in a row, it’s time to back up. There are a number of ways to do this as well. The easiest is to open you burning program and select data CD and go through the folder then explorer and grab the folders you want to back up. When you select a folder you should see it in the “burn” selection window, once you done with your backup selection choose “burn”.

If you have Windows XP or a newer operating system, you have the luxury of being able to open up the blank CD or DVD in Windows Explorer and copying and pasting the desired folders right onto the disk and select “Write files to CD” and Windows will do the rest for you.

Most burning software has their own backup services, and there are a number of third-party back up titles out there. The nice thing about using these types of software is the options. Things like compression, backup jobs, and incremental backups. These are nice features especially when you have some backups that you want to insure are up to date. For instance, you can create a “Back up Set” which is basically a saved and named list of folders and files that you want backed up. This makes the whole process so easy—you can create a backup set and once a week or so your can run it and it will either create a new back up or save just the changes to the backup. These are two options that are usually found in backup programs. If you use “backup sets”, it’s important to keep the files organized, and in all the correct folders. You can also schedule Backup Jobs, which are basically backup sets that are scheduled to run at predetermined times, and intervals (i.e. once a week Friday at 6:00).

PCs are constantly becoming a bigger part of peoples’ lives, and the information being stored on the PCs is becoming more important. Performing backups is essential for protecting your data.

Stay safe out there,