What's a good strategy to backup my home PC files?
October 14, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I want to know what backup strategy I should be using for my computer(s) at home.

I have one main (good) computer (WinXP) that I mainly care about, networked with one sort of crappy computer (Win2000) that I use when I want to test out anything unsavoury (cough... like a cracked game cough...) and my wife has a laptop (WinXP) on the network as well. We're probably talking 10-15 gigs at the most.

Really, the main things I'd like to back up would be my music files, my "My Documents", and ideally - my wife's "My Documents".

A look through AskMe told me that there is commonly either online backups, or external drive backups.
I have no preference/opinion about going either way.... just a couple of criteria.

1) I'd rather not blow big money on something that is designed for office use, if there is more affordable personal equivalent.
2) I'd really, really, (really) like to have a solution that could be automated/scheduled. The thought "I should really back up my files today" just never pops into my head.

A real bonus (but not necessary) would be if it were possible to sync the files, so that my wife could have an identical copy of my music on her laptop, without having to re-write all of the music every time.
But, like I said, that'd be gravy.
Mmmmm. Gravy.
posted by Tbola to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I use an Infrant ReadyNas NV+. I initially looked for cheaper options, but couldn't find anything that looked like it would work well. I have multiple shares set up, including one for true backups sync'd automatically from each computer. I have another share setup for for music and photographs that are kept on the NAS and not on the computers, so they can be accessed from any of the computers. My iTunes library, for example, syncs with the NAS. It supports FTP, SSH, rsync, and a host of other useful tools. The drives can be configured in several different RAID configurations to better backup your stuff.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:21 AM on October 14, 2007

Best answer: I'm using JungleDisk to do what you're wanting to do. It moves your data to an Amazon S3 server.

Amazon charges you a fixed rate for data transfer and storage. I think it's something like $0.10/GB storage and $0.15/GB transfer.

The JungleDisk software is free to try, $20 for a lifetime license. I had been using it for about a year before they started charging for it. I paid the $20 and have been happy ever since.

Your single license of JungleDisk can be used on all your computers. You pay per S3 account, not per system, which makes more sense.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:22 AM on October 14, 2007

I really like Mozy for Windows backup to a remote server. There's a free option for up to 2 gigs, then it's $5/month. It's completely automated and is smart about when it uses your bandwidth.

Choosing what files to set up is a bit of a pain, but you already know what you need. With your current plan if a drive fails you're going to have to reinstall Windows and all your applications. But you should have most of your personal data. Not all of it though; a lot of apps put data in the Program Files directory or somewhere other than My Documents.

I just had a critical drive fail this week. Get your backups sorted out soon!
posted by Nelson at 7:23 AM on October 14, 2007

I use a NAS device (I use a SimpleShare drive) and SyncBack SE to automate backups and syncing.

One copy of SyncBack allows you run the software on 5 PCs, so $30 should cover your software costs. SyncBack also allows you to do your back-ups to FTP as well. There are some services that allow FTP access to S3 as well, so that might be something to look at.

SyncBack has been perfectly "set it and forget it"... when things work you get no messages or notices or anything (although you can still open SyncBack to make sure things worked). If there's some sort of error, you get a pop-up.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:10 AM on October 14, 2007

Best answer: The greatest thing about online backup, of course, is that your data is safe not only from hard-drive failure but also from things like fire, theft, and anything else that's likely to clobber your backups along with your original copies.

Carbonite is another online backup, similar to Mozy. I use it and am pretty happy. (Though when I chose it, it was I think the only one running - I'd be interested in checking out Mozy and Jungledisk).

It is super-simple to set up and use. (And maybe not as feature-rich as Mozy)

To sync files between your computer and your wife's - you might also want to try Foldershare. It is free, simple, and works great.
posted by ManInSuit at 8:36 AM on October 14, 2007

I installed a second hard drive in my desktop PC (cheap now) and use a freeware program called Cobian Backup to schedule automatic backups of My Documents, Application Data, whatever is on my Desktop, etc. It's very flexible. My primary drive toasted itself a couple of weeks ago, but everything I needed was nicely preserved on the second drive, and I hadn't checked for months whether the thing was working the way it was supposed to.
posted by jon1270 at 8:39 AM on October 14, 2007

This strategy has worked well for me for many years:

Keep the OS on the C drive and all the data on another drive. Occasionally back up your C drive to a second internal drive with a drive imaging program like Ghost. I like to so this before I install invasive hardware or software. Then you can easily restore windows and all your programs in a matter of minutes if your primary drive fails.

Back up your data to an external hard drive and don't use this drive for anything else. In an emergency, you can grab this drive and run. Because you can always get another computer, but you can't always recreate old data like photographs and personal files. This system will also make it easier to migrate to your next PC.

Online backups are cool if you have the bandwidth.
posted by Area Control at 9:16 AM on October 14, 2007

The cheap way is to make sure your computer has a DVD burner, and use something like DeepBurner to pick folders and burn them to DVD. I have done it this way for 4 years now (earlier with CDs) and have never lost any data. Usually the stuff that occupies massive amounts of HD space is stuff like games, which don't need to be backed up. You can use a tool like SequoiaView before you start to see what's eating up your drive space.

The downside is it doesn't restore Windows, but since it gets so full of registry crap I just take it as an opportunity to reinstall Windows and start fresh (plus if there's any spyware you missed, you're definitely safe).
posted by zek at 9:25 AM on October 14, 2007

Set up Microsoft SyncToy to run as a scheduled task, and you can have a nightly incremental backup to a shared network drive. A quick google search will turn up lots of how-tos
posted by chrisamiller at 9:31 AM on October 14, 2007

The cheap way is to make sure your computer has a DVD burner, and use something like DeepBurner to pick folders and burn them to DVD. I have done it this way for 4 years now (earlier with CDs) and have never lost any data.
posted by zek at 12:25 PM on October 14 [+] [!]

DVDs are not held in high regard as far as maintaining data integrity over long periods of time go.

From personal experience, I backed up some stuff a while ago on a variety of DVD media; all of the discs were readable immediately after recording but years later when I actually needed them, some of the discs were completely unreadable even by the burner that wrote them. The drive struggled with reading them so badly that it was making sounds as if I'd inserted the disc upside down.

More arguments against using DVD as a backup medium can be found in this previous AskMe regarding backing up an mp3 collection.

From what I've read, you really get what you pay for when buying blank DVD media. To minimize the failure rate, you'd want to use authentic Taiyo Yuden DVDs, which are (one of) the highest-quality discs on the market. The tricky part is determining the authenticity of the discs, as many third party companies manufacture their own discs using the TY name.

Either way I personally would not rely on DVDs to retain mission-critical or irreplaceable data ever again.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 12:01 PM on October 14, 2007

Just don't rely too much on the same thing. For example, retire backup hard drives once in a while, or change brand of blank DVD, or whatever else is applicable. The more different ways you keep the data, and the more different places, the less chance you will lose it.
posted by Chuckles at 7:21 PM on October 14, 2007

Area Control is closest to my recommendation, but I would add that you should take the external hard drive offsite instead of hoping you can grab it and run in the event of an earthquake or tsunami.

For needs up to 100 mb or so, a USB-powered external hard drive, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, is all you need.
posted by yclipse at 7:29 PM on October 14, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all for your excellent answers.
posted by Tbola at 6:59 AM on October 16, 2007

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