The sad fact is that, despite all advice to do so, far too many users are still not backing up. Trouble is, every time those users press the go button on their computer and everything boots up fine, they get lulled further and further into a false sense of security. Then, one day, suddenly, the computer won’t boot, and panic sets in. I’ve lost count of the number of times one of my clients has rung me in a panic because of this very scenario. All those precious family photos and important documents are suddenly at risk. The silly thing is, all this is easily avoidable just by creating simple backups.
There are essentially two types of backups:
- Image Backups: which include a backup of all system partitions – usually the boot partition, main (Windows) partition, and recovery partition – into a single file
- Data Backups: are simply a second (or more) copies of personal data – Documents, Pictures, Music, Video, etc. – stored on external media or in the cloud
Strictly speaking, both types of software – imaging software and backup software – create backups. The former is creating image-based backups and the latter, file-based backups. However, over the years the backups created by imaging software have become known in common parlance as images rather than backups, and the term ‘backup’ has become synonymous with file-based backup software.
Image backups create an image (or snapshot) of all system partitions in a single file and are specifically designed to rescue the user from any disaster, such as a severely infected system, fatally corrupt system, and/or non-bootable systems. Imaging software provides options to create full system images, differential images, and incremental images:
- Full System Images: as the name suggests creates an image (snapshot) of everything contained in the system partitions
- Incremental: initially includes only those files which have changed since the last full system image. Subsequently includes only those files which have changed since the last incremental backup/image. Restoration involves the last full system image plus all incrementals
- Differential: always includes all files which have changed since the last full system image… initially and subsequently. Restoration involves the last full system image plus the last differential only
Because incremental images contain only those changes since the last incremental image they produce a much smaller file size and are essentially meant only to help users who are short of disk space. In this day and age, with large capacity drives, incremental images are not generally recommended, certainly not by me anyway. The problem occurs if/when the user needs to restore the system – restoration involves restoring the latest full system image plus all incremental images created since, which could number in the dozens.
On the other hand, restoration from differential images involves restoring the latest full system image plus the latest differential image only. Which, as you can imagine, is a lot less cumbersome. Regardless, you should always create fresh (new) full system images on a regular basis – I would suggest once per month as a minimum.
Compression: is used to help reduce the size of the images. All imaging software includes options to compress images. Compression is usually set to optimal by default and I would recommend leaving it at default.
Image Integrity: all imaging software includes an option to check image integrity to make sure the images are free from corruption and will restore properly. Some software sets the image integrity check to run automatically following the creation of each image, with others it is an option in Settings that needs to be enabled by the user. In all cases, you can run the image integrity check at any time manually.
Bootable Media: all imaging software includes the ability to create bootable recovery media. Considering image backups are specifically designed to rescue the user from disastrous situations, this is a critical element. When the system will not boot normally, you’ll need to boot from the recovery media in order to restore your image backups. The first thing you should always do after installing imaging software is create the bootable media (usually a USB flash drive) and test it to make sure it is 100% working.
This is the simplest form of backup, merely involving creating a second (or more) copy of personal data. Personal data includes the contents of the user folders, including Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos, etc. This can easily be done manually simply by copying and pasting the contents of those folders onto external media, such as an external USB drive. You can copy and paste the entire contents each time and Windows will automatically provide you with an option to skip files already contained on the external USB drive. So, only any newly added files will be copied across. Or, you can use free syncing software which will automatically sync the contents of the original folder with the contents of the backup folder so both are always identical.
- If you are not confident with copy and paste, please read: Must Know: Cut, Copy, and Paste
NOTE: If you store all your personal data within the main system (Windows) partition it will automatically be included in the system image backups. If, however, you do the same as I do and store your personal data on a separate Data partition, it will not be included in the system images and you’ll need to back up that data separately.
One of the best methods for storing data backups is via the cloud and syncing in this way can easily be achieved using Microsoft OneDrive. However, if you’re not comfortable or confident using OneDrive, here are several free local alternatives that will do a great job for you:
- Create Synchronicity (lightweight and open-source with a portable version available)
- SyncBackFree (free version includes all required features and options))
- FreeFileSync (open source freeware)
If you’re not backing up, now would be a very good time to start. Data backups are so simple and yet have the potential to save much heartache and worry. There is, apparently, a certain mystique surrounding image backups but, honestly, it is not complicated nor difficult. Aomei Backupper, in particular, is very easy to use and the company provides a long list of comprehensive guides covering every aspect of the software: Aomei Backupper Help Guides
On reflection, the title of this article was possibly a tad overly ambitious. However, I hope this basic guide helps you better understand the backup process and encourages you to employ some sort of backup strategy. You will not regret it and I think you’ll be surprised at just how easy it all turns out to be.