Backing up your computer hard drive

Brian Edwards - 15th June 2011 - speaking to the Computer Branch

 Although modern computers are very reliable, the failure of a hard drive can be a major disaster. Whilst a faulty hard drive can be replaced, and the operating system and other software restored  (provided that you have the necessary recovery discs), there is no way that it is possible to recover all the data stored on the failed hard drive. Unlike previous forms of storage (tape, floppy discs, etc) which could be used with another drive if necessary, the modern hard drive is an integrated unit containing both the read/write mechanism and your data. 

For back up these days it is convenient to use external hard drives, CD/DVD discs and memory sticks, all of which have their uses. External hard drives and memory sticks are designed to connect to one of the computer’s USB sockets, and when plugged in can be viewed using “My Computer”. 

To perform a back up, make a folder on the external hard drive, and give it a suitable name, such as the date. Copy and paste all the files from “My Documents” to this folder. If you have lots of pictures, music or other unchanging data on the computer, it may not be necessary to back these up on each occasion, and it is probably better to copy them to CDs or DVDs and not to include them in your regular back up.

Back up the computer at regular intervals into new folders on your external hard drive, and when it is full, delete the oldest backup first. Use memory sticks for short term back up of any important “work in hand” between your regular backups.

 Store the backups carefully, if you have very important data, it is perhaps worth considering storing them elsewhere, perhaps with a member of the family or a friend. 

Costs: Currently (June 2011) a 1 TB external hard drive can be purchased for around £50, memory sticks should cost no more than about £1.50 per GB. DVDs in bulk are around 20p each. (on-line prices!)

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