With our reliance on computers for everything from posting on blogs to recording, cataloging, and playing music for our part 15 stations adequate system backups can assure that things are not lost and the system can be restored relatively easily. What follows is not intended to be a step by step guide but rather a “big picture” view of the topic.
There are programs available (Genie GBA Lite8 is one) which back up the user’s data but do not back up the system. These are great for restoring erroneously deleted files or for archive purposes and incremental backup is fast but if, for example, a hard drive fails the operating system and application programs will need to be reinstalled before the data are restored. Don’t depend on the Windows XP System Restore(R) or things such as the Dell Recovery Partition to recover from this type of failure. The last time I did a system restore without an image took an on and off effort over three days to get back to where the system was before the crash.
The approach I now take is to make a disc image file from the C: drive onto a USB external drive using both Ghost(R) and Seagate’s DiskWizard(R). (The DiscWizard(R) requires that at least one disk be a Seagate or Maxtor and it also fails to create a workable boot CD but it is free. You can purchase this from Acronis without the disk restriction but the bootable CD still fails according to the user forums.) Others probably will (and I encourage them to do so) post which programs they use but these are the ones which I have used and can comment on. Restoring from an image file is convenient and takes you back to where you were at the time of the backup. To keep the images small (about 6 to 10 GB) I store my data on a separate disc installed in the system tower. It is backed up separately from the system disc.
Here are hints gained by my experience. I have had Ghost(R) restores fail because of some unknown problem with the image files and have learned to always verify the written backup data and function, and even better, to do a test restore. I do this by using a spare hard drive so I don’t mess up my original drive. (Windows XP and later can get upset by this due to their product key unless you leave the original disk connected.) It is very time consuming but worth the effort at least once to verify the process works. It is also a good idea to use a “rotating” backup where two backup storage discs are used but are never connected to the system at the same time. My backup storage USB hard drive lost all data when the power cord became disconnected during a backup write. Fortunately I had another backup drive which was fairly current and managed to restore successfully.
For critical or irreplaceable data (tax returns, personal information, correspondence, etc.) consider off site storage. I burn these data on a CD and have a relative keep them for me. For security I use a program called AxCrypt to encrypt the files. Online backup is available but I choose not to use this method.
There are many utility programs available for free which enable the backup process and some are worth what you paid and some not. I purchased Ghost(R) but the other software I mentioned is free. Whichever backup/restore software you choose be sure to try it by doing a real restore to a spare drive at least once. Not all of them work as claimed and following a real crash is a bad time to learn this.