Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Articles covering computer maintenance and data backup and restore.

A brief overview of Windows 7 Backup

Windows 7 includes an improved backup utility, but I find it confusing and difficult to understand compared to other alternatives.

Are free online backup services worth it?

There's a new class of online storage available for free that can be used for remote backups. Should you use them? As part of a larger strategy, maybe.

Can I backup files to another partition on the same hard disk?

It's tempting to backup to a separate partition because it's somewhat like another disk. The problem is that it's not. You could be risking your data.

Can I backup more than one machine to a single external hard drive?

It's quite possible to backup multiple machines to a single external hard drive. I'll review two approaches: the annoying, yet easy way and the right way.

Can I backup multiple machines to the same drive?

With multiple machines connected to a local area network, it's often reasonable to have some of them backup over the network to a shared backup drive.

Can I backup to an internal drive?

Backing up to a second physical internal drive can be a surprisingly reasonable tool in your backup arsenal as long as you understand its limitations.

Can I delete the preloaded backup software from a new external drive?

There's nothing that says you have to use what's on that hard disk. Either ignore it or delete it and use Macrium.

Can I do my backups over the internet?

Backing up to a service or server across the internet can be a useful part of a larger backup strategy, but the technique does have important limits.

Can I put more than one machine's backup on an external drive?

It's possible to place the backups for multiple machines onto a single external hard drive; I'll look at the issues and why you might not want to do this.

Can I recover data after I accidentally formatted my hard disk?

Formatting a hard disk erases everything on it. Depending on how the hard disk was formatted, it might be possible to recover data. Or not.

Can I restore a backup to a partition smaller than it was when backed up?

Depending on the way your imaging software is written, this could be a difficult to impossible task. There are a couple of hoops you may have to jump through to get it to work. But that's not the real problem!

Can I restore a smaller drive to a larger replacement?

Restoring a backup to a larger drive is not a problem. You may end up needing to do some partition management.

Can I restore my system simply by saving and restoring the entire registry?

Restoring the registry is similar to the way System Restore works. The results as a backup strategy may be unreliable.

Can I, or should I, use TrueCrypt for my backups?

Backup and encryption can go together depending on your needs. There are options, beginning with which comes first: the backup or the encryption?

Can backups be infected? And if so, what good are they?

It's possible for malware to become part of a backup if your machine is infected at the time of the backup. It's not the end of the world.

Can't I just copy everything instead of using a backup program?

It's tempting to just use file copy tools to backup what you think you need. But if you're not careful, you could easily miss something very important.

Does restoring a backup also reformat the hard drive?

Restoring a backup doesn't technically reformat the drive, but the results are often similar. I'll look at the differences and when they might matter.

How can I archive old hard disks?

Old machines and old hard disks have a way of accumulating over time. We'll look at a few ways to keep the contents without keeping the entire machine.

How can I backup my computer to that of a friend's remotely?

I'll look at a couple of ways to back up to a computer located elsewhere, such as on a friend's or family member's computer, and discuss some of the issues of doing this.

How can I recover my data after I reinstalled Windows?

Reinstalling Windows erases and overwrites the data on your machine. Recovering it is difficult, if not impossible.

How can I recover my encrypted data from my flash memory device?

Data recovery from flash drives is problematic enough, but recovering encrypted data from a failing flash drive might be nearly impossible.

How did you backup while on your trip?

I took technology with me on my three week vacation, as most of us do. It was an opportunity to think through how best to prepare for the worst.

How do I back up my e-reader?

Backing up is important not only for your PC but for your digital book purchases as well. I'll look at whether you need to and how.

How do I back up my installed software?

Backing up installed software often happens with system backups, but it's not enough. You need additional steps to properly backup installed software.

How do I backup a large number of large PSTs?

Backing up a large number of machines over a network has a number of challenges. PST files are only one aspect of the issue.

How do I backup and restore the registry?

"First backup the registry" is a common instruction when troubleshooting other problems. We look at three different ways to backup the registry.

How do I clear system information off an old system drive?

When re-using a hard drive, erasing the old system information is certainly a good idea. The best approach might be to backup and reformat.

How do I create a disk image using DriveImage XML?

DriveImage XML is a free (for home use) backup and imaging program. I'll walk through the steps of creating a complete hard drive backup image.

How do I extend the backup partition on my hard disk?

The problem with expanding the size of partitions is that they can only be expanded from the back – but that's not your biggest problem – backing up to a partition isn't safe!

How do I recover my lost files and folders in email?

Recovering lost files and folders is easy if they were backed up. If not, it's going to be a long process and your technician will need to know all the details about how the files were lost.

How do I reduce the amount of computer maintenance I'm supposed to do?

Computer maintenance need not be a huge burden. Setting a few utilities up to run automatically can reduce the amount of manual work dramatically.

How do I remove uninstalled software "leftovers"?

It's not uncommon for uninstallers to leave behind "leftovers" after they complete. Sometimes intentional, sometimes not. How to deal with leftovers.

How do I replace my hard disk while preserving the old contents?

The approach that I'm going to suggest is quite practical and I think it kills two birds with one stone.

How do I restore a backup from a BitLocker encrypted drive?

BitLocker is Microsoft's encryption technology available in some versions of Windows. I'll explain why I don't use it and don't recommend it for backups.

How do I restore a backup to a smaller hard drive?

Restoring to a smaller drive is, unfortunately, difficult to do with most backup software. I list the steps necessary to get the job done.

How do I restore from a backup?

You've been good and you've been making sure your machine is backed up regularly. Now I'll cover what happens should you need to restore from a backup.

How do I safely backup an infected drive?

Once your machine is infected, system backups are likely to include the infection as well. I'll look at what steps to take when that happens.

How do I test my backup to make sure it will work when I need it?

Making regular backups is critical, but once you've got that set up, how do you know what you have will in fact work when you need it? I'll look at a couple of approaches.

How do I use my backup if my hard drive fails?

It's wise to be prepared to use your backups to fully reinstall your machine in the event of a hard drive failure.

How do these emergency recovery options compare?

When you have a serious or semi-serious problem with your machine, you're faced with several options for recovery. I'll explain and compare a few.

How do you perform a backup to an external drive that is TrueCrypted?

Backing up data to a drive encrypted using Truecrypt is really no different than backing up to any other drive. I'll review why that is and some of the variations of backing up with TrueCrypt.

How long should I keep my backups?

How long to keep backups depends on your needs and storage capacity. Get a quick look into how I do it.

How long should I keep my backups?

Having a regular backup in place is critical, but then what? We'll look at how long you might want to keep those backups and why.

How long should a hard drive last?

After experiencing another hard drive failure, I realize why you should be scared, and want to share yet more reasons that backups are so critical.

How should I backup my computer before upgrading to Windows 7?

Out of the box, Windows XP does not come with a backup software that will make upgrading easy. I suggest a stand-alone program to help with the process.

How should I backup my hard drive with several partitions to an external drive?

Backing up to an external drive is an easy way to make sure you're covered in event of failure. But how should that external drive be configured?

How should I protect my computer from natural disasters?

Natural disasters remind us that are computers, among other things, are at risk. I'll look at protecting your computer and more importantly, your data.

How should I save files before reformatting my computer?

Reformatting a computer erases everything on the primary hard drive, so it's important to save your data first. Backup solutions are often best.

I accidentally deleted everything on my hard drive, how do I get it all back?

Deleting large amounts of data from a hard drive by accident can be devastating. Recovery can be hard to impossible. Or easy, if you're prepared.

I formatted my machine and now all my programs and data are gone, how do I get them back?

Reformatting erases everything on your disk. Recovering from an accidental reformat is unlikely unless you've prepared.

I hate to harp on backups, but

If I delete files from my disk drive will they be deleted from the backup?

Old backups typically will have all of the files that were on your machine at the time the backup was taken.

If I get this particular backup device, can I then use it to restore my entire system?

Having a device on which to backup data is only half the battle. If you want it to be able to restore your entire machine, additional steps are needed.

If all I do is web browsing, email and video, do I still need to back up?

Even if you use your computer as nothing more than a gateway to the internet it's likely that you still need to take care to back up important data.

Is a backup an alternative to having no Windows installation CDs?

If you've received a new machine without installation media, and you can't get installation media, an immediate full backup can be an alternative.

Is an image backup useful if I need to restore to a different machine?

While image backups are optimized for restoring back to the original hardware, they remain critically useful in other scenarios as well.

Is cloud backup a reasonable alternative to an external hard drive?

Cloud backup vs. backing up to an external drive isn't really a debate. You may want to do both!

Is keeping an image backup of my cleanly installed machine a good idea?

An image backup can serve as a great checkpoint to restore to in the event of failure, and can even help avoid needing to reformat and reinstall.

Is there a backup solution that will keep files I delete forever?

Set up your own system and backed up files will be kept as long as you keep them. It's totally in your control.

Is there any way to completely stop downloads and updates to my PC?

It might or might not be possible to stop programs from automatically updating themselves. Most of the time, though, you don't want to interfere.

My computer froze, and I lost my work in progress - what can I do?

Sooner or later you'll lose something that you're working on due to a crash or other failure. There are habits you can develop to minimize the impact.

My machine won't boot, how do I get at the files on it?

If your machine won't boot for some reason, there are several approaches to try to get the data off of its hard drive. I'll examine a few.

Questions and Answers about Backup

During a recent webinar, there were several good questions about backing up that I've collected into a single video & transcript.

Should I Compress and Encrypt my backups?

Most backup programs offer the options to compress and/or encrypt the data being backed up. I'll look at the pros and cons.

Should I combine my data onto CD/DVDs or flash drives?

It depends on how long you want to keep them. If you're simply combining out of convenience either will probably do.

Should I use the backup software that comes with an external hard drive?

It's best to use a backup program that you are sure will do the job: a program with a good reputation and recommendations.

So what should I backup?

Backing up is, of course, incredibly important. Knowing what to backup, where to backup and how often to backup are just as important.

What are my options when even a reformat won't fix my failing drive?

The options are to replace or repair. How to do that conveniently is the big question.

What do I do about all the leftovers after an uninstall?

Uninstallers are notorious for leaving things behind. The question is why, and what you can do about it. The answer: various reasons, and not much.

What do I do when my backup drive fills up?

If you're backing up regularly to an external drive chances are you're accumulating lots of data. We'll look at how to organize and what to keep.

What good is an image backup if I just want to backup and restore my data?

Image backups are great ways to backup absolutely everything on a hard disk. They're also good for retrieving most anything, including individual files.

What happens to my initial system image if my system takes an update?

Taking a system image immediately after getting or setting up a new machine is good practice. What happens next ... isn't the initial system image.

What if I just can't get installation media with my new machine?

You should always get installation media with a new machine. Period. If you can't, or it's too late, we'll look at one partial alternative.

What kind of maintenance should I do to avoid software rot?

Regular maintenance of your computer can help keep it performing well, but some things like software rot, can only be delayed not avoided entirely.

What should I be doing to maintain my computer?

We all hear about anti-malware solutions we should be implementing, but what other things should we be doing to keep our PCs running smooth?

What's the best thing to do when my hard drive fills up?

Once you start running out of disk space, it's time to look at options. We'll cover a couple of approaches to dealing with a full hard drive.

What's the difference between disk imaging and copying?

The word "imaging" when applied to disks is often misused and subject to some interpretation. Imaging can mean different things to different programs.

What's the difference between system restore discs and system repair discs?

Manufacturers don't like to ship full Window's installation media, so many of them offer a way for you to make your own restore or repair disc. But these restore discs might not be as useful as you think.

Where and how should I backup important documents?

Backing up important documents securely is easily overlooked, and yet very important. I'll look at how to backup important documents safely.

Which takes more disk space: backing up, or copying files? And how much?

Backing up properly can take up a fair amount of space. Exactly how much space a backup will take depends on several factors.

Why I'm not a fan of System Restore *discs*

System Restore discs allow you to reset your system to the state it was in when delivered from the manufacturer. That is, when they work. Because of that uncertainty, I much prefer a different approach.

Why can I only back up a maximum of 4 gigabytes?

When backing up large amounts of data the filesystem used on the backup media matters. FAT32 often can't handle the way that many backup programs work.

Why can't I rely on System Restore for backups?

There's much confusion about what System Restore actually is and is not. In a nutshell, it's safest not to rely on it to restore your system.

Why didn't you restore from a Disk Image?

I recently described rebuilding a machine from scratch. I'll look at alternatives, one of which some people expected me to use.

Why does my backup fail after 13 discs?

That's a lot of CDs to juggle! Backing up to that many discs can easily fail from the mechanics of handling those CDs, or from using backup software that isn't reliable.

Why is my back up aborting with a code of 0x810000037?

Some research reveals that this may be the result of malware infecting the machine. Up-to-date virus tools should solve the problem.

Why won't my Truecrypt volume backup?

When using Truecrypt containers you need to check one of Truecrypt's options - the default setting may interfere with backing up your container.

Why would installing Beta software cause problems?

Installing Beta or pre-release software is, in effect, asking for trouble. One simple precaution can prevent disastrous data loss.

Will a bad sector cause my backup image to become invalid?

Sectors can go bad on hard drives, but that should have no impact on your ability to restore a successfully created backup image to another hard drive.