How can I use my external hard disk drive to regularly backup my Windows XP laptop?
November 25, 2009 12:08 AM   Subscribe

How can I use my external hard disk drive to regularly backup my Windows XP laptop in as simple a manner as possible? Ideally, I would want something that works like Time Machine on the Mac—I would really like something I can set and forget. Free solutions are best, obviously, but I'm willing to buy software for this.

I've read some of the previous backup questions, but figured there might be new recommendations by now.
posted by grouse to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Windows Home Server does exactly what you're talking about. A box plus the software can be gotten for about $400. As long as your computer is networked with the WHS by ethernet, it'll be backed up once a day, plus whenever you manually invoke it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:37 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

For a super simple, free solution you could try SyncToy. While not a true backup utility, you can set it up to synchronize your drives with the external drive and then create a Scheduled Task to run it at some suitable interval.

I've been using this to backup my PC for over a year without a problem.
posted by oclipa at 1:34 AM on November 25, 2009

Seconding oclipa's suggestion. It's free from Microsoft and works well for me.
You can download it here.
posted by lungtaworld at 2:02 AM on November 25, 2009

Thirding SyncToy.
posted by deezil at 4:30 AM on November 25, 2009

I've had a lot of success using SyncBack.
posted by prefpara at 4:54 AM on November 25, 2009

Somewhat lower-level, but free, cross-platform, flexible, and truly excellent: rdiff backup.
posted by effbot at 5:24 AM on November 25, 2009

I use SmartSync. It's not free, and it's more than I need, but it is reliable and has never given me trouble.
posted by dfriedman at 6:31 AM on November 25, 2009

I suggest ReBit. It's $50 if you use your own USB drive. It has three key properties I like:

It's really, really simple. No configuration, no scheduling, no maintenance. Install it and forget it. Very much designed for the naive user and/or the sophisticated user who doesn't want to be hassled.

It has a full system recovery option. Boot off their recovery CD, then re-build your original drive. No file-based backup software will do this.

It does a nice job with keeping a historical backup of files, so you can recover a version from yesterday or a month ago. No drive-cloning / file-syncing program will do that.
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on November 25, 2009

Response by poster: I've installed SyncToy for now. It was, in fact, incredibly easy to install and configure. But I would like something that would easily allow me to restore any file to a snapshot from sometime in the past, as well as restore the whole system easily. Options to include online backup of a subset of files would be a plus. Acronis TrueImage Home looks promising. I will have to look into SmartSync, SyncBack, and Macrium Reflect. Any experiences that might lead me to choose one over the other would be helpful.

rdiff backup doesn't support Windows ACLs yet, so it's not a good full-system backup solution yet, although it seems like it would be a promising backup to storage over the Internet if I had some.
posted by grouse at 8:33 AM on November 25, 2009

I was just coming in to suggest acronis.
posted by anti social order at 8:50 AM on November 25, 2009

I've used Acronis TrueImage and it's a pain in the tail. The only backup option that I could make to work was "snapshot drive". Trying to do incremental backups resulted in crashes.

As soon as I bought my Windows Home Server, Acronis TrueImage went straight into the bit bucket.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:57 AM on November 25, 2009

Response by poster: I'm now using Genie Free Timeline which works just as I had hoped. I highly recommend it. I think I'm going to leave on my daily SyncToy setup because the free version of Genie doesn't backup things like Program Files.
posted by grouse at 8:41 PM on May 27, 2010

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