The Norman Transcript

December 13, 2013

If your computer dies, will all your files vanish forever?


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — I hate being the computer guy who has to tell someone that all their computer files, including the Excel spreadsheets of their family finances and the pictures of Grandma at Thanksgiving are gone. Poof, forever, vanished into thin air, all of them, and they are never coming back.

I’ve been that guy way too much, lately, and it’s a real drag. I’ve been meeting numerous customers who seem to think that computers are magical, indestructible devices that will last forever. Captured by this thinking, they have never backed up their computer files, ever.

Instead, they come to me, depressed after their computer’s hard drive crashes and burns and they have lost every email, letter and digital photo they’ve ever had. They’ve heard somewhere that computer guys like me are miracle workers, techno Elmer Gantry’s, and hope I can lay hands on their hard drive and raise it from the dead. Well, here’s the deal, folks: Sometimes I can raise hard drives from the dead and sometimes I can’t. That’s just the way it is.

Here, too, is the dirty truth that computer and hard drive manufacturers don’t like to talk about — your hard drive will fail. Yes, your hard drive will crash and burn and everything on it will vanish. It’s not a matter of “if” your hard drive will fail, it’s a matter of “when.” Hard drives are imperfect devices made by imperfect people and they do not last forever. I’ve seen them last for ten-plus years and I’ve seen them fail after ten days. I’ve seen them bad, brand new and right out of the box.

The cheapest way to backup your files is to burn them onto CDs or DVDs. Next on the “cheap” ladder are flash drives. USB sticks, flash drives, pen drives, jump drives, thumb drives, they’re all different names for those rectangle-shaped thingies that plug into a USB port. Copy your files onto a flash drive and, bingo, your files are backed up.

External hard drives are a great way to backup files. External hard drives are cheap and can hold a ton of stuff. For less than $100 you can buy a one terabyte external hard drive. To put that into perspective, let’s say that the average high-resolution digital photo is 5 megabytes in size. Of course, that size depends on how many megapixels your camera is capable of, but that’s a different discussion. Still, at 5 megabytes per photo, a one terabyte external hard drive will hold 200,000 photos. That means that it’s costing you one penny ($0.01) to backup twenty pictures. Does that sound like a good deal to you?

You’ll want to make sure that you are backing up your files on a regular basis. Some folks do it once a week, some folks do it every day and some do it every time they make a new file.

You can do it the old-fashioned way, using Windows Explorer to manually copy files to your backup device, or you can use a file backup program that is set to automatically backup your files for you. I’m not a big fan of most automatic file backup programs, especially the ones that come free with external hard drives, as it seems they are too clunky for most of my customers to figure out. I have been playing with one program lately that I like, though, called Areca Backup (areca-backup.org).

While there is a slight learning curve, it’s not too bad and the program is free. Areca also lets you do differential backups, which means that you are only backing up files that are new or have changed, instead of backing up everything, every time. You can even encrypt your backups, which is a plus.

Finally, online backup services continue to grow in popularity. External backup drives are great, but if they die in the same fire or flood that destroys your computer, then you still lose your files.

The two most popular online services, Mozy (mozy.com, unlimited storage, $54.45 a year) and Carbonite (carbonite.com, unlimited storage, $54.95 a year), are so close in pricing, reliability and features that I can’t really recommend one over the other. Either service amounts to cheap insurance.

Paying $100 for an external hard drive, plus $55 for online backup is really the way to go. That adds up to less than what you’ll pay for me to raise your hard drive from the dead and it’s more reliable. Besides, I hate being the guy that has to tell someone all of their pictures are gone, so, by backing up your files, you are making me a happier person, too. For that, I thank you.

Dave Moore has been

performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking

in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reac

hed at 919-9901 or davemoorecomputers.com

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