IAN LANG ELECTRONICS

BTEC - Backing up the Windows System

And as the title above suggests we're going to be looking at three ways to back up your Windows System and the stuff that sits thereupon in this article. It's a BTEC challenge worded thusly:

"You have been asked by a friend to suggest some options for creating backup solution for a single Windows system. Suggest 3 different methods and provide a brief explanation of each. Also include one advantage and disadvantage to each suggestion."

The first piece of advice I'm going to give to our hypothetical friend above is that if he/she wants to back up a Windows System it's going to have to go on some sort of storage and that storage should not be the same hard disk as the stuff that's going to be backed up, since one of the reasons for a backup is a hard disk failure. Here comes a video then:

So let's recap the above. Connecting two computers together either by ethernet crossover, USB bridge or network would have been a nice solution as the main components would be to hand and for anyone with the necessary knowledge it would be a simple process, but it was deemed beyond the pale due to doubts about his/her expertise in such matters, and there's no saying a second computer was available. NAS would been a neater solution and has the advantage that files could have been recovered from anywhere with a connection but it may have presented the same expertise problem and anyway the cost is prohibitive. We did not even consider the possibility of opening the case and shoving in a second hard drive because a. the expertise again and b. if it's a laptop there's not usually provision for it. So the Maxtor from Currys was the cheapest viable solution. It fits anything with a USB 2 or 3 receptacle on it and unless the computer is very old that's going to do the job.

Having got some storage we need to look at how it's going to work. Here comes another video:

Having found a means of storage we now need to look at what we are going to put on it and how.
Windows 7 and 8 have a built in utility and in Windows 8 it is callled "File History". The reason it's called that is because it's designed as an automatic scheduler to back up files that you've changed. It means you don't have to have any third party applications running anywhere and so it costs nothing in software but the problem is it is a bit restricting and it's difficult to find, let alone use. Here comes another video; this one somewhat longer, sorry about that.

So what we did up above there was to use Windows 8's own inbuilt utilities to take a copy of the system and put it into an image file on the disk. This is a fairly easy process as it's just a matter of clicking a few boxes and buttons but the disadvantage is that it's not easy to find and the output is complex; you cant just restore bits of the system and it's all or nothing. This is of course ideal if your system has gone corrupt in toto but that's not usually the case. The usual case is that sausage fingers have destroyed something by deleting or overwriting and that you need to replace a small part that's been wrecked. In the next film we look at how we can do that using a third party utility.

Now in that video you may have seen my reflection in the screen in the first part staring wildly about and occasionally looking a tad loopy. That's because at the same time as I was making this I was monitoring an electronic system that seemed to be doing whatever it wanted rather than what it should have been doing and that's also the reason for the nine-hour delay.

Nevertheless the point was that a third party backup utility gives us a lot more flexibility and is a better way to backup individual files and folders than the system image we looked at before. It's quicker and more accesible, and with that latter comes the problem in that it's less secure. If you get your disc stolen everybody will have access to it and anything confidential or, how shall I put it, embarassing on there will become the domain of the world. For example I did once buy some second-hand SD cards from a phone shop cheaply to use in a data logging system. Obviously the former owner had not wiped one of them and neither had the technicians because I noticed one of them didn't seem to have the announced space and looked to see why. Let us just say that if the young lady (it was definitely a lady, if you get my drift) that appeared on the twenty three photos that were on it had known, whoever had taken said photographs would have been, I imagine, in a great deal of trouble. Gallant that I am, I deleted them all immediately. Well, after about ten minutes laughing I did.

Apart from the embarassment factor if your disc does get lost or stolen then you've lost your backup. So keep it somewhere safe, away from electrical and magnetic items, in a box to protect it and preferably one that's fireproof is the next bit of advice I'm going to give to our hypothetical friend. The penultimate bit of advice is, if you can afford it, get another external hard drive and do a second backup on to that too.

Of course, the best way would be to combine the systems. Take a system image and clone your Windows files and folders too. Let's summarise:

1. Get a USB hard disk. Get it with at least the capacity of your internal disc, and twice the capacity if you can run to it. Get two if you can.
2. Do a system image backup. Do it again on your second disc if you have one.
3. Download or buy a backup utility.
4 Do a clone of your Windows files and folders.
5. Put your discs away somewhere safe and secure.
6. Do all of this on a regular schedule, say Monday and Friday night every week or more often if you like.
7. If you have two discs, make sure that your backup on the first one has taken before you do anything on the second.

And that's that. Trouble-free computing awaits. Well, at least from this end it does.