Backup your computer

Making a backup is optional rather like brushing your teeth is optional: only brush and floss the ones you feel like keeping.  Bluntly, if you have anything on your computer that you would like to save from the digital void, make a backup.

What is a back-up?  There are two different sorts:

  • a copy of your valuable files so that you can retrieve photographs, music or documents should something unfortunate happen to your computer
  • a system image is a snapshot of your entire computer which allows you to return to that comfortable working state with your applications installed and all your documents, pictures and favourites in place just as they were at the time of the snapshot.

Before you start your backup you need somewhere to keep it.  If you do not have a hard drive or USB memory stick handy, I suggest getting a drive that is well-protected, portable, requires no external power and has plenty of space.  My current recommendation for most users is the Transcend rugged 1TB drive available here.

File backup

When you are ready, plug your storage into your computer and follow the instructions for your system below.

Backing up your files on Windows 7

Backing up your files on Windows 8

Backing up your files on a Mac is particularly simple: the Time Machine backup software will open when you plug in the drive.  Just select ‘Use As Backup Disk’ and the rest happens automatically….

Online backup For most people, making regular backup copies to a large hard drive is quite sufficient.  If you want extra safety you may like to consider storing your files securely online.  This has the benefits that your files are continuously backed-up, they are stored at a secure location and away from your premises in case of local disaster (fire, flood etc.).  The service I use is Carbonite which is one of the few online services that allows you to store as much data as you wish for a flat fee.

Making a system image

Having a route back to a time when your computer was happier and healthier is useful as well as rather comforting.  The time that you will need it is when something major has happened such as a hard drive failure or irreparable damage to your file structure.  This backup ensures that the process of recovery is much swifter and cheaper.

Making a system image is straight forward.   When you are ready, plug in your storage to your computer and follow the instructions for your system below.

Making a Windows 7 system image

Making a Windows 8 system image

Making a system image on a Mac is simple using SuperDuper, a wonderfully ridiculous name for a very useful tool.  Here is a useful tutorial on how to use SuperDuper to make a copy of your hard disk.  It is possible to store your image on the same hard drive as your file backups thus saving you buying another hard drive but this needs a few extra steps to create separate partitions on your external storage.  If you are feeling adventurous then here is how it is done.