NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Recap of August 2001 Meeting
by Dale Oliver, President, September 2001
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Wow, what a great presentation by Bob Brake of the local Gateway Country store. Thanks, Bob! We appreciate your time away from the store on a very busy weekend. Mr. Brake even offered his telephone number to members who still have questions regarding hard drive and file backup. You can reach him at 443-0210.

I apologize about not doing a better job of explaining about why we won't have a club VP for the rest of the year. The main reason revolves around the fact that that Cliff was struggling to balance his work with volunteer responsibilities for the club, so he resigned as club VP. We appreciate the contributions he has made to the club-especially his excellent participation in the Q&A sessions.

Bob's opening comment pretty much summed up the whole presentation, and it went like this, "Be prepared to lose what you don't back up." Like it or not, hard drives are mechanical devices, and while they are generally quite reliable, they have small moving parts that are going to wear out at some point in time.

The first thing you should do is to decide WHAT to back up. Three general categories discussed were:

1) Everything. This is by far the safest, and is also the easiest way to recover from a disastrous event such as a hard drive failure.

2) Selected files. This method requires you to decide which files cannot be restored from the diskettes or CD's that came with the computer and software you purchased. This method is much faster when backing up, but it could cause you to spend literally days reinstalling your operating system, additional programs like word processors, Internet browsers, games, etc.

3) System files. This is the least safe method of all. If you are only backing up your basic system files (system registry and only critical files), your programs AND data files (saved e-mails, spreadsheets, photos, music files, etc.) are still at risk.

If you don't have anything particularly critical on the computer and don't care if you lose it all, you can afford to be relatively carefree about backups. If you have things that are important to you, you need to be diligent about regular backups. Remember to keep your backups OFFSITE. A tape/CD-ROM/Zip drive/diskette backup is of no help if it is sitting on top of your computer and your house burns down.

Once you have decided what to back up, you now need to decide HOW to back it up. Bob pointed out five common backup strategies:

1) Use a second hard drive. Advantages to this method are: It's very fast, it can back up your entire hard drive contents, and it's inexpensive. Bob quoted an example of a 15 GB drive only costing only $65.00. Add to that an excellent hard drive backup software such as Norton's Ghost, and you're talking a total investment around $100. Bob covered the topic of software that will automatically create a mirror image of your hard drive in real time as you work, but using a single hard drive (as opposed to a RAID system of multiple hard drives) slows down the computer noticeably. Dr. Maxey mentioned that he uses the Master Booter program (http://www.masterbooter.com) that enables you to boot from any hard drive or partition you choose, making it a perfect accompaniment to this backup strategy.

2) CD ROM. Using CD/R and CD R/W media to back up your files is relatively quick, easy and inexpensive. If you already have a CD drive that is capable of writing to CD/R and CD R/W disks, all you need to do is purchase some disks and you're in business. While the cheapest CD/R disks can be found for as low as ten to twenty cents each, one drawback is that the capacity of a formatted CD is around 650 MB. This is usually more than sufficient if you are a casual user and only intend to back up data files, but with hard drive capacities in the tens of gigabytes, it would take a huge stack of CDs to back up what is considered a modest sized hard drive. Another drawback to CDs is the time it takes to format them. Generally, you can expect to spend 20 to 60 minutes apiece formatting time before you can use them. Roxio (http://www.roxio.com) and Veritas (http://www.veritas.com) both produce software that can make backing up data to CDs pretty easy.

3) Tape. Whether you use the newer digital (DAT) tape or the older style, tape backups have long been considered an excellent method for business and home use. The tape backup units are moderate in price and are generally very reliable. Tape cartridges work better when they are used regularly (which is what you should do anyway)! Drawbacks to tapes are: They are magnetic media like diskettes, which means they can be subject to losing data when exposed to strong electromagnetic fields, and they can sometimes be finicky if not used regularly.

4) Jazz or Zip drives. These drives are very handy for a number of uses besides just backing up data. The older Zip drives have a capacity of 100 MB, and the newer Jazz drives have ten times that capacity. Backup speed to and from this type of media is moderately quick, and external drives allow you to cart your data around to other computers if necessary. This is a relatively good compromise if you don't have the ability to burn CDs.

5) Internet-based backups. This backup strategy has finally gained some critical mass. The advantages to Internet-based backups is that it is definitely offsite, usually very safe since it is mirrored on multiple servers in different locations, easy to get to wherever you have an Internet browser, and actually quite secure due to encryption. Drawbacks include slow backup/restore times compared to a local backup device (even with most broadband connections) and the natural concern of having private or confidential data stored on someone else's server. Bob said that they use this at Gateway all the time to install or reinstall entire system hard drives from the Sioux Falls facility and it works very well.

That was a brief summary of Bob's excellent presentation. If you want to keep your hard drive in good health and decrease the likelihood of file system problems, logon to our club website (http://pcgroup.nwark.com) or refer to your paper newsletter for the March 2001 President's Column article that describes backing up, disk cleanup, running ScanDisk and disk defragmentation.

I look forward to seeing you at the next meeting. We will discuss Internet "cookies" and various ways to "surf the Net" safely...definitely worthwhile information!

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