The Essentials: Back Up Your Computer


Most computer users think the worst thing that can happen to their computer is a virus. True, a virus can be very damaging for your computer, but what you should really worry about is losing your data forever. This can occur because of a virus or because of a completely innocuous computer malfunction. The only way to prevent losing files that are important to you is to back up your computer.

Backing up your files means making copies of your files and storing them outside of your computer. In the past, it would have been very time consuming to back up all of your computer files because backup media had such space limitations. It would have taken dozens of floppy disks to do the job. Today, we have CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, inexpensive external hard drives and web-based services to do the heavy lifting. These tools allow you to store hundreds of megabytes or gigabytes in one place.

Most people don’t absolutely need to back up their entire computer, but it is incredibly nice to have if you ever find yourself the victim of a total system crash. With your entire computer backed up, you could easily restore your computer exactly the way it was if the worst were to happen. Backing up your whole computer is easier than you might think. To do the job, you’ll need an external hard disk drive that is at least as large as your computer’s hard drive. Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT) offers a Backup Wizard (Start > Accessories >System Tools >Backup) that walks you through the process. Macs (Stock Quote: AAPL) running OS X Leopard have a built in automatic backup program called Time Machine that allows users to go back to specific dates and recover any lost files.

If you don’t want to or need to back up your entire computer, you should at least back up all of your important files. What constitutes important files is completely up to you. If you store your digital photos on your computer, you probably want to back those up. Financial documents, letters, music downloads, the novel you’ve been working on for years or anything else that you wouldn’t want to lose should also be backed up.

The best time to back up your computer is yesterday. That’s how urgent it is. Backup drives and writable CDs and DVDs are very affordable these days and widely available. It’s not enough to back up one time. You have to make it a habit. Anytime you make changes to an important file you should back it up. If you don’t think you can remember, use backup software to schedule backup sessions for all new files once a week at a time when you won’t need your computer (like overnight). Setting your computer to automatically back up will ensure that you have current copies of your files, even if you forget to make them.

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