The Miami Herald

August 5, 2003

by Peggy Rogers

Original on The Miami Herald website


Back up your data before all is lost

I've written before about how to physically protect your computer if a hurricane approaches. While I've encouraged readers to also make backups of the software system, I haven't discussed the most comprehensive method of making backups.

This is a good time, now that we're approaching the height of the hurricane season, as well as the time of thunderstorms that can fry computer components. I also have a personal motive: I am mourning the recent death of my primary hard drive, the one that's required to boot up and holds most of my software.

I have always used less powerful backup methods, such as Windows System Restore, which saves certain settings, and traditional backups, like the kind that comes with Windows that saves your computer's contents file by file. Neither, however, could bring me back to an identical operating condition. In part, that's because that's where System Restore-type software saves your system settings. And neither kind restores Windows and your software to operating condition.

But a class of software known as imaging, or cloning, turns back the clock in your computer, bringing it to the exact state it was in when everything was working well, the day was innocent and the sun shone bright in the heavens.

With a good imaging program and a new hard drive, I would not have even had to reinstall software, not to mention recustomizing everything the way I like it.

Using a powerful program called Acronis True Image (www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/), I instructed the software to take a compressed image last week of my entire operation. The operation required 5 GB of storage space and about 70 minutes. I should say that the backup would have taken more time and space if I had first reloaded every program that was on my busted drive; but as of now I've reinstalled 15 GB.

During the cloning, Acronis True Image operates in Windows and you can continue working on your computer without limitation. However, most other cloning programs, including Norton Ghost, require that you boot into DOS to perform the backup, which means you have to stop computer operations while imaging.

I restored the image of my C: partition. My recovered system was identical to the one I had been operating. Everything came back — Windows, operational software, every single file and all the settings and options I had originally changed. Restoration took even less time than did the actual cloning. It made me a believer in going all the way in backup technology; I've sworn to create a new copy at least every couple of weeks.

In between clonings, you can save a regular copy of the relative handful of individual files that you work on most frequently. However, you can also handpick certain files and folders to restore from an image backup if that's all you've lost.

You can create an image of either individual partitions or an entire hard drive. Acronis True Image allows you to save them to CD and DVD writers, Jaz and Zip drives, external FireWire and USB drives, a second hard drive or even the hard drive or partition that you clone. The latter is not a particularly sound practice, however, because if that same hard drive is lost, so is your backup image.

Another popular program that allows you to keep working in Windows while it performs a backup is the latest version, 7, of Drive Image by Powerquest. It costs about $70, as does Norton Ghost. The retail price of True Image is $50.