By David Glick

If you are like most computer users, you probably think to yourself that you know your computer pretty well, and that it is currently running well too (or maybe not). You might wonder why in the world you should have to worry about backing up your data. Well here are five very good reasons why you will want to consider backing up your important computer data right now (This IS a lot of reading but you WILL find it worthwhile – I promise!):

1) A hard drive is a piece of mechanical/electronic equipment. It is not fail-safe – it can (and might) fail at any time! Yes, some hard drives keep spinning happily along for decades, while some go bad shortly after they are installed. The average hard drive age prior to failure is about 3-5 years. However, your drive CAN fail at anytime!

2) Hard drives do not usually give a warning before they fail – they just stop working. For those of you that would like more of a technical explanation, here it is: the hard drive has, as stated before, mechanical and electronic components that can fail at any time. Believe it or not, the most common cause of failure of a hard drive (barring physical abuse or damage) is the interface – this is contained on a circuit board that is attached to the hard drive. An interface failure is catastrophic because the circuit boards are generally not interchangeable, even between drives of the model. The only way to recover from this failure is a clean room facility that costs multiple thousands of dollars, and for that there is no guarantee of recovery! A drive that has suffered physical abuse will have damage to the mechanical pieces in the drive, especially for example when a hard drive is spinning and is dropped. A hard drive in the off position can take several G’s of force before suffering any damage!

3) Most people in my experience really do not take very good care of their computers – dust builds up inside of them causing overheating, and any kind of maintenance is an after-thought at best. Does that sound like you? It’s okay because you are in the majority 🙂 (but really you should consider taking better care of it to prevent premature failure :)) However, this also means we really don’t think about problems until they come up. This is a bad thing because as stated above, your hard drive can fail at any time. It is not “if,” it is “when.”

4) Do you have important data on your computer? Pictures, music, and documents are usually what most people ask me to save for them. However, there is more (much more!). What about your favorites in your browser – would you be lost without them? How about your email? If you use Windows Mail, Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird or Outlook (as examples) and you have an email address from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) such as Cox, Century Link, Cable One, etc your old emails may only be on your hard drive and no where else. Would you be unhappy if you lost them? How about financial information such as Quickbooks, Quicken, etc or previous year’s tax information? What about the stuff you have saved over the years on your desktop or in your downloads?

5) Do you currently own an external hard drive or a subscription to Mozy or Carbonite (examples of online backup services)? If the answer to these is no and the answer to number 4 is yes, you need to back up your stuff RIGHT NOW before it is too late!

Here is a Q&A on backing up your stuff:

Q: How often should I back up my stuff?
A: As often as you make important changes to your data or add new data (pictures, music, documents, etc). This could be daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly – it just depends on your habits. The important thing is to start doing it NOW and get in the habit of backing up on a regular basis.

Q: How many backups should I keep?
A: This is what I tell my customers in answer to this question: the more important your stuff is to you, the more places you want to have it. No one backup scheme will cover every scenario. You need multiple local backups AND geographically separate backups too – what if you had a fire in your home or business – is your data saved somewhere else (even if somewhat out-dated)? I have 1000’s of pictures of my kids and would be VERY unhappy if I lost them or they were destroyed. I keep them on multiple computers, external hard drives, and even archived on DVDs.

Q: What is the best program to back up my stuff?
A: If you have Windows 7, you currently own what in my opinion is about the best backup software available – because it came with Windows so it is FREE, it is EASY to use, and it WORKS! Simply hook up an external hard drive, make a backup folder on it, do a search in Windows for Backup (Or go to the Control Panel under Backup and Restore) and set your backup to back up what you want and when you want. If you have a Mac, use Time Machine! If you have Vista or XP, use Ease Us TODO Backup Free – an excellent backup program that works great. If you want more than the basic features or a good support plan, purchase the product for less than $40 (at last look)

Q: How big external hard drive should I get?
A: Get drives that are at least 3-5 times the size of the data on your hard drive (Double-click My Computer or Computer, right click the C: Drive, left-click properties and look at the Used Space. If data is located on multiple drives it can get complicated). So if you have 60 Gigabytes on your C: Drive then get at least 250 Gigabyte drives, 500’s would be better (and they are only about $70 now).

Q: What about a full image of my drive – should I do that?
A: I would consider making two full images if you are comfortable doing that (in case one doesn’t work), and then just make additional backups for data only. This *should* (nothing is 100% in this business) get you back up quickly in case your hard drive fails and you need to replace it. Make sure you make (or have) an emergency boot CD or DVD to recover the image to the new drive. Windows 7 has a System Repair Disk utility in the Backup and Restore Control Panel applet (look on the left side). If you do not use Windows 7, Google search your OS version (and bit depth – 32, 64) along with “Emergency Boot and Rescue DVD” and burn that image to optical disk (CD or DVD as needed).

NOTE: For the best results, rotate at least two external hard drives (remember THEY CAN FAIL TOO!) every other time you back up. Also, consider backup online or an archive on DVD once every 6 months to a year – keep at least one copy of your archives off site.

NOTE NUMBER TWO (and this is the MOST important note!): So you are backing up your stuff, right? How do you know your stuff is actually backed up? The ONLY way to know is by checking your backups! Look at the dates of the most recent files on the backup and verify they correlate to the most recent files on your hard drive. Something is wrong if they don’t; your backup program’s log files will need to be checked to discover the problem (or the backup drive is full).