Backing up
August 14, 2005 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I need advice on a backup system for my PC.

I have an 80 gig laptop, with apx. 4 gigs of photos and 50 gigs of music. Most of the photos are backed up on CDs, and most of the music is backed up on my 40 gig ipod, but I think I would like the peace of mind of a better backup system. I've seen 100-120 gig external hard drives at Best Buy for as little as $50, but I know nothing about them. Is this good enough? Also - do I have to worry about what kind of software the drive comes with? I want something easy - never did this before. Should I back up my entire hard drive so I have all my programs, settings, firefox extensions, etc.? Or just specific folders?
posted by kdern to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IMO, the external hard drive is the best approach, for two very important reasons. The files should simply be copied, rather than "backed up" using a backup utility, and then -

1. The hard drive can (and should) be taken and stored off-site. If a disaster befalls your laptop, the same disaster would destroy the backup drive if it is being stored in the same room.

2. The files on the hard drive can be used on or copied to any other computer without any special steps having to be taken.
posted by yclipse at 6:51 AM on August 14, 2005

If you get a 100-120 gig drive, it may be simplest to just back your 80 gig up onto it. I only do specific folders, but I have a smaller backup drive.

As for software, I use Syncback Freeware -- it's a nice simple backup utility. I have no idea about the software that comes with the drives but I'd take a guess that it's not very good.
posted by frenetic at 7:40 AM on August 14, 2005

The external hdd is a great solution to this, but having a DVD+RW drive is good, too. Even the dual layer drives are only about a hundred, hundred fifty bucks, although the DL (8.5gb vs the one layer 4.7gb) writable media is still pretty expensive.

Besides backing up your files (I have all of my mp3s stored on two sets of DVD+Rs), you can also make copies of your favorite movies so you don't have to take the originals with you when you travel.

If you do go that route, get a + or a +/- drive, not a - only drive, as the + disks are a bit better than the - disks, in my experience.
posted by cactus at 8:23 AM on August 14, 2005

Response by poster: To clarify - I'm already convinced I need an external hard drive. I need to know whether the cheap external hard drives are good enough for my needs, what kind of software I should use, and whether I should back up my entire hard drive or only data folders. Thanks!
posted by kdern at 8:31 AM on August 14, 2005

At work I use a Maxtor external hard drive with Retrospect one touch backup software. You can set it to either back up specific directories or your whole hard drive. I have it set to back up the whole computer and then I also manually copy certain directories to that external drive. The software makes it pretty painless, especially if you set it to automatically backup at certain times.

At home I have a LaCie hard drive, which is also nice. For that drive I just copy over the important directories (photos, documents, music, etc.) from my machine.
posted by missmerrymack at 9:20 AM on August 14, 2005

I put together a cheap one, @ US$20 for the enclosure, and got a deal on a hard drive. It's been fine. The enclosure is just wiring + connectors + power source (possibly supplied by usb). Hard drives at a trusted retailer are just fine. I like Western Digital, because I've gotten good support from them, but hard drive reliability has improved, and vendor choice is not a huge deal.
posted by theora55 at 9:23 AM on August 14, 2005

This has been covered before: internal IDE drive (personal choice; I've never had a problem with Seagate, and have had problems with Maxtor) plus external enclosure. An online retailer such as is a better bet than BestBuy. I've just bought an AMS Venus enclosure from NewEgg. Fantastic build quality, very little noise, and disperses heat well.

It's probably a good idea to use a drive-imaging backup solution such as Acronis True Image: that is, one that backs everything up in its proper place, so that if you have a drive failure (as just happened on my iBook), you can copy across the image and start up as if nothing has happened. If you just back up your data, you're likely to lose local settings and registry stuff. Back up your critical data separately.
posted by holgate at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2005

I use a Maxtor external hard drive with Retrospect one touch backup software. You can set it to either back up specific directories or your whole hard drive.

Same here - Maxtor OneTouch II which comes with Dantz Retrospect software. It's fast and easy.
posted by ericb at 10:32 AM on August 14, 2005

I'll cast my software vote for SyncBack. Simple to use, will run unattended, gives a report when it's done. I've got an accumulation of external hard drives from various makers and never had one fail. *pauses to knock wood* But I do occasional DVD backups of the critical stuff, anyway.
posted by mkhall at 10:48 AM on August 14, 2005

Another vote for Retrospect Personal, which comes with the Maxtor OneTouch drives, or you can buy the software separately.
posted by Rothko at 11:18 AM on August 14, 2005

Karen's Replicator is the free and easy file copying tool I use, along with a couple of extra HDDs attached to a PCI IDE controller card. I use the the two HDDs because I have in fact suffered the indignity of two HDs failing at once. Hopefully the third one makes me safe.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:43 PM on August 14, 2005

Here is what I do. I have three external HDs manufactured by LaCie. One stays connected all the time and backs up nightly. I clone my HD on each of the other two and keep one of those off site and rotate them monthly. This is a type of disaster insurance.

I am Mac user. Retrospect worked great for me until Tiger then it did not work properly. I back up nightly using Synk and clone my HD using SuperDuper!

No back up regime is perfect. I can't imagine backing up to CD or DVD once the volume beyond a small HD. It's just too cumbersome. I think each user needs to decide his or her personal comfort level.
posted by dclawyer at 5:45 PM on August 14, 2005

A vote for Handy Backup - very good and simple to set up although you could probably achieve the same with free tools and a bit of hacking.

I use two large external drives. I back up my hard drive to one, take it home and bring the other one into work. Repeat process daily weekly or whenever I remember to swap them over. The backups are direct replicas and all three drives are identical so I *should* be able to just swap in the external drive and carry on as normal.

I also use a belt-and-braces approach: every day, my Outlook PSTs and documents are zipped, encrypted and sent via secure FTP to webspace on StrongSpace: that way, even if my external drives fail I'll still have all my work available. $8/month for 4Gb.

Yeah, it seems like a lot but after setup everything runs automatically without any intervention from me. I've been stung twice by HD failures and have lost a lot of work (and cash) - it isn't going to happen again.
posted by blag at 6:03 PM on August 14, 2005

Just a quiet whisper out to the included backup utility in XP (and most windows flavors). Not the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if you're just trying to keep it simple, it's free and is already included with Windows.

You'd set a scheduled backup every week or so to the external drive, including your music and other important data folders, as well as an OS/system backup. This means that you could more easily recover from a full wipe and reinstall situation: do a fresh XP install, then do a restore from the backed up drive of the system image and get your XP and programs back as they were before.

That said, blag's point should remind you that really need to ask what's important. If you've got stuff you couldn't bear to lose and is irreplaceable (mail folders that represent years of accumulated mail, addresses, etc) you may want to be a little more paranoid, and not only back up to another drive, but to another system, including one outside your home, such as an online backup system.
posted by hincandenza at 12:18 AM on August 15, 2005

HandyBackup is great.
Connected TLM for offsite backups.
posted by seanyboy at 12:29 AM on August 15, 2005

If you go with an external drive I'd follow a practice similar to dclawyer.
If you simply have one external HD running constantly it will die, and then you're back to square one - without all your data!
posted by prostyle at 11:56 AM on August 15, 2005

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