Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Real Men Don't Take Backups

I once heard someone say 'real men don't take backups' but I don't believe them - anyway, it was a joke. Unfortunately backing up my PC takes far too much time and space. Any hints would be greatly appreciated!

Perhaps real men don't take backups, but watch them weep (or curse, or both) when they suffer data loss - they're real toddlers then.

Think about it. When you make a copy of the contents of your PC's hard discs, you're copying far more than your precious data: there's Windows (I guess you noticed), and all the programs you installed.

If your PC would crash and the motherboard would require replacing, you might need to reinstall the entire PC unless these days you're lucky and Windows Repair can do the job. Even in that extreme case, I prefer a clean reinstall, which gives you a clean environment and probably a faster one, too.

On that subject, it pays to keep a so-called 'change log', which doesn't have to be much more than a text document in which you maintain a list of all changes you applied to your PC. Changes include installing or upgrading programs, modifying programs' settings or Windows settings, etc. If (or better, when) you need to reinstall your PC or setup a new one the way you want it, a change log will help you do that in no time as you won't have to ponder what exactly you had installed on its predecessor. Doing so can turn a reinstall into a walk in the park, done and dusted within a day, instead of having to endure a setup that won't be perfect for weeks to come.

That was a little bit off-topic, but still - stop me if you can.

Back to the backups. I recommend to first of all make it easy on yourself by not spreading your data all over the place. You could have some folder (for example, 'My Documents') in which you have only a few others, say 'Documents', 'Music', and 'Video'. These folders in turn contain... well yeah, the obvious. This isn't strictly necessary, but it will make your life easier and hey ho that's what we're here for! (I mean: just do it ;)

Having looked into a number of options, I've been using Dimio's DSynchronize. Like other freeware I prefer, it's small, simple, safe, and self-containing with which I mean it doesn't write things to the Windows Registry.

Quick start guide:
  • Download the program
  • Unzip the contents of the zip file to a new folder
  • Run the program; I use these settings:
    • Copy only newer files
    • Create folder if not exists
    • Save on exit
    • Play sound when done
  • In the 'Sources' pane, create one entry for each of the folders you want to synchronise, by
    • Right-clicking in it
    • Choosing 'Add New...'
    • And typing the name, or right-clicking again and using the 'Browse...' option
  • Do the same in the 'Destinations' pane to pair each source location with a destination, after having read what follows below!
You want to (really, trust me on this, you do) backup your files to a disc other than the one on which they currently reside. That doesn't necessarily just mean 'another disc drive letter' because one physical disc could be 'partitioned' into several logical drives, each of which has its own letter. An external disc would of course be just fine, beit a USB one or one that uses the faster eSATA or 'external Serial ATA' - which is another connection method that's usually available on contemporary PCs.

And why do you want to do that? Because if your disc (the one that contains your stuff) fails, your data's gone - and that's what we're trying to avoid here.

On the destination disc drive, create the folders to which you want to backup (or synchronise) the aforementioned source folders, and use these destination folders' names in the 'Destination' pane.

Get, set, go, click the 'Synchronize' button. Make sure you're not using any of the files that need backing up - at least not for writing, because DSynchronize won't be able to copy them then.

The first time you do this, it can take a while, depending on how much data you're backing up. Subsequent runs will be faster, as only changed files will be synchronised.

If you intend to also backup files belonging to other users, you may want to have the program run with Administrator privilege, which you can do by right-clicking it and
  • choosing 'Run as Administrator' every time you need that
  • or choosing 'Properties', 'Compatibility', and checking the 'Run as Administrator' box which will make that mode permanent
Many more options are available, including running DSynchronize as a Service - have a look around if you're interested; at least your data are safe now.

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