best/easiest way to backup a hard drive
December 19, 2008 7:41 PM   Subscribe

What is the best/easiest way to backup my hard drive?

My Dell laptop's hard drive is suffering from bad sectors and will have to have its hard drive replaced. Before I send the computer back to Dell to be fixed, I want to backup everything on my hard drive to an external drive which should have more than enough room to contain it. I'm running Windows Vista Home Premium edition. I am fairly savvy with computers, but I prefer a solution that is simple and effective. What would be the easiest way to back up the contents of my hard drive to an external hard drive? Is there a program that can easily automate the process?
posted by AZNsupermarket to Technology (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend Acronis True Image. Looks as though they have simplified the UI a fair bit since I bought it.

If you don't want to spend any money, DriveImage XML is a bit more work to automate and isn't as fancy (no incremental backups, for example), but it's free.
posted by kindall at 7:52 PM on December 19, 2008

Seconding DriveImage XML. And SpinRite is great for fixing hard disk issues.
posted by jaimev at 7:59 PM on December 19, 2008

I've been using Norton Ghost 9 for several years. I don't know if Symantec still allows it, but the version I have allows for a 30-day no-limits trial before it requires you to input a license key. It supports incremental updates and the restore process is easy to do via bootable CD.
posted by phrayzee at 8:04 PM on December 19, 2008

I personally don't like imaging utilities but rather prefer copying my data onto DVDRs as part of my regular backup process.

If & when I need to reinstall, I just nuke the drive and reinstall from scratch from installer CDs and the web, plus my data backups.
posted by troy at 8:44 PM on December 19, 2008

Seconding Acronis True Image. But I separate my HD into two partitions -- one for the OS and programs, and the other for my data, projects, etc. The latter I just go to command line and do an XCOPY /D /C /S /Y /R to an external drive to make a perfect mirror. The /D switch is handy as you can run the command every week and only write things that have changed.
posted by crapmatic at 10:12 PM on December 19, 2008

P.S. I used to back up to DVDs but have switched to external HDs. You can get a 250 GB drive for $50 or a 1 TB drive for $100... this makes it really easy to have a second offsite backup.
posted by crapmatic at 10:13 PM on December 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Microsoft's SyncToy. It's free and easy to use. It backs up folders, and I'm not sure if it would back up your C drive in one fell swoop.
posted by puritycontrol at 10:55 PM on December 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

3rding Acronis. It simply works. Takes all the headaches out of backing up hard drives. IT costs a little bit, but it's worth it to have a solid, reliable simple backup solution in the tool box.

If you try to manually copy everything you'll get errors due to files being in use.
posted by Ookseer at 11:46 PM on December 19, 2008

Do you want to copy your files individually or make an iamge of the entire drive? If you want to make an image, I'd try a linux live cd like SystemRescueCD that includes the program partimage.

If you want to copy file by file, I'd take the same approach. Boot off a linux live cd so that none of your files are in use, then copy all of the data from your internal drive to the external drive. You could do this from SytemRescueCD, but something like the Ubuntu live cd that automatically starts a graphical user interface might be easier.
posted by PueExMachina at 11:58 PM on December 19, 2008

I use SyncBack (as recommended by LifeHacker's 5 Best Windows Backup Tools). I have it scheduled to do nightly and weekly backups of my hd to my external drive, which saved my ass last year when my new hd kicked the bucket 3 months after I installed it. I just set it and forget it. (YMMV, I'm using XP.) There is a free version and 2 pay versions. Depending on which version you choose, you have the option to backup to DVD, zip files, or another drive.
posted by geeky at 6:46 AM on December 20, 2008

Second SyncToy. It's free, so why not give it a try?
posted by dragontail at 7:09 AM on December 20, 2008

Nthing Acronis True Image. It's a worthwhile investment; you can use it not just for your one-time backup emergency but also to implement your regular backup plan (you are going to have a regular backup plan, right?).

I don't know what drives Dell uses, but if your drive is made by Seagate or Maxtor, you can get a free rebadged version of True Image provided by Seagate (DiscWizard for Seagate drives and MaxBlast for Maxtor drives). I believe they are somewhat feature-limited, but they should be suitable for your purposes.
posted by [user was fined for this post] at 8:37 AM on December 20, 2008

If your Dell is out of warranty (so you can't get the drive replaced free), I would highly recommend the Apricorn EZ-UP-UNIVERSAL EZ Upgrade Universal Hard Drive Upgrade Kit. You need to also buy a replacement hard drive - you can buy a higher capacity one that currently in your laptop - just match the type (PATA/IDE vs. SATA). Amazon have some very good prices on these (or try The Apricorn upgrade kit will work for either type of hard disk.
I bought one of these kits with a Hitachi Travelstar replacement hard drive a few years ago. I was pretty wobbly about replacing a notebook hard drive, but the kit came with full instructions and it was really easy. I have since used this kit twice to perform an upgrade on my notebook and that of my SO. Easy-peasy ...
posted by Susurration at 5:27 PM on December 20, 2008

Response by poster: Susurration: My computer is still under-warranty.
posted by AZNsupermarket at 11:57 PM on December 20, 2008

Consider an off-site system like Mozy. There are others out there as well. I have both on-site (external HD) and Mozy as backups.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:03 AM on December 21, 2008

AZNsupermarket - the kit that I recommended can still be used, but you don't do the second half of the process (installing the cloned drive instead of the old one). This gives you an external USB hard drive that has the entire contents of your current HD on it, if you buy a cheap internal, 2.5" hard drive, to complete the kit.
The other cloning suggestion here, Acronis True Image, should work the same -- you just need to buy an external hard drive to complete this copy. The total cost should be about the same, either way.
It might be a good idea to also backup any important data to DVD or CD-ROM before sending off the PC for HD replacement, so you have two copies, in case the external HD fails (how much is your data worth to you). Also clean off any personal information -- even with bad sectors, you have no idea in whose hands your current hard drive could end up. Many discarded hard drives apparently end up in Africa, where people scour them for personal bank and credit card details. You cannot trust Dell's (or anyone else's) techs to totally clean the hard drive of personal information before they junk it. So you should do this. My favorite program for this is Heidi Eraser, because you can choose to leave the Operating System intact. Do not use Darik's Boot and Nuke unless you think the Dell techs will be cool with receiving a hard drive that has no OS on it ... but this is the absolute best for total obliteration!
posted by Susurration at 2:43 PM on December 21, 2008

PS - the really great thing about cloning your hard drive, as distinct from just copying your important data, is that if by accident you nuke any programs that are needed to make the PC work, you have a copy of this. You can just clone the hard drive in the opposite direction, to put it back! I've been there, done that, when I accidentally nuked the Lenovo restore partition on my hard drive ...
posted by Susurration at 2:49 PM on December 21, 2008

Nthing Acronis.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:42 PM on December 28, 2008

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