The Smart Way To Backup Your Stuff Part 2: Local Backups

I’ve talked about local backups before and how important they are. Let me take a moment to define a local backup before I move on to how to do this cheaply, easily, and quickly.

So if you haven’t organized your stuff already go ahead and do that. Just make sure everything is split up by library, and don’t worry about getting too detailed about it.

The first thing you need is a good external hard drive, or a large thumb drive if you just have documents and no pictures. I’m going to assume you have some of all the categories in the previous article, so go get a large external Hard Drive. I recommend getting at least a 1.5 terabyte hard drive. If you can find one with twice as much space as your computer though, that isn’t too much.

Choosing an External Drive

If you just want someone to say “Get this drive” I’ve provided some links below to some good drives on Amazon. You can skip this brief part if that is you. If you want a little more information I’ll explain external hard drives a little so you can make a better choice.

There are, for our purposes, two kinds of external drives to look at. One is what are called “Desktop Drives”. These are bigger external drives that need a power supply and sit on your desk. They aren’t meant to be portable, hence the “desktop” part. These are usually where you find the most capacity for the lowest price. You will find these referred to as 3.5” hard drives. This is referring to the physical size of the hard drive inside it.

The other is the portable drive. These are usually smaller, many no bigger than a large cell phone, and are meant to be carried around. These are sometimes called 2.5” hard drives because they use the smaller form factor drives found in laptops. They are usually a touch more expensive, and their capacity is smaller than the desktop ones for the same price. The advantage they have is that they don’t require an AC adapter to work. They run off the power provided by your computer’s USB port.

Personally, I recommend having one of each, especially if you travel. If you get only one, get a portable drive as they are usually a little more rugged. I’ve had the desktop ones die from getting dropped six inches on carpet. You need to get the highest capacity one you can afford. You can get a 1 Terabyte drive for about $99.

If you have multiple PC’s in the house, get a desktop version and hook it up to your main desktop. I will post how to back up multiple machines automatically soon.

Backing Up Your Computer

Ok so you have an external hard drive and you want to back your stuff up. I’ll show you how to do a manual backup, and an automatic backup.

Now I’m going to assume you got a hard drive bigger than the one in your computer. If you have a 1 terabyte hard drive in your computer, you should have at very least a 1.5 terabyte external drive. What we’re going to do is back things up twice.

Quick and Dirty File Backup

So here’s how to do a manual, fast backup. This has no capacity for going back in time and restoring earlier versions of a file. This backup accomplishes two things: It gets you a backup now, and gives you a little peace of mind.

Step 1 – Click your Windows Button.
Step 2 – Click on your Name.
Step 3 – Hold down the CTRL key and click the Documents, Music, Videos, Favorites, Pictures, Desktop and Download folders. This will select all of those folders individually.
Step 4 – Release the CTRL key and right-click on one of the selected folders.
Step 5 – Select “Send to -> “ then select your external drive.
Step 6 – Wait.

This will copy everything in those folders to your external drive. When you want to do this again, repeat Step 1 – 6 and when it asks you if you want to replace the files select “Yes”. Now you have a basic local backup of your stuff. Wasn’t that easy?

Now you just need to remember to do this every so often so that you have a more or less current backup of your files. This kind of backup lets you quickly access your files without having to go through fancy backup software that can sometimes take a while to restore your stuff.

Full System Backup

So now that you have a quick and dirty backup method you can move on to backing up your entire system. This is where that having more capacity on your external drive than your PC comes into play.

You might want to do this before going to bed as it can take a while to complete the first full backup.

Step 1 – Go to your Start Menu and find your Backup and Restore program. This is included with Windows and depending on where you got your computer from it might be under Accessories, Accessories -> System Tools, or Maintenance. It could also be above all the Start Menu folders.

Step 2 – When Backup and Restore loads you’ll see a link stating that Backup has not been set up. Click this link.

Step 3 – On the first screen select your external drive. Mine has a drive letter of J, but yours might say E: and have a slightly different icon depending on manufacturer. Click Next after selecting your drive.

Step 4 – On the next screen, select “Let Windows Choose…”. This is usually the default option. You want this because it will back up EVERYTHING on your computer. This is good because if your hard drive goes out, you can restore from this backup and your computer will be exactly like it was when it was backed up last.

Step 5 – On the next screen leave everything like it is unless you’d rather your computer back up to a different schedule. I find once a week is enough, but you might want once daily backups or something. When done, click “Save Settings and Run Backup”.

Step 6 – Wait on the backup to complete. This can take a while.

Step 7 – When done you’ll want to make a System Repair disc. Put a blank DVD in your DVD burner drive, click the link on the left hand side of the Backup and Recovery screen and follow the instructions.

Step 8 – When the DVD is burned put it in a safe place. You’ll need this disc if your computer crashes and you need to restore your complete backup.

To restore your system from this image, simply boot from the Recovery Disc with your external hard drive plugged in and follow the directions on the screen.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a System Recovery disc for your computer, they’re pretty generic so you can make one from any Windows 7 machine, or download the image for one here: http://neosmart.net/blog/2009/windows-7-system-repair-discs/ (I got this link via Lifehacker.com).

Other Backup Software

I’ve just shown you how to make a near fool-proof backup for your computer that automatically runs every Sunday at 7:00 for your computer. It will restore a machine from a blank hard drive if you have to, or restore specific files. I’ve also shown you how to make a secondary backup of your main files for quick and easy access.

You may want some more advanced software to handle your backups than what Windows comes with. Personally I would suggest that anyone and everyone buy a copy of Acronis True Image Home. This is really the best software out there now. A lot of major businesses use this software for their stuff and it came highly recommended to me. I’ve set up an Amazon store page with this stuff all in one place. The prices are really good on Amazon so I would urge you to buy the software there. I would also buy the family pack if more than one PC is involved.

Nero is also a good backup alternative. I’ve added a link to the Amazon store for it too.

External Hard Drives

I decided to add my recommendations to the store I mentioned above as it puts everything in the right place. I added a few good Seagate and Western Digital drives. Again the prices are really good on Amazon.

So here’s the store.

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