T Nation

Hard Drive Backup


I need to back up my Lappy cause it's getting old, and I expect a crash in the near future. I have a TB external hard drive, and I routinely update it with copies of all my movies, pictures, music, school stuff, etc, etc. Basically it has everything, including the .exe files and the like from downloaded programs and apps.

My question is, is this sufficient for backing up a hard drive, or is there a greater purpose behind all the backup software that I don't realize? Let's say there's a crash and I have to buy a new Lappy Jr., what would backup software do for me that my copy/paste of files won't?


A backup drive would make Lappy Jr. EXACTLY like Lappy Sr. Every little detail from the time that you last updated will be completely restored, which is useful if you have a lot of installed programs that you use often because it bypasses the "have to reinstall because of registry entries" glitch that you run into with straight copy/paste.

However, if the important part of your computer is the stuff you have copypasta'd then you can just keep on doing what you're doing.


Well, this isn't exactly correct. (the following is assuming you are running a Windows computer)

It greatly depends on what backup software you are using. Most perform traditional file backups, while there are others(Acronis, Ghost, ShadowProtect & more) that perform an actual bit for bit image of the whole hard drive.

In the scenario you describe a total loss of Laptop A; and you have to go out and purchase Laptop B.

Here's what you would be looking at depending on the different types of backup software:

File and Folder(Traditional) Backup:

Once you have bought new Laptop B, you will need to re-install your existing backup software. THEN you can restore you data files and folders. NOTE that you won't instantly have your old programs there. They will need to be reinstalled. However, you can restore your data files(videos, music, documents) to your new User profile Documents folder.

Disk Imaging backup:

The good news is, this is a great solution for when JUST your hard drive decides to die. Say your hard drive dies, you buy new hard drive, put it in, boot from the CD made with your disk imaging software, it puts old drive contents on the new drive, you reboot and presto! Everything is EXACTLY like it was before. Now, the bad news is that if you have a situation where you have to replace your whole computer and not just the hard drive, then you are in the same situation as the traditional file and folder backup.


This is what I'm not understanding, though; how is that different from what I'm currently doing? It seems that either way, I'm merely saving my files/ folders remotely so they can be restored to the new computer later, and the programs will need to be reinstalled manually.

I'm not interested in disk images since I expect to just replace the whole machine. Lappy McTop is coming up on 5 years old and is way past obsolete.

Thanks for your replies, too, btw. I really appreciate the help.


One thing traditional backup software can do is save revisions of files for you. I have found most of them to be flakey and cumbersome and prefer using something like robocopy in a script to automate my copy/paste routine.

Robocopy is a command line tool that can be used to sync folders. There are lots of graphical ones out there too. Use something that synchronizes folders if you have lots of files or large files you backup frequently. That way it only has to copy what is new or changed.. unlike copy/paste.


It's not that it's different, I was just clarifying the different backup types. And I would not be so quick to dismiss a disk image based solution. You can get a copy of Acronis for around $30, and it would do both. Disk imaging based backup has saved many a person's bacon I can tell you. There have been times when people had data stored by programs that they used in strange places that weren't part of a traditional location that would be selected in a file backup. I've seen people lose data that way and we didn't even know until it was too late. Hard drives are huge and cheap, so why not backup everything just to be on the safe side?


You make a great point about files being in unexpected places, and I agree that it would be best to back up everything, but wouldn't an entire disk image only be useful if I was going to replace the hard drive in my current machine, and not if I want a new computer entirely?

Secondary question to those following this: what program do you use/ recommend for backup? I'm looking at -
Backup Maker


I used Norton Ghost in the past, now I use Acronis. Suites me fine.

I also make two partitions, one for the operating system and the other for data. If the operating system gets borked I don't have to re-copy my data files.


Acronis is cheap and effective. And I see no reason not to use a disk image based backup, since you can restore in exactly the same manner as a file and folder backup anyway.


Neither would I. If it were my box and I foresaw an impending drive failure (buzzing bearings, twanging sounds etc.) or if it were just a critical machine with an old drive, I'd back up all my vital information and Ghost clone the old drive to a new one. With any luck you have the exact same setup you always had, but on a new drive. This can be a bit more complicated with laptop drives, but still isn't a big deal.

I use a network boot disk and dump an image of the drive on one of my servers and then slam the new one with the image. Nowadays there are windows based outfits that will allow you to dump the image straight to an external drive. I'd buy an enclosure, which comes in handy anyway, along with a new drive and just clone the old drive to the new one that way. Pull out the old drive stick in the new one and you're back in business and the machine doesn't even know the difference except in the bios.


Tirib - A lot of that doesn't apply to my laptop, like simply switching in and out new hard drives and having a complete clone ready to go in case of failure. As I said, I plan on upgrading the entire computer once it dies. I also don't have a server to save to (for free, anyway; I learned of some places you can pay to back stuff up).

I got a copy of Acronis True Image last night and created a full image of C: on my USB external HD. It took about 45 min and 30GB. So now hypothetically, if Lappy got run over by a dump truck, I could buy a brand spankin new laptop, install Acronis True Image, and run a restore. This would either A: get me back to exactly where I was, pre-destruction, or B: if the setup of the new computer wasn't identical to the old one, would at least allow me to recover all my data files, and I would manually reinstall everything. Is that correct? At this point I was going to run Acronis to backup just data, too, because I was leary of option B.

Another question I was wondering - if my back up took 30GB on my external, how do people write back ups to CD's and DVD's? It would be a huge number of discs to fit it all on there, no?


I've only ever used Ghost in DOS for drive imaging, but as I understand it the image you now have on the external drive should be able to accomplish the same thing with Acronis. They will probably have given you a utility of some kind to create a bootable cd with. You would boot the machine to that cd with the new drive in the laptop and the external drive attached. This is assuming the machine is new enough to recognize usb devices at the bios level which it probably is. If not then things get more complicated, but it probably is.

The Acronis docs will give you the details, but once in the program you point it at the image as the source and the new drive as the destination, confirm the operation and tell it to go. When it finishes you take out the cd and boot the machine to the new drive. If all went as planned it should be identical to what it was before except now running on the new drive.

A couple things though. I don't know if the operation you did cloned the old drive to the external one or created an image file of the old drive ON the external one. There is a difference, but either way should get the same result except you'll have to be sure to know that when restoring the new drive and tell it which way to go. If it's an image file and you tell it to use the external drive itself as the source you will wind up with a new drive with that one file on it which obviously will not work.

The reason your backup is so big (which it really isn't relatively anyway) is because you backed up the entire drive including the OS and all the program files. Your personal data is a fraction of that. Most people can get most of what is REALLY important to them on one DVD and maybe even a cd depending on the person because that usually means photos and documents of various types of which thousands can usually fit on a single DVD especially. Large music or video collections can multiply that by dozens of times instantly, but I don't consider those to be vital in the same way irreplaceable documents and family photos are.
If you made an image file then hopefully Acronis has an image management app that will allow you to open it in an explorer type interface thus accessing the information it contains. I imagine that would be the case. If it were me I'd backup your entire account profile separately just in case. For Windows 2000 and XP that will be in C:\documents and settings\your profile. Or at least backup the my documents folder and favorites (if you use IE). If you use Firefox definitely grab application data\mozilla as well. In the event of a reload you can copy that folder over the new OS install and at least Firefox will be just like it was.

Also if you use Outlook or Outlook Express (shame on you) be sure to backup your mail stuff as well if you don't get the whole profile. If I remember right at the moment OE will be in C:\documants and settings\your profile\local settings\identities\microsoft\outlook express. For Outlook do a search for *.pst and copy everything it finds for now.

Be aware that if buy a new laptop it's practically guaranteed to come preloaded with Vista which is a downer in my opinion. Depending on what you have, some more memory and a fresh drive may keep you humming along for a few more years actually.


I created an image of C:, not a clone, and I understand what you're saying about restoring sources. As far as backing up the account profile, I think that is my next step, and I'll run Acronis' data backup to grab those folders you mentioned, Tirib. I have quite a bit of music and media files accumulated, so it would def not fit on a CD or DVD unless it was mega-compressed or something.

Background to all this, in case anyone cares:

I've had Lappy since I started college in 2005 and put it through some abuse, with lots of downloading, installing, burning, ripping, removing, testing programs, etc. Right now I'm hoping that it gets me through graduation in Dec until I can get a job and afford a new computer. Lappy McTop features 512MB RAM, 80GB hard drive, and 1.73GHz Pentium (R) processor.

My girlfriend and I are leaving for an 8 week roadtrip around America on Thursday, and since I'm taking my computer I thought it'd be wise to back everything up now and leave the external at home, just in case something crashes or breaks while I'm traveling.


I tossed up a gratuitous babe in thanks for everyone's help so far


Just keep in mind that you cannot restore a complete disk image to a different computer, it will completely break windows and you won't be able to boot.

Just wanted to clarify that point.


a lot of this is over my head, but I'm appreciating the time everyone's putting in anyway. I was in the process of copying a lot of my files to another computer when I got the blue screen of death. now not only do i need to learn about backing up my new computer, i need to learn about making a boot disk or doing something to somehow salvage the data on my old one


First of all we need to determine why you got the BSOD. Can you boot normally now or is it stuck in a loop? Can you boot into Safe Mode?


Haha, this is what I was getting at earlier. Since I'm going to get a new computer, my question was is a disk image worthwhile to create? And the answer was 'Yes'. And I created it. My understanding now is that I can still pull my data files and such from it even though I can't restore the complete disk image. Right?




Sweet action. You da man