Computer data backup and security

Q: Do I still need to separate my data from Windows partition (esp for Vista)?

A: Unless you really like loosing your data, you must. If you keep many files on your desktop or in your documents folder, but do not have an additional hard drive in your computer, you really have to create a separate partition and move all of your files there. When Windows crashes (and it will), reinstallation and recovery will be much easier. Firstly, you can reinstall Windows into the system partition without worrying to recover that system partition or lose data on overwriting. Secondly, when Windows crashes, there is less chance that any data loss will occur on the data partition. Of course, better methods are keeping a backup on a USB memory stick or an external hard drive, or moving all of your data away from the hard drive where Windows is to a separate hard drive (best solution).

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Q: What backup strategies do you use?

A: I use several, but it never seems enough. I still manage to lose data. I will list some to give you a few ideas.

  • Save a copy to one of the memory sticks that you have lying around
  • Email it to yourself if it is small files or documents
  • Copy files to another computer in the house over a network and vice versa.
  • Copy a password protected file to your friend's computer
  • Get an external 2.5" or 3.5" hard drive enclosure
  • Do a text-only backup (software exists that saves just the filenames of all files. very useful if content can be reacquired/redownloaded as long as you recover the filenames)
  • Among with a text-only backup, WinRAR is my best tool for backups. You can consolidate files, compress files, convert many files into a single archive file, synchronize backups, make password protected backups, etc, etc.

 

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Q: I have a large hard drive with data. Which is the best way to backup - RAID or full copy to another drive?

A: Neither. There are no magic backup solutions. And all backup solutions fail at some point or another. RAID is especially not as magical best solutions as people imagine. Full backup is large, and if manual, people tend to get lazy. The following method is a combination of all methods known to me:

  • For all of your hard drives in the house/system get a single backup hard drive. It will not have to be the combined size of all the drives that it will backup, but will be some fraction of that. For example, I usually pack 2TB of data across hard drives into a 500GB backup hard drive.
  • Never backup exact images of drives unless you have to (business databases, for example)
  • If you followed my advice to separate data from your system partition, all you need to backup is the list of installed programs, program data like bookmarks, and files in your documents and desktop folders.
  • When backing up content that can be reacquired/redownloaded (downloads, programs, music, etc), backup file names only.
  • Create a COMPLETE text backup of all directories and files on all your hard drives so you will know what exactly you lost and where everything goes.
  • WinRAR backup documents, small files, etc into a single file.
  • Copy-backup important large files that cannot be redownloaded/reacquired.
  • Set up automatic software to repeat this every week.
  • Before making big change to files like an important text document, etc make it your habit to copy-backup into a "temporary backup" folder the previous version. I work with large text files a lot, and had to use the temporary backup more than often. Also, if it happens that you lose your data, and backup is somewhat old, the "temporary backup" versions of files are usually much fresher than the rest of the data (I still do not have automatic backup set up. I know, i know.)


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