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Know what data to back up and why

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/4/2010

If you have a small business, telecommute, or just work from home, the data on your home PC is just as important as the data on any office PC. If you’re struggling to get started with a backup plan and/or schedule, here's how to get moving.

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    What to Back Up and Why

    Backing up your PC might seem like a daunting task, especially if you don’t do it very often. Many people I talk to forget to do regular backups and then they panic when their PC starts acting up. They then rush and try to back up their files, and in the process, they forget to back up important information. Backing up data can also be confusing because it might seem to you that there are a million files on your PC and that you have no idea what needs to be backed up and what doesn’t. You probably have wondered if you really need to back up all of those files and what files you can skip.

    There are items you absolutely have to back up. Some of them you are likely familiar with, such as the documents you have been creating with Word or Excel or your personal home videos and music. Other files might not be as obvious. There are things you may not think to back up, including e-mail messages, your address book, your PC’s system information, your Internet Favorites list, programs you’ve downloaded, and cookies. In addition, you may not know how to back them up, even if you wanted to. This is especially true of fonts, drivers, and downloaded updates. In this series of articles I’ll introduce the things you need to remember to back up, and then give you a quick lesson on how to find what you need to back up and how to do it.

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    Back up Categories

    The categories of files that are critical for any type of backup you do are as follows:

    · Personal data files: These files include all of the documents that you create or documents, bring home from work, or receive from others. Often, these are the documents that are stored on your C: or D: drive or in your My Documents or Documents folder. Don’t forget to consider all of the files that you receive as e-mail attachments.

    · System-level or program-level personal data: There are likely applications that you use on a regular basis that store data in special files in specific folders on your hard drive, such as Outlook or Outlook Express. These applications store data such as your e-mails in uniquely formatted files that are often hidden away on your PC. A program such as Quicken is another example of an application that uses special files to store your personal data. I recommend that you make a list of the different applications that you use on a regular basis and consider the data files that each of these applications use to store their data. It’s easy to overlook this important data, but think about what the impact would be if you forget to back it up and you ever have a system crash.

    · System-level data: This data consist of files that Windows requires so that it can keep your particular PC configuration running the way that you have it set up, and keep it running smoothly. This category includes device drivers, downloaded service packs and upgrades, fonts, and so on. And yes, it includes settings for your connection to the office when you work from home.


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