Backing Up Is Hard To Do? Not Any More.

There’s a common sentiment among geeks about hard drives. It’s not a question of whether your hard drive will fail, but when it will fail. That hard drive in your computer has lots of moving parts: at least one spinning platter made of metal or glass and at least one read/write head moving constantly to find the data your computer needs to function. That wear and tear will cause your drive to break. That is, if it doesn’t get stolen first.

Whatever happens, it will certainly happen at the most inopportune moment as well.

Now are you fearful of losing your treasure of family photos, financial information, job resume and, God forbid, even your MP3 collection? I won’t question your priorities but I’ll try to help you get a good routine going of making backups of your stuff. It might sound like a bit of a pain to deal with but you will thank me when it comes time to recover your stuff. Let’s get going.

Do you have a MAC?

This is going to be pretty easy.

First, find out how large the hard drive in your computer is. On your desktop, highlight the icon of the drive, probably called Macintosh HD, and then hit command-I. You can also find this command, Get Info, under the File drop down menu on the upper left corner of your screen. You’ll see a window come up with a bunch of information. Under the section labeled “General” you will see your drive’s capacity. You will need to buy an external hard drive larger than your hard drive you are backing up. If you buy a drive that has both Firewire and USB 2.0 connections on it, you will be golden. If you’ve got an Intel Mac, you’ll be find with just a USB 2.0 connection on your external hard drive. I’m using a Western Digital External Drive like you see in the Amazon ad to the right.

SuperDuper! iconSecond, now that you’ve got your external hard drive, let’s get you set up with SuperDuper, the software I use to make my own back ups. Visit their site to download a copy. The free version will make a full back up of your data onto your new drive. It will work forever this way for free, but I would suggest spending the $27.95 for the full version. The full version of the software includes very easy scheduled back ups so you will not need to work about manually doing this in the future.

Another feature I appreciate is that it’s got incredibly verbose descriptions of what you’re about to do when you use the software, helpfully labeled “What’s going to happen?”. You will see in the image below what “Smart Update”, an incremental back up feature of the full version of the software, will do. Nice.

SuperDuper! shows what's going to happen

What if you have a PC?

I don’t have hands-on experience backing up a PC. I run Windows XP and Vista, but only through my Mac with Parallels, so backing up my Mac in essence backs up my PC too. If you’re a PC user though, there are solutions out there for you too. For XP, Microsoft has included some backup software for you. Since I don’t use it though, I will simply point you to the page on Microsoft’s site called Windows XP Backup Made Easy. Another page on Microsoft’s site tells you how to install it from your installation disks.

If you run Vista, you’ll want to check out a different page on the Microsoft site: Windows Vista - Windows Backup and Restore Center. Unfortunately, one of my big gripes about the multiple versions Vista is sold under comes into play here.

Automatic File Backup helps to keep your files safe and is available in almost all editions of Windows Vista (it is not included in Starter and has only basic functionality in Home Basic edition).

That’s confusing, Microsoft! If you’ve got either Starter or Home Basic version of Vista, you will need to get some additional software to do your back up. Wired recommends SyncBack Free I would recommend checking out Wired’s complete PC back up article.

Offsite backups

Mozy logoNow that you can wipe the sweat off your brow knowing that you’ve got a back up of all your data I will tell you about another really cool service I use for off-site back up called Mozy.

Why would you want yet another backup now that you’ve got an external duplicate of your data? If someone breaks into your home and takes your laptop, do you think they’ll leave that tasty little external drive sitting next to it? It’s truly frightening to think about but, what about a fire in your home? I’m sorry to say that if you lose your computer in that situation, you’ll probably lose your back up drive as well.

Mozy will back up and encrypt your data externally so that you will be able to retrieve the files you simply can’t live without. A small program runs in the background and automatically monitors your hard drive as files change and sends only the files that have changed to be backed up over your internet connection.

You can sign up for a free Mozy account and back up 2 gigabytes of data to their servers. I pay for an unlimited home account which lets me back up any amount of data on a single computer for $4.95 per month.

Do you need both onsite and offsite backups?

Nothing is perfect. Mozy does have a downside. Since data is backed up over your internet connection, only about 9 gigabytes of data can be backed up per day. If your computer has 200 GB to back up, you’re going to need to have it running 24 hours a day for about 23 days to complete your initial back up. And, I should note, I find that very optimistic.

A external hard drive also allows you the luxury of having a bootable hard drive ready for you to get back to work in just minutes when a hard drive failure happens. A remote backup solution does not offer that. That’s why I recommend both approaches to backing up your data.

In a future entry, I will go over some hard drive maintenance and recovery software that I’ve used that will help round out your whole toolkit to keep your data yours.

Got a question about your back up? Drop me a line or leave a comment below.



Comments on this post.

I once had to upgrade an old HD from my old Powerbook and using Time Machine I was able to restore all my settings to the new HD. So if your still wondering Tom it works great for full restores and transferring old data to a new HD.

I never considered important to backup the data on a computer until one of my hard disks died with all my projects and favorite music and pictures.

i always backing up my important data on a CD, its good for me…


If you’re backing up to CD, you might want to check the following links about CD/DVD longevity.

The Mac Geek Gab has a nice discussion of the topic and that’s where I learned about these links. You can hear that show here:

Offsite backups are essential for important data, because we all know the perils of keeping everything in one location: fire, flood, theft, power surges, power failures, permatemps refuse to take it anymore and go berserk—it’s just wise redundancy.   But how do you implement offsite backups? I’m tired of reading headlines about how some minimum-wage “contractor” (a code word for permatemp, which is code for employee who is paid peanuts and gets no benefits) has to haul backup tapes home every night, and then they get stolen out of the poor schmuck’s ‘68 Gremlin which hasn’t had functioning locks in decades. And the tapes are not encrypted, and in fact have labels that read SECRET STUFF—DON’T LOOK!! And the poor permatemp takes the heat, but it’s not his fault that his bosses are dimwits.   Spideroak offers 2GB of storage for free, and $10 per month buys you 100GB. Supported clients are Windows 2000, XP and Vista, Mac OS X Tiger and Leopard, and 32 and 64 bit Linux .deb packages for Ubuntu and Debian. Clients for Fedora and other RPM-based distributions will come someday, and meanwhile you can try using to convert the .deb to an .rpm file.   What if their servers go blooey, or someone cuts a fiber optic cable and the Internet goes away? The lower-cost accounts sit in a single data center, and for a higher fee you can have geographically-distributed redundant storage.

By Jack on Jan 23 2009
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