When was your last back-up?

attention_niels_epting_As an IT tutor & consultant I have often been asked to give advice on recovering lost files, whether the files are documents, photos or anything else you’d rather not lose


No system, nor user, is fool-proof and errors (computer & human) do happen. There’s also the possibility of deliberate damage. Whilst you could take all conceivable methods to protect your precious data, what if the next time you switched on your PC some, or all, of your files were missing or damaged?

Your household, or business, insurance policy might cover the cost of replacing lost or damaged equipment, but how could they replace your five years of tax data that was stored on the PC? Where laptops are especially vulnerable is their portability – the very asset that makes them most useful!

As problems cannot be 100% guaranteed not to happen, the best solution is to make a regular copy of your data. You could use a DVD, a memory stick or an external hard-drive. Normal back-up media include:

  • A DVD is limited to 4.7Gb and a new blank DVD would be recommended for every backup, assuming each backup remains under 4.7Gb
  • Memory sticks vary in capacity from 512Mb to 32Gb so check the capacity first. They also suffer from an issue whereby you can only perform a limited number of ‘write’ operations. For adhoc use this wouldn’t be a problem, but for back-up it would shorten the life of the stick considerably.
  • An external drive is the ideal menthos of backup as the capacity is likely to be over 100Gb (often more than 500Gb) and would be able to store not just the most recent backup but the one before that, and the one prior to that etc.

You should not, of course, leave the backup disc/stick/hard-drive plugged into the PC or in the same bag as the laptop!

So far as ‘How do I back-up’ is concerned, this would depend entirely on the software installed on your computer. Windows 7 includes a back-up facility and earlier versions of Windows have also had a back-up facility. Most Linux distributions will also have a back-up tool.

If you don’t have a back-up program (in Windows look in ‘All Programs’ from the Start Menu) then you could consider doing the backup manually or installing one of the many  backup programs BUT beware of rogue back-up programs, best approach is to use a program that’s been tested and checked by a reputable site:

Please note that I cannot recommend any particular program.

So, hopefully you’ve completed a backup, what next? If you’re using a sensible back-up program it will suggest a weekly routine. Home users could use Sunday as their back-up day, more often if desired. Businesses should consider whether a daily backup is required and using a fire-proof safe or off-site storage.

A monthly backup is not sensible for anyone! If your last backup was 3 weeks ago and you need to restore it, you would still be missing 3 weeks of new or changed data.

I have not yet mentioned the use of Cloud services. That is the subject of another post another day!