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How to Back Up Your Data

We've all heard the horror stories. Suddenly, for no reason you can comprehend, your hard drive crashes, and you can no longer access anything on it. These situations are rare, but so are lightning strikes, and you don't want to be the one to be hit. You can minimize the damage by routinely backing up your critical documents and email. Here are some key strategies.
 
Automatic Backup Systems

An automatic backup system is an easy way to ensure that you back up your files completely and regularly, but it requires an external drive to back up to. These days, for roughly $100, you can get a decent 500 GB (gigabyte) or even 1 TB (terabyte) external disk; either size should provide suffient backup space for most users. 

On a Macintosh, we recommend using Time Machine to manage your backups. It's really easy to set up, and is thorough in what it saves. You can find more information on using Time Machine at Mac 101: Time Machine.

Windows has a backup utility built in, with instructions for Windows 7 at Windows 7 Backup and Restore and for Windows XP at How to use the Backup utility to back up files and folders in Windows XP. External drives also often come with software that will manage an automated backup; these may be easier to use than the built-in Windows utilities.

If you choose one of these automatic backups you don't need to know all the details that you do for a manual backup, as the system takes care of that for you.

What to Backup if you Backup Manually

  • Documents and other important settings are normally stored in the "Documents" folder on a Mac and the "My Documents" folder on a PC.
  • If you store documents on your desktop, remember to include those.
  • Most people store at least some of their email locally through the use of "local folders." Even if you don't, backing up your email folder is a good idea because it contains all of the settings you use in email. Here's where to look for your locally stored mail:
  • Mac:

    • Thunderbird stores your mail in the folder tree: Users : your username : Library : Thunderbird (username is the name you have been assigned on your Mac).
    • Eudora mail is in the Documents folder, so you will back it up along with your documents.

    Windows XP:

    • Thunderbird stores your mail in: C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\ Thunderbird (username is the name you have been assigned on your Windows XP system). Note: If you do not see the "Application Data" folder in your username folder, you must unhide "Hidden and System Files". Select Tools-->Folder Options and the View tab on the Window that opens. Find and uncheck "Hide hidden and system files."
    • Eudora mail is found in one of two locations:
      1. C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Qualcomm\Eudora (username is the name you have been assigned on your Windows XP system)
      2. C:\Program Files\Qualcomm\Eudora

    Windows 7:

    • Thunderbird stores your mail in: C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird (username is the name you have been assigned on your Windows 7 system). Note: If you do not see the "Application Data" folder in your username folder, you must unhide "Hidden and System Files." Select Tools-->Folder Options and the View tab on the Window that opens. Find and uncheck "Hide hidden and system files."

Manually Backup to a CD or DVD

At least as often as once each month, burn a CD or DVD of your most important documents. A CD will hold about 700MB of data, a single layer DVD will hold about 4.7 GB, and a Dual Layer DVD will hold about 8.5 GB. That means that a DVD has a capacity of about 6 CD's, and a Dual Layer DVD has twice again as much.

Need instructions for burning a CD? Click on the "How to Burn CD's" link at left to learn the basics.
 
Manually Backup to a Server

Manually Backup to an External Drive

If you prefer, you can manually back up to an external drive instead of using an automated backup system. Copying documents from your computer to the external hard drive is as simple as dragging them from Windows Explorer or Mac Finder to the external hard drive.

 

 
 

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