The Noob’s Guide to How and Why to Back Up Your Computer

It can be tough remembering to take the time to back up your computer. Today, our lives are busier than ever, putting chores like backing up our computer on the back burner.

Computer backup is just one of many mundane tasks that always seems like it can wait until tomorrow.

However, when disaster strikes, tomorrow is always too late.

Which is why taking the time to back up your computer should take on a new sense of urgency for all PC users.

We'll make it easy:

5 Reasons Why You Should Back up Your Computer

Backing up your computer feels like one of those essential things that you know you need to do, but can't find the time to get done.

However, there are plenty of good reasons why you should back up your computer today.

Here are five:

1. The stark truth

Thanks to television shows like CSI and NCIS, a lot of people think that data from a hard drive is never wholly lost.

Unfortunately:

The reality is that even the most skilled computer repair tech may not be able to save your data.

There's almost no worst feeling than learning that all your data is lost forever.

Except maybe:

Knowing that you could have prevented it.

By taking the time to make sure your data is backed up regularly you ensure that you'll never have to worry about going through that experience.

Fun fact:

"One of the earliest methods of data storage used with early computers were punch cards. "

~Doag.org

2. The odds

Another reason to back up your computer is if your laptop or PC gets lost or stolen.

Now let's be honest:

Most of us never imagine that we would become a victim of theft.

And here's a little secret:

Neither do most victims.

While losing or having your desktop PC stolen is less likely to happen than with a laptop, it's still possible.

And as for laptops, here are seven shocking statistics that should make you want to back up your computer today.

Every 53 seconds

a laptop is stolen

86%

IT professionals report that someone in their organization has a lost or stolen laptop, with 56 percent of them stating that it resulted in a data breach

65%

business managers write their passwords on documents like post-it notes or share it with other individuals

52%

business managers often leave their laptop with a stranger

45%

ealthcare information breaches come from stolen laptops

5,000,000

represents the number of medical patients whose data was compromised in a single case of a stolen laptop

$47,000

The average total cost to a business for the loss of a single laptop

The ramifications of lost or stolen computers are no joke. Make a plan to back up your data.

3. The false security issue

Maybe you're thinking that it's not necessary to back up your computer because you're using temporary storage devices to store your data.

While these devices can be an excellent short-term solution, these types of media were not designed for permanent data storage.

Devices such as USB flash drives can quickly become corrupted or suffer physical damage. Every year countless individuals lose invaluable data stored on flash drives.

You can prevent this from happening by backing up your data the right way.

Fun fact:

"60% of companies that lose their data will go out of business within 6 months of the disaster."

~Thundercurrent.net

4. The fact is, you're not in control of everything

Power failures and spikes can also result in the permanent destruction or corruption of important files. These power spikes and failures can fry components in computers such as your hard drive.

Once this happens, your data could be gone forever.

To prevent help prevent this from happening, make sure you use a power strip with a good surge protector whenever you can.

Know what else you need to do?

Back up your computer.

5. Humans are only human

We all make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes can cost us our data.

Whether it's spilling coffee on your laptop or failing to update your antivirus protection, human error happens.

Expensive computer technicians may be able to save your data from yourself, but sometimes they can't.

The best protection you can have from your own humanity is to back up your computer often. Doing this could save you from hours of berating that unfortunate person in the mirror.

Fun fact:

"With the introduction of magnetic tapes as a storage medium in the 1960s, it was suddenly possible to store significantly larger amounts of data.

~Doag.org

3 Consequences When You Don't Back up Your Computer

If good reasons as to why you should back up your computer aren't enough, then maybe you should consider the possible consequences.

Lost or stolen data can cost a lot, emotionally, mentally, and financially.

Here are a few examples of how lost or stolen data can harm you.


1. Shock and pain

One major consequence of choosing not to back up your computer is the possibility of lost employment and income.

If you keep valuable information on your PC or laptop, not having a backup copy could cost you your job or business.

Establishing and maintaining the simple insurance of backing up your data could one day save you from financial devastation.


2. It's like a natural disaster

Most Americans no longer keep photo albums of all their precious memories but instead store them on their hard drives.

Pictures and videos are sentimental moments that you can not replace if you don't have a backup copy. Imagine losing all the pictures and videos of your child being born or of your wedding.

The most similar event we  face is a natural disaster, destroying all our photos and tangible memories.

Moments that matter deserve protection.


3. New beginnings aren't always a good thing

One of the worst things about losing all of your data is starting over.

After you've reinstalled Windows or bought a new computer, you'll then stare at an empty desktop that feels like a stranger.

Losing all of your data can feel like losing a valuable part of your life, that there's no getting back.

As if that's not enough:

There's no more pointed reminder of your loss than starting over from scratch.

Fun fact:

"IBM had been developing the world's first hard disk drive (HDD) since 1953 and introduced it to the market in 1956."

~Doag.org


Process and Cost of Data Retrieval

Let's say for whatever reason you didn't or couldn't back up your computer and lost everything.

There are a few ways this can happen, accidentally deleting your files (Logical Failure) or malfunctioning hardware (Mechanical Failure).

With Logical Failure, you may accidentally delete a file then clean out your trash bin.

Computer viruses can also cause a logical failure. In these cases, a file recovery service or software may be able to help.

Mechanical failure can happen if a hard drive fails or gets damaged. This type of failure usually can make data recovery more difficult.

If you're lucky, there may be a way to retrieve your lost data, but it's going to cost you.

Data recovery services

If you did a quick search for data recovery services, you'd come across a flood of companies making lots of promises.

But here's one thing you can be sure of, it's going to cost a lot more than backing up your data.

The best data recovery services will have highly paid computer scientists who can take your hard drive apart and retrieve your data.

Pro tip:

Despite what you may have read on the internet, these services should not charge you by the Gigabyte of data recovered.

If you run into a company that does this, run away as fast as you can.

To be clear:

I'm not saying get out of your chair and run outside in a panic. Merely click out of the window or press the back button.

I mean, you can run outside in a panic if you want to, no judgments from me. I do it all the time.

Fun fact:

"Only 25% of users frequently back up their files, yet 85% of those same users say they are very concerned about losing important digital data."

~Thundercurrent.net

How data recovery services work

These services usually charge based on the hours worked and other factors such as the difficulty of the job.

For example:

If you accidentally deleted some important files and need a service to retrieve them than you might pay anywhere from $50 to $800 to get them back.

On the other hand:

If your house floods and your hard drive suffers water damage, then that repair could cost over a $1,000.

In the case of significant damage, data recovery doesn't take place in some dirty backroom cluttered shop with a fan in the window.

The most reputable data recovery services will have clean rooms, like the ones used in high-end labs, with eerily slow-moving scientists wearing white hazmat suits to prevent contamination.

Yes, it's that serious folks.

Plus, if you're hard drive is encrypted, better be prepared to pay a lot more.

When you call or email a recovery service, they should not come across as trying to upsell you.

The best companies don't need to hustle you; they'll have large corporate clients that pay for the bulk of their services.

They should also have at least an ISO5-rated clean-room and SOC2-level data security that undergo routine audits.

Pricing should be clear and upfront, with no hidden costs.

If you're going to pay big bucks for this service, don't trust your data to anyone but one of the best in the business.

Data recovery software

Another method to recover data is to use data recovery software.

If the hard drive isn't too physically damaged, you may be able to read it with specialized software, even if Windows no longer recognizes it.

As in the case with data recovery services, when you search for data recovery software, you'll get a lot of results.

It's best to shop around and look for software that appears on a few "best of" listings before committing to a program.

Be sure to limit your search to the current year for the most up-to-date results.

Trusted sites such as Tech Radar, Tom's Guide, and PC Magazine are great places for recommendations.

The best data recovery programs are relatively simple and provide detailed easy to follow step-by-step instructions to help you retrieve your data.

Pro tip:

Before using a data recovery program it's a good idea to clone your hard drive first, just in case the drive becomes corrupted by the process.

data recovery software

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

More on cloning later.

Data recovery programs can cost anywhere from $20 to $100. Many offer free trials, and there may be a few completely free programs floating around out there.

However, keep in mind when using software, you may get only one shot at getting your data back. So it may be a good idea to pay for the best rather than go the cheap route.

If you're lucky enough to retrieve your data using either a service or software, count yourself lucky and back up your computer immediately.

Fun fact:

"A smartphone with 16 GB SSD memory – that is about 4,000 times of the first hard drive’s storage capacity."

~Doag.org

Equipment Needed to Back up Your Computer

Before you back up your computer, you'll need a couple of things.

If you plan to back up your computer on another hard drive, you'll want to get a new external or internal hard drive.

For this task, you have two real options: Solid State Drives and Hard Disk Drives. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are faster than traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs).

inside an hard disk or hdd

Image by Andrew Virnuls from Pixabay

However, Solid state drives are more expensive than HDD drives, and many people recommend them more to use as primary boot drives than for storage.

Hard disk drives are cheaper and usually offer more capacity. That is why they are more popular backup hard drives.

The main thing to remember about hard drives is that all hard drives eventually break down.

HDD drives have mechanical moving parts, much like a record player. The moving parts will start to wear down and stop working after enough use and time.

SDD drives, on the other hand, have no moving parts. However, the NAND component within these drives will degrade after a certain number of Program-Erase (P/E) cycles.

sandisk solid state drive

Image by pagefact from Pixabay

Most SSDs are usually rated for 4,000 to 5,000 P/E cycles, but this is just an average estimate. It's hard to know when either type of hard drive will fail; both types could last for years or months.

One thing to keep in mind is that even if a backup drive fails, you should still have your original drive which you can back up again once you have a new backup drive.

Networked hard drive

You may be able to connect your SSD or HDD drive to a high-speed router to create a Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN) drive.

A Local Area Network is similar to a Wide Area Network (WAN) except it's confined to a closed group of local computers.

For example:

If you shared a secret that only stays between two or three friends, this would be the ideal example of a Local Area Network.

The information stays between a set number of devices and does not go over the internet.

However:

If one friend decides to post your secret on Facebook, then this would be an example of a Wide Area Network.

Setting up either type of networked drive is relatively straightforward. Your router manual should give you step-by-step instructions on how to set it up.

Once you've got your networked drive up and running, you can then use Windows or a third-party program to set up regular backups to that drive.

Fun fact:

"The first floppy disk was introduced in 1969 by IBM and was a read-only 8-inch disk that could store 80 kB of data (that’s about 1,000 punch cards)."

~Doag.org

This video shows you an example of how network drives work.

Pro tip:

Always buy new hard drives, especially for back up drives.

Other equipment you might need.

Aside from another hard drive, there are other components you may need to back up your computer physically.

If you're using an internal SATA HDD or SSD drive, you'll need SATA cables to connect to the motherboard.

For external SSD or HDD drives, you'll need a compatible USB cable.

With external drives, you may want to have a hard drive enclosure that uses USB 3.0 or higher standard (assuming that your computer has a 3.0 or higher port).

If your computer has a newer USB C port, then you want to buy an external drive or enclosure that has a USB C port for the best speed.

If using an external drive, try to make sure it's in a place that's stable where it won't fall or suffer other physical damage.

For cloud-based backups, you'll need a stable high-speed internet connection, Wi-Fi adapter (internal or external), or an ethernet cable that connects to a high-speed router.

5 Different Ways You Can Back up Your Computer

There are several different ways you can back up your computer. Each method has its benefits and potential drawbacks.

One thing to remember:

While most backup methods allow you to schedule backups, it's best not to become complacent about auditing backing history.

For example:

Your computer could miss several backups due to an operating system or hardware error.

Fun fact:

"With the introduction of Compact Discs (CDs), the relatively low capacity of the floppy disk became a thing of the past."

~Doag.org

If you have it on a schedule, you might not notice until it's too late.

So be sure to make it a habit to check and make sure your backups are going through at least once a month if not once a week.

Here are five methods you can use to back up your data.

cloud back up diagram

Image by Ditaucis from Pixabay

1. They always said to keep your head out of them...

...but cloud Cloud-based full-backup services allow you to back up your computer to an offsite server. That makes them a good place for your data, if not your head.

This method has several advantages, as well as a few disadvantages.

  • advantages:
  • disadvantages:
  • In case of physical damage like a flood or fire, your original and backup are not in the same location
  • Zero chance you'll lose backup due to hard drive failure
  • Great solution for laptop users always on the move
  • Easy to schedule backups

If you decide to give a cloud backup service a try, make sure you search for only the most-current top-rated providers.

Once again, you can find great recommendations from trusted PC sources like Tech Radar, Tom's Guide, and PC Magazine to name a few.

When you sign up for a cloud service, the site will walk you through everything you need to do to get started.

The best services design their sites so that it's easy to set up, navigate, monitor, and manage your data backups.

Some services even allow you to back up all your devices such as laptops, mobile devices, and PCs for a flat fee.

This video shows you an example of the full-backup cloud services on the market.

iphone icons

Image by Edward Lich from Pixabay

2. About that cloud, there's more

Another option is to sync specific files to a limited cloud-based service like Dropbox or Google Drive.

Unlike full-backup cloud services, this option will not allow you to backup everything on your hard drive. The limits on how much you can sync vary from service to service.

Some of these services, such as Dropbox, offer free cloud storage but with limited space. To get more space, you would pay just as you would with a cloud-based full backup service.

Cloud syncing services can cost between $10 to over $100 per month or year depending on the company and service plan.

As with cloud full-backup services, to get started with cloud syncing services is relatively easy.

For example:

To sign up for a Dropbox account, you just need to fill out your first and last name, email address and create a password.

You'll then be able to create a Dropbox folder on your PCs, laptops, and mobile devices. Then you just pick the folders you need to the service to back up.

Think of these cloud services as a-la-carte-style back up.

This video shows just one example of how a cloud syncing service works.

3. Now, down to Earth

You can back up specific files to an internal, external, or networked hard drive.

Note:

This copy will not include system files, settings, and installed programs.

Backups using Windows File History work a lot like cloud syncing services. You can pick and choose which folders you want to backup. However, this will not back up your entire system

To get started, follow these steps:

search icon
Press the windows key or go to the windows search bar
type icon
Type in "backup"
point icon
Click on "backup settings"
mouse cursor icon
Select advanced options

This will take you to File History (you can also reach this menu from your control panel).

You will then have the option of running a backup using the "run now" option near the middle of your screen.

In advanced options you also have the following options available:

  • Control Panel Home: takes you back to the main control panel menu
  • Restore personal files: restores files from a backup
  • Select drive: allows you to select or change the destination backup drive
  • Exclude folders: allows you to select what files to exclude from your backup

Advanced Settings:

  • Here you can schedule backups from every 10 minutes to daily using the "save copies of files" option
  • Choose how long to keep your backups using the "keep saved versions" option
  • Delete old backups using the "clean up versions" option
  • Create or join a homegroup
  • You can also view event logs to check the status of recent and past backups (this is where you check for errors)

Fun fact:

"Nowadays, you won’t find USB sticks that don’t hold multiple gigabytes, while for early models, it was normal to hold only a few megabytes of data."

~Doag.org

Recovery

This option allows you to:

Create a recovery drive

This allows you to backup all of your Windows system files to a designated flash, SSD, or HDD drive with at least 16 Gigabytes of storage space.

The drive will also serve as a recovery drive that will allow you to troubleshoot and recover your Windows installation if a system file gets corrupted and you can't boot into Windows.

Open System Restore

This option opens System Restore, which has all of your system restore points.

System restore points are usually created whenever there's a change in your system, such as the installation of a new program.

You can use these points to go back before the change if you think it messed up your computer.

Configure System Restore

This option allows you to modify restore settings, manage disk space, and create or delete restore points.

When you enter this menu, the first thing you'll notice is the large "System Restore" button. This button will let you restore your computer's settings to the most recent restore point.

Under System Restore is the Protection Settings.

Here you can choose which hard drives on which you want to enable system protection.

For example:

You can enable system protection on an external hard drive, and it will create a restore point whenever changes are made on that drive.

The "Configure" button allows turning system protection off and on.

It also allows you to set the maximum amount of disk space used to store your system protection restore points.

This value is automatically set at 0, and you can modify it up to a specific percentage of your backup hard drive's disk space.

The last option is "Create."

This option lets you create a system restore point right now on all drives for which system protection is currently enabled.

blue hp laptop

Image by Steve Howard from Pixabay

4. The whole enchilada

With System Image Backup you can create an exact copy of your entire system. This copy is basically the whole enchilada.

You'll find this option on the bottom left-hand corner of File History.

To get started:

  • First, click on System Image Backup in File History
  • This will take you to the "Back up and Restore" menu
  • On the left, select "create a system image"
  • Your system will then search for hard drives with enough space to accommodate your system image
  • It will usually choose the drive with the freest disk space by default
  • However, you can change the drive by clicking on the drop-down arrow
  • Once you've selected your drive click next to begin

The "Back up and Restore" menu also allows you to change the location of your system image backup and set, delete, or change its schedule.

Restoring a System Image Backup

To restore a System Image Backup follow these steps:

  • Press the Windows key
  • Type in "settings" in the search bar
  • Click on the "settings" icon
  • Next click on "Update and Security"
  • Click on "Recovery"
  • Under "advanced startup" click on the "restart now" button
  • Once your system restarts, at the "Choose an option" screen click on "troubleshoot"
  • Click on "Advanced Options"
  • Click on "System Image Recovery"
  • It will then ask you to select a backup image
  • Once you've chosen the image, Windows will overwrite the current version of Windows and replace it with the Image backup copy

You can follow the same steps after booting your system from a restore disk or USB drive.

You'll just start at the "Choose an option" screen.

Third-party imaging programs

There are also third-party imaging programs you can purchase that may make this process a little easier.

But keep in mind:

You will need to create a boot disk or USB boot flash drive of the third-party program to restore the system image if you can't boot into Windows.

Otherwise, you'll just open installed program in Windows and select the option to restore the image file.

Fun fact:

"It was Herman Hollerith who invented a punch card-based technique that was for the first time able to record and carry data to be read by a machine."

~Doag.org

pile of hard disk

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

5. Attack of the clones

The last method to back up your computer that we would like to share is cloning your hard drive.

On the surface, cloning and creating a backup image may seem like the same thing. However, these are two completely different backup methods.

When you create a system image, you are creating a software copy of your system that is stored on a hard drive.

To restore a backup image onto another or the same hard drive, you have to go through Windows System Recovery or third-party software.

On the other hand:

When you clone your hard drive, you're creating an exact copy of your system on another hard drive.

In other words:

You are creating a clone drive that you can slap right into your computer and operate the same as the original drive.

To clone your drive, you'll need a separate external drive that has the same amount of total space or more than the original drive. You can also use an internal drive.

However, keep in mind:

You'll have a "dual boot" situation that will make you pick which drive to boot from every time you have to restart your computer.

Unfortunately:

To clone your Windows hard drive, you'll need to use third-party software.

The good news is that there are a lot of very user-friendly cloning programs out there that make the process as simple as can be.

Macrium Reflect Free and EaseUS Disk Copy are just two examples of popular programs people use to clone their hard drives.

But you can also find other great programs by performing a quick search for the "best cloning software" for the current year.

How Often You Should Back up Your Computer

Choosing the frequency at which you back up your computers is a matter of personal preference.

However:

We recommend that you back up your system at least once a week.

That said:

Once a month can also be a reasonable schedule. We also recommend that you use more than one backup method at the same time.

For example:

You can use something like Google Drive or Dropbox to sync all your most important folders and files every day.

Then use Windows File History to back up specific files every week (or every day if you prefer).

cloud icon

And finally, use Windows to create a system image every week or every month.

That would give you at least two layers of full-backup protection (your original hard drive and your system image).

And you would have two layers of essential file backups (synced backups and Windows File History backups).

Also, if you're willing to invest a little cash, you can incorporate cloud-based full backups into your gameplan.

Whatever computer backup recipe you decide to cook with, just make sure that you audit your backups at least once a month.

We do hope that you've found this information on how to backup your computer helpful and congratulate you for taking this step to achieving better data security and peace of mind.

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