Catastrophic failure: Backing Up Your Computer

by Stan Gelber

It is critical to understand that at some point in the life of your PC you will have a catastrophic failure. A catastrophic failure is one where you loose your data and programs (typically a disk or media failure). Unless you have recent backups of your files and programs, recovery will be impossible. This can be avoided by running backups at frequent intervals.

Tape Drives

The object of installing a tape drive in your computer is not just to have another storage device but rather to have backup capability if and when your hard drive fails or you accidentally loose a file. Tape drives are used for storing copies of files and data that reside on your hard drive. In the event of a loss (virus, drive failure, etc.) the backup can be used to restore your computer. The tape is inexpensive and they typically have a much slower retrieval time than disk drives. However they do provide an insurance policy against loosing programs and data. Costs range from $85.00 up to several hundred dollars for the drives. Tapes are around $20.00. The downside of tape drives is that if you need to migrate your data to another computer you may have to remove the drive from your old computer and reinstall it in the new one.

Portable Disk Drives

This is an good backup choice as you can have both a fast backup drive and a spare disk drive together. One choice for desktop systems is a portable USB drive. Many such as the Seagate or Western Digital drive holds billions of bytes of storage and has a retrieval time that is usually the same as most hard drives. The drives are portable so you can do selective backups from different machines. This type of drive connects to your computer a number of ways. A SCSI interface is the fastest however most users connect via USB or via the printer connection as very few desktop computers use SCSI disk drives. The drive costs around $100.00.

Additionally most disk drive manufacturer's now produce very high capacity (>1 tbytes) external drives that connect via a USB 2.0 connection. For computer's with large capacity disk drives, one of these external drives is the answer. Costs vary however expect to pay around US$100.00 to 150.00 for one of these.


Good software will provide a variety of functions for backing up and restoring your files. Features that are important are the ability to create a boot CD and perform incremental backups, The boot CD will contain all of your operating system files (Windows - Mac-OS), your registry settings and program references.

Many software manufacturer's produce backup software including Microsoft which bundles it into Windows. It is very basic and does not create a boot CD. Two companies that make excellent software are Veritas and Acronis True Image. Both are very capable, produce boot CS's and perform incremental backups after you do full-backups.

Finally, if your system is on a shared network and you have enough disk space on other machines, either a manual operation using Windows Explorer, or a network backup package can be used to take advantage of the available space.

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