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Many computer users learn the hard way how difficult life can be when their computer crashes. When a computer “crashes” it generally means that the hard drive (the physical location of your data) is not accessible in one way or another. This is usually caused by the following:
1) The physical hard drive fails in some way. Depending on how severe the failure, the data may or may not be recoverable. There are professional companies, which specialize in data recovery and can provide more information.
2) Another component in the computer fails (such as the motherboard) thereby causing no access to the hard drive. In this case, the data stored on the hard drive is probably accessible if the hard drive is taken out of the computer and put into another working computer. This case happens quite often.
3) Software, such as a virus, “formats” (wipes clean) the hard drive. This situation has a higher rate of recovery than the physical failure of the drive, though professionals are still needed for such recovery.
Whatever the cause, the best cure is prevention. When creating a backup three factors should be considered:
1) How often to backup
2) What media and/or software to use
3) What to backup
Backups should be done in such a way that they create a balance between the annoyance of losing data and the annoyance of having to perform the backup regularly. Generally, a weekly backup is the minimum. But if you think you couldn’t live without your data from the previous week, then perhaps bi-weekly or even daily is a better choice.
There are several ways to perform backups with the most popular involving memory sticks, removal hard drives, tape backups, and/or CDRs (CDs for burning). Out of these three options, burning CDs is the most common, though its popularity is fading fast due to a couple of limitations. With CDs, unless you buy a special type called a CDRW, you can only burn to the CD one time. So each time you create a new backup, you have to use a new CD. Also, CDs can get scratched easily causing the need for frequent replacements.
Tape backups are used for more advanced backups. Special equipment is required that is usually used for critical data within businesses. Though this can be the most thorough solution, it’s also the most expensive.
Removable hard drives are like the hard drive in your average computer, just designed to work on the outside. They plug into the computer usually via USB (universal serial bus), which has been available with computers for a few years now. This method, though potentially more expensive, allows for the most room available for the backup. The third device, a memory stick, is like a much smaller removable hard drive. It can literally fit on your key chain. These memory sticks are less expensive than full-blown removable hard drives but can’t store as much data.
Now for the most important part: What to backup? Most users tend to save their crucial documents in the “My Documents” folder. This is a good start, though there are many other pieces of potentially important data scattered throughout the computer. For example, could you lose all your E-mail (if using a mail program like Outlook Express; if you’re using freebies like Hotmail or Yahoo, no need to worry), Address Book, Internet Favorites, etc.? Also, some programs store their data outside of the My Documents folder, such as financial planning software.
Whatever your circumstances, in answer to the question, “Should I Backup My Computer?” The answer is yes, definitely.