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Guide to Backing up Your PC - Top Computer Backup Programs

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/31/2011

This article discusses top computer backup programs suitable for different environments. Some of these computer backup programs help you backup your data in real time. Others offer you free storage.

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    Computer Backup Programs – Possible Scenarios of Data Storage

    There are plenty of computer backup programs available. Let us check out some of the scenarios so that you can make an informed choice of how and which computer backup programs to use. Broadly speaking, there would be only two scenarios: a standalone computer and a network. The network can again be a peer-to-peer (P2P) network as in home networks (5-10 computers) or a LAN where they need a server to hold the main data.

    Servers and standalone computers hold data on a single machine while P2P networks hold data on almost each computer of the network. This is the toughest scenario. You need computer backup programs on almost every machine on a P2P network. A contrary view also suggests that your data can be safer on P2P networks if you save it on multiple computers. However, other workstation users on the network should be willing to give you space to save your data and the entire network should be "ON" as long as the last person is working on it.

    No matter what arrangement it is, the essence is that you should always have a latest data as backup. This saves you from loss in event of a system crash due to any reason. The best method is to use resident computer backup programs that offer you instant backup as soon as anything changes. The following section looks at the different methods and backup software available in the market.

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    Computer Backup Programs and Other Methods to Backup Data

    You do not always need costly computer backup programs to back up your data. If your data backup needs are small, you may want to use manual backup. In case of most standalone computers and servers, people use manual backups. A manual backup is just a simple copying of the important data to a safer location other than your computer/server. It can be a DVD, an external HDD, or a small pen drive.

    Using Batch Files automates the manual data backup to some extent. However, you need to schedule the batch file to run at regular intervals so that you do not miss recent data updates. Please note that even with the best computer backup programs, you are sure to miss the most recent updates to data or system information. A batch file would normally contain one or more Xcopy commands. It will back up only data files and not create a volume shadow. An example of such batch file could be as follows:

    @echo off

    XCOPY D:\Clients G:\Backup /D /S /H /Y

    XCOPY E:\Mail\Outlook.pst G:\Backup /D /S /H /Y

    Echo Backup complete

    Pause

    Exit

    You can use XCOPY for each folder where you store you data. In the example, I used two mail folders: D:\Clients, Outlook file from E drive and copied them to G:\Backup. Please remember that the destination (the G: drive) should be something external to the computer: an external HDD or a pen drive. I used some more switches here:

    /D: Asks XCOPY to copy only those files whose modification date and time is more current than the one in destination folder.

    /S: Asks XCOPY to copy all the sub-folders in the source folder that you specify.

    /H: Copies hidden and system files as well

    /Y: Suppresses prompt before overwriting the files that already exist in the destination. The switch is useful if you wish unattended backup. If you wish to monitor each file, you may not wish to use this switch.

    Important: The batch file will work only on computers having Windows and DOS supported operating systems. You can add the batch file to run at a scheduled time using Windows Task Scheduler.

    Manual methods and batch files fail if your computer has too much data to back up regularly. For example, if you are working on a client-server network model, you will have one or more databases that update constantly. In such scenarios, you cannot depend on these manual methods.

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    Online Remote Backup: For personal and small networks, you can also use automated computer backup programs that backup your data to a remote server via Internet. Examples of some best online backup programs are Mozy and Idrive. These web servers offer you 2 GB of free storage. This means you can backup up to 2GB of data free. All you need is to create an account with the website. These sites will provide you with software that helps you with: selecting data you wish to back up; backing up data; and restoring data whenever you wish. In addition, you can set the mode to auto. This mode creates a remote copy of any file that you change as you work. The first time you run the software, it takes a good time uploading data using HTTP protocol. There is no provision for FTP. The best part is that you always have the most current copy in case your computer fails. If your data backup requirement is more than 2GB, you can purchase additional space. This method is not suitable for servers containing several large databases that update every minute, as it will cause the backup program to utilize resources constantly.

    Using Acronis True Image - Acronis True image is one of the best computer backup programs as it offers both HDD imaging and data backup. With HDD imaging, you can copy the operating system and program files in addition to data to an external device or place. You can use external HDDs of same or larger size, or backup to another network location. If you wish, Acronis True Image also offers you the facility to burn backup to DVDs. You need not struggle with backups. The "easy to use" GUI helps you create backup sets and schedules from within the program itself. Once you have set the schedules, you can stop worrying about computer backup.

    Among other noticeable computer backup programs is Norton Ghost that works in similar lines. You may wish to read this Bright Hub article for a comparison: Norton Ghost versus Acronis True Image.

    Macrium's Reflect: Acronis True Image comes at a cost. If you feel you cannot afford it, you may try Macrium's Reflect. It is a free disk imaging and computer backup program. The program employs Windows System Restore method (Volume Snapshot Service: VSS). You can create a HDD image or simply create backup sets. Macrium's Reflect also helps you create a rescue disk for both Linux and Windows. I have not tested it for very large backups but it sure is one of the best free computer backup programs for up to 300GB of data.

    These are just some of the best computer backup programs that prove helpful in case of any emergency. You may also use the manual data backup methods mentioned in the previous page. The choice of manual data backup and using computer backup programs depend totally on your needs. If you have any better computer backup program or data backup method, please feel free to share it with us using the comments section.

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