Windows data backup options
June 9, 2005 8:06 AM   Subscribe

What's your favorite Windows XP data backup option?

Right now I've got a second hard drive, and every now and then I will drag my important files over to it to back them up. It would be really snazzy if, when the disk fails, I could just pop in the backup and reboot.

However! I'm fairly leery of giving that level of trust to anyone's program. I would probably have nightmares about the backup disk not working correctly, and losing all my data. RAID 1 seems somehow more likely to fail than an automated program that just copies your important files to a secondary drive. (The only way that seems likely to fail is if both disks actually died at once.)

So what utilities do you all place your trust in? Note: I'm speaking as a home user, not a workplace situation.
posted by agropyron to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've tried using HandyBackup, which seems pretty good. It's a lot better than Microsoft's Windows XP Backup program. Two caveats:
  • It can't do incremental backups to CD, only full backups. Not a problem for you, but it means I am going to look for something else
  • For scheduling, it leaves an agent running all the time. It not only takes up 4 Mb of RAM, but it also takes up another space in the notification area. Grrr.

posted by grouse at 8:28 AM on June 9, 2005

This is probably not the technical answer you're looking for, but I use CDs.

They're cheap enough that I just make one or two copies of what I need and put them in a safe place - or transfer them to another older computer that isn't connected to the internet.

At work, we use zip disks.

If all else fails, you could always print out what you need and keep it in a safe somewhere if it is sensitive.
posted by tozturk at 8:32 AM on June 9, 2005

I use Allway Sync to maintain a copy of all very important files on my desktop, my laptop and USB drive. This is supplemented by a manual CD backup every couple of weeks which includes stuff I could stand to lose, but I figure I'm pretty safe with my files in three places.
posted by teleskiving at 8:45 AM on June 9, 2005

I've used Norton Ghost for a while, but while it's designed to come pretty close to what you're talking about, it also pretty much sucks. As I understand it, there are a few options you can look into:

Documents and applications/system backup:

1) Hardware-based drive mirroring (some flavor of RAID): This sort of setup just automatically maintains a mirror of your drive in real-time--every time you write, you really write the same data to two drives at once. A good RAID setup will actually fail over to the backup instantaneously, so that any ongoing processes aren't even interrupted. I'm not sure why think that's less reliable, exactly, since most serious business installations use it _because_ of its reliability, but it's definitely (a lot) more expensive, and almost certainly a lot more difficult to setup/maintain.

2) Software-based drive mirroring: This would mean using software to try and do what a basic RAID setup does, and maintain a bit-for-bit mirror of your primary drive. (Well, kinda.) The problem, that I've seen, is that you can't maintain a complete mirror using incremental updates...any program that I've seen that can do something like this has to do a full back-up every time. It takes a while, and you can really only do it once a day or so, like overnight. The benefit, though, is that you can literally just pop in the back-up drive and keep going (with yesterday's data).

3) Software-based drive archiving: This is more along the lines of Ghost, where it maintains an archived image of your drive, but that "image" is in a proprietary format that the program needs to encode/decode. This sort of program lets you do frequent, incremental backups (a couple of minutes every hour), but you can't just pop in a backup image and go. You have to run a "Recovery" process that spools the most recent version back out to a "real" drive, and then go on from there. It can take a while, but once you're done, you do have a complete copy of your original system, settings, etc.

Document-only backup:

4) File synching: If all you really need to do is back up your documents, then it's a lot easier. There are bunch of file synch/backup programs that you can find that can run every hour or so and copy any changes to a back-up drive. These are much cheaper and easier to use, but they can't back up your system files, registry, etc. That means that if your drive fries, you've got to install XP and then all your apps again first, before you can get rolling again. (You can actually back up most "simple" apps, like shareware games, etc., using this sort of setup, but anything that uses DLLs, registry entries, etc., will need to be re-installed from the original CDs. Also, technically, you can back up a lot of your settings in Firefox, Thunderbird, etc, but those are scattered around in a lot of different places for different programs, and it's a real hassle trying to keep track of everything that's required.)
posted by LairBob at 9:04 AM on June 9, 2005

I use Ghost 9.0 on dozens of machines at work and have had no problems with it at all, why do you say it sucks?

With Ghost I can keep a perfect copy on another hard drive with just a couple minutes backup per day during which time the machine is completely usable, to restore I just boot from the Ghost cd and choose the backup to restore, works amazing for me, also love getting emails from each user on successful/unsuccessful backups, etc.

At home I use Ghost 9.0 to back each machine up to the next machine on the network, this has saved me more times than I can recall.
posted by Cosine at 9:19 AM on June 9, 2005

Well, the big thing was a little while ago when I tried to restore an image, and it didn't work. That really pissed me off, as you can imagine.

Overall, though, Ghost has just been really erratic and unreliable for me, especially in terms of backing up to a network drive. I'll set up a job to connect to a network drive, it'll work a few times, and then it'll just stop being able to "see" that drive. (Also, you can't back up to a network drive as a mapped drive like "K:") It also keeps telling me that the destination drive doesn't have the space to store an image, when it's get several times the space that's required. (I've never had any problems connecting to that drive in any other way.) That probably has something to do with the restore problem I had, but it was frustrating to be told I _had_ backed up an image, and then to find it didn't work.

There are lot of the little nit-picky things that you find with all Norton UIs, too, but that's just icing on the cake. It's just one of those things where a program that's great in principle doesn't work for your specific circumstances, and it makes you grumpy. If it works for you, though, that's great--I just wish it worked better for me.
posted by LairBob at 9:28 AM on June 9, 2005

Yeah, I can nit pick the Norton UI to death too, it does suck AND the initial ironing out of the bugs in network backups took some effort BUT once I got it all worked out it's been a total lifesaver.
posted by Cosine at 9:35 AM on June 9, 2005

Ghost sucks.

Acronis True Image does everything Ghost does, but without the suck. And, it'll split your backup files so they'll fit onto DVDs.

Use it. Love it.
posted by Jairus at 9:49 AM on June 9, 2005

Ghost splits backups just fine thank you AND Ghost will boot Toshiba laptops so that the keyboard actually works, try that with Acronis!
posted by Cosine at 10:13 AM on June 9, 2005

I tried using Ghost. I'm not that technical, so I won't get into whether Ghost sucks or I do, but I wound up having problems that I think were related to having two bootable disks on the same IDE channel at the same time. These "problems" consisted of corrupted/unbootable filesystems on both drives, which caused me to lose a year of data on both the backup and the source drive. So I don't ghost anymore.

My current system consists of an OS/programs/docs drive on IDE primary, a multimedia drive on IDE secondary (MP3s and video), and a third drive in a USB enclosure for backing up all of it. I use Karen's Replicator (freeware) to run a job every night that first backs up the Documents and Settings folder from drive 1 to drive 2, and then another job that mirrors ALL of drive 2 to drive 3.

I can't say enough good about KR for the non-technical person. You can set it up to copy all files, and then on subsequent jobs it will only compare files between source and destination, and only copy over the new/changed ones, and delete on the destination any souce deletions. If there are files in use it doesn't abort, it just makes a note in the log and continues happily onto the next files. (Useful for all those .dat files in Docs & Settings)

I know this doesn't copy any applications, but it gets the prefs that are in Docs & Settings, which includes Mozilla and Outlook stuff. I'm fine with reinstalling all the apps in case of catastrophe...I've got licenses for most, and for those I don't I've got the installer packages backed up onto DVD.

Good luck. A good backup routine has been my holy grail for a while now but I think I'm good now. *knock wood*
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:33 AM on June 9, 2005

I use SyncBackSE which is now $20.

It's very nice and I'm happy to plug it over and over.

another plug

I see they just came out with v4 and don't seem to have their free version anymore. I'm using v3 so can't say anything about v4, but their forums are usually pretty informative.
posted by jacobsee at 10:57 AM on June 9, 2005

on preview, SB sounds pretty similar to KR. i've figured out how to back up registry settings for certain programs using command-line options and have also scheduled various backups throughout the day to keep multiple copies of stuff i work on a lot. i sync files between home and work twice and day and haven't had a major problem.

i do have to say that I spent quite a bit of time tweaking my system to get it just right though....
posted by jacobsee at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2005

I use Retrospect Professional from Dantz. It's about $120, but it's very powerful and configurable.

My favourite feature is that it does incremental backups to any medium (hard drive, tape, CDs/DVDs), and it is smart about handling them. I have it set so that every day it automatically backs up only files that have changed since the day before.

Then, when I need to, I can dip into any day in the past, and view a snapshot of my entire hard drive as it appeared on that day. When I restore files, it automagically pulls them together from the various daily backups. (The idea of only having the most recent version of some of my files scares me.)

Personally, I back up to DVDs, because I have a history of hard drives failing on me. But you can just as easily back up to a second hard drive. It can also make a rescue disc for you that has all you need to pull your data back off that drive in case of a major system death.

It can also handle network back-ups. My Windows PC, my Mac laptop and my Linux server get backed up every day through the same machine running Retrospect.

The only downside is that it can be a bit picky about hardware sometimes, but I think the main problem is with CD/DVD writers, so if you're backing up to hard drives you're probably in the clear.
posted by chrismear at 12:52 PM on June 9, 2005

It's a lot better than Microsoft's Windows XP Backup program.

What's wrong with the XP backup program? The interface is a little ugly, but it seems to work fine. Of course, I haven't had to restore yet. Right now, I'm running a monthly full backup and a daily differential backup to a remote hard drive (elsewhere on my network). This seems simple, and it's easily automated. Is there something wrong with this approach?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:16 PM on June 9, 2005

mr_roboto: No, there's nothing wrong with that approach. Although make sure you do a test restore of a few files sometime to see how well it works.

My main problem with NTBackup is that it doesn't natively grok CD-Rs. So if you have more than 700 Mb of stuff to backup, the only way I could figure out was to back it up to a temp directory, compress it using an archiver that supports disk spanning, and then burn the CDs. This is a time-consuming pain.

Also, the interface is a little clunky, as you point out.
posted by grouse at 12:59 AM on June 10, 2005

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