Today’s computers are amazing, when you consider the processing power available, and the amount of storage you can have for incredibly little money, even the low end bargain computers today can do amazing things. You can easily build a $500 desktop computer that has a multi-core processor, and a terabyte of storage, with the power to edit video and photos, or play graphic intensive video games. But whether you’re running a $7000 custom high end gaming machine, or a $399 special from a sale at the local retailer the most important and precious thing in your computer is your data. Data is everything, it’s your kids baby pictures, your entire music collection, or possibly that book you've been writing for the last three years.
The problem with data is, even though it’s the most important thing on your hard drive, it’s frequently the least considered. To protect your data generally isn’t very hard, but its very easy to put off. People rationalize that since the hard drive from that Windows 95 machine still runs that their current machine will be fine for now and I’ll just do that backup next week when I have time. Unfortunately just when you least expect it, your hard drive crashes the night before you finished the report your boss wanted first thing in the morning or you lose the pictures of family members that can’t be replaced.
So now you know, backing up isn’t an option. Backing up isn’t hard, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. If you’ve never backed up before it can be as simple as buying an external hard drive, or even a large thumb drive, and dragging your important files over to the external drive periodically.
Saving your important files to a external drive is the first step. The next step will be to implement an automated system of backing up at least once a week. For that you need software. If you are running Windows Vista and you want to keep it simple the built in “Backup and Restore Center“ will help you set up weekly backups of all your important data. It’s very simple and works well, I’ve successfully used it to back up and restore all the important data on my daughters computer after a disaster.
For a more thorough backup solutions I prefer third party programs. Acronis True Image Home, is an excellent program. http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/It has more capabilities than some users may want, but it has the ability to make an entire image of your hard drive as well as do incremental backups periodically afterward. Programs that create an image, allow you to take the hard drive you backed up on, and put it in your computer and boot up like nothing ever happened. It saves your operating system, all of your programs, settings, and your data. The new version of Acronis has great new feature, it will perform dual backups to both a flash drive and a hard drive at the same time.
This leads me to my last point, backing up to more than one location is very important. A simple solutions is to use two separate external hard drives, swap out one and backup to the second while you keep the other off site. This could be at work, at a friends house or anywhere away from your home. Another effective off site backup is to do a backup to an online service of some kind. Microsoft offers a free 25 gigabyte storage service called “Skydrive” available to anyone with a Windows Live account.http://download.live.com/ Amazon S3 service is another reliable online backup service, S3 isn’t free but you pay only for the space you use, unlike some flat rate services.http://aws.amazon.com/s3/
Backing up is necessary inconvenience, developing a routine that fits your needs will make it relatively painless, and some day it will save you a lot of heartache. Remember there are two kinds of hard drives, those that have failed and those that will fail. Many people get serious about backing up only, after they've lost all their pictures or music on their hard drive. There are many very good programs for backing up, either to local storage, or to an online service. I mentioned two which I’ve had experience with and trust, but there are many, very good ones out there.
One last point.Some people using a new online backup services which offered “free” online storage from a relatively new and unknown company suddenly got a surprise when their online storage recently went offline forever. This left them with no backup at all. So staying with companies like Amazon for your online “cloud” storage feels like a safe bet. So backup early and often, because "it’s all about the data".