How To: Back Up Your Files

  1. Floppy Disks: Save copies of your files onto floppy disks in addition to your hard drive. This only works if you don't have many files, they aren't large, and you still have a floppy disk drive more and more computers no longer have them.
  2. Other Removable Media: Zip disks, pen drives, CDs, or DVDs any of these can be used as a backup medium and are preferable to floppy disks because of their storage capacity. A 256MB pen drive, for example, can store the equivalent of over 150 disks of data. A CD holds over 600MB, and a DVD, over 4GB. You can periodically copy your whole Documents folder to the appropriate device.
  3. External Hard Drives: These are similar in storage capacity to other removable media mentioned above, but lack the easy ability to store the data off-site. Why might that be important? Say you use Quicken to keep all your financial data, and diligently back it up to an external hard drive daily. Then a burglar steals both your computer AND external hard drive. There goes your Quicken data.
  4. Online: This solves the off-site issue. There are sites, such as, where you can store important files. The system can be set up to automatically do the backups, a very attractive feature. All data is sent encrypted for security purposes. The fee for the service varies; charges $50 per year to back up 50MB, with the first 30 days free.
  5. Tape: A tape backup system stores your files on magnetic tape. Systems provide incremental backups (that is, they check your system on a regular basis and only back up those files that have changed). Many schools and businesses use tape systems to back up file servers.
  6. Manually copy files: As mentioned above, you can simply copy important files onto your selected backup medium. You can also Save As while you work on files, but this is more cumbersome.
  7. Backup software: You can use special software to back up your files. Some features of backup software include specifying which types of files to back up (such as all PDF files), compressing the data to save, and scheduling regular backups. Windows XP includes a utility called Backup; Apple has a full-featured backup program for .Mac members and its Disk Utility program can be used to create a compressed disk image of data. Some commercial products available include Retrospect from Dantz, PhotoQuest Drive Image 7, Ultra WinCleaner One-Click Backup, and Norton Ghost from Symantec.

Jeffrey Branzburg is a contributing editor and regular columnist for Technology & Learning.

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