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BushArts.com - Training ...Backing Up

Every so often we come across a computer that requires, for one reason or another, the entire deletion of data on a Hard drive. User damage, a power surge, a computer virus, or simply a faulty hard disk may result in a system becoming unuseable. All usually easy enough to fix, but often it requires a complete contents cleanout.

Then it's time to reload everything again, and this is where many people run into trouble.

Having a copy of all your important files in another location, (Floppy disk, USB Drive, CD/DVD, or across a Network for example), will allow you to pick up from exactly where you left off. Not having a copy in another location may mean the information is gone for good. Imagine years of hard work on the computer, possibly files of personal or legal significance, wiped out with no possible chance of recovery.

Won't happen to you? - not if you have a backup copy.

Obviously you will not need to backup anything you already have on seperate disk, but give some consideration to everything on the following list, plus anything particular to your own system, and choose that which is important enough to you to have a saved copy as backup.

Or be prepared to lose it.


When it comes time to rebuild your system, the first thing required will be the disk/s or files that Windows itself was originally loaded from. Because this disk/file is rarely used again, often it is extremely difficult to find when it is needed most. The same applies to the serial number for this disk, as older systems had the serial number on the cover of an instruction manual. Do you know where your Windows install file and serial number are?

Windows itself can now be downloaded easily and safely, but you will still need the necessary numbers/text to activate it.

Alternately, your system may have a recovery area hidden on your hard drive, allowing you to restore your system, but only to its original factory status.

System disk

Many of the major computer manufacturers supply a further disk/s, containing extra software or Hardware drivers, of particular relevance to your specific system. These are the files that make your computer parts work with Windows. As support for older systems is decreasing, some of these files are becoming very difficult to find. Do your Tech support people a favour, (and possibly save some dollars in hourly charges), if you have a system restore or support disk, then keep it somewhere safe and handy.

Same applies to any updated Hardware Drivers. They will be of no use later on, if only stored on a faulty hard drive.

Your own files

Even more than your Windows Disk, these are the most important items to keep a backup of. This includes every single file that you have ever created. All your letters, photos, finances, business data, any list, note, calendar or contact information. For every program that you use, consider whether that program is saving information that you will want again. Not every program will have an obvious file to backup, you may need to refer to the programs' Help instructions to discover the required files.

This is also the most important reason for conducting a sensible system of saving any work you do. If you "Save" all of your work into an easily identified location, it will be much easier to locate the necessary files to keep a copy of. Save your work all over the place on your system, and it will be a fair bet that many will be missed and not backed up.


Most of your email messages can be simply deleted, but should you have any that are important, or may require a later viewing, then consider either printing that message out, or saving the message or its entire folder to a backup. Different email programs will require various approaches to this. Same applies to any other messaging program.
Normal Email program users can simply, (preferred method), "drag n drop" the message title to the Windows Desktop, (or into another Folder).

Favourites (Favorites)

Unless you want to try and remember the address's of all your favourite sites, then either "Export" your Favorites from Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or whatever other web program you use, or find and copy the entire Favorites folder from within your file manager.


Everything that you have ever downloaded will have to be done again unless you keep a backup copy. In many situations the copy may become the only version you need to keep.

Program Settings

Many programs allow you to customise the way the program operates. You can redo these settings after the program is reloaded if you wish, but it is much faster to simply reload any settings file where available. Refer to the programs' Help file for instructions.

Program Objects

Have you created odd little items within any program? Items such as "macros" that allow a one button push for a complex function, or reusable artwork within a program? Consider keeping a copy.

Odd bits

Passwords to get into various web sites may be saved as "Cookies", which are just text files, (but usually unreadable), look in your own cookies folder, the file name will provide a clue as to what site the cookie comes from. Consider saving any from sites that you visit a lot. Passwords also need to be kept safe, but preferably not on the computer itself, or left lying around in printed form.

Saved games

Three quarters of the way through a complex game? Either save the file with the relevant data or start from scratch again. Where it is hard to find this file, refer to the Time and Date (Modified) column in Windows Explorer. Most, but not all, will keep this data in a file in the games own folder.


Serial Numbers can not be guessed at. Programs that require a CD Key, Serial Number, or Activation code will require this information again sooner or later. Ditto for Passwords. Do you have this information? is it only on your computer?

You can save a lot of time and energy, by saving all of your own files, as you work, into a location that they are easily found from. Having important files all over the place will make backing them up very awkward. It is suggested that you make up your own folders for this purpose.

How and when you backup is up to you. The important fact is that you have a copy somewhere other than on your Hard Drive. The easiest method currently is to copy the files onto another hard drive connected via USB. You can copy the files manually using "My Computer" or Windows Explorer, you can use Windows Backup, or one of the many other programs available for this purpose. Programs like "Syncback" from 2BrightSparks are very good at this task once set up correctly, (available in both freeware and an inexpensive commercial version.)

To save space, you could place your Backups into a ".zip" file. These are files that can be compressed in size and you may include more than one individual file inside the .Zip. (Windows XP on calls it a compressed folder, and has inbuilt support for .zip files).

Every computer is different, it is up to you to look through your system and decide that which can be recovered from an existing disk, and that which requires you to keep a backup copy. Although computer equipment is fairly reliable, Systems DO fail.

Quick Summary

Have you...

  • Got your Windows, System and Software Disks in a safe place?
  • Copied your own files somewhere safe?
  • Saved or copied your important emails and Address Book?
  • Kept a copy of your Favorites?
  • Checked if there are there any special program settings, tools or objects to keep?
  • Kept a copy of any downloads or updates?
  • Got Passwords, Serial numbers and/or Activation codes safely stored away?
  • Checked through the rest of the system for anything else worth saving?

Disk Imaging

The most modern method of restoring a disk to its original file structure is to take an "image" of the disk whilst it is in full working order. A disk image is an exact copy, sometimes compressed, of everything on a particular drive, including your working Windows System files. Instead of reloading every operating system and program individually, you just reload and decompress the image file.

There are excellent software programs to do this for you, in both commercial and freeware versions, and is also standard within late versions of Windows. Whilst most are reasonably simple and reliable to use, they do require some PC knowledge.

Taking a Disk image is a highly recommended thing to do, regularly, but it will not fix any errors that exist in a system, simply carry the fault over, nor will it make a backed up file easily available, hence it is not meant to be a replacement for a regular incremental backup process.

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