NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2003
President's Column
by Dale Oliver, President
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As a recap of the August meeting, we talked about some simple things that can make backing up files quicker and easier. We also compared and contrasted some of the more popular backup media currently in use.

It is always best to keep your documents arranged in a single folder tree (such as the “My Documents” folder). If you have documents scattered all over your hard drive, it is extremely hard to keep up with all of them, much less back them up quickly and easily. If a program installed on your computer needs to be deleted or reinstalled, the directory structure associated with the program can be deleted in the process. If you have data files residing in that program’s directory structure, they can (and often do) disappear along with everything else. Not a particularly good way to start your day!

We also talked about the wisdom of scanning for viruses before backing up your files, which avoids backing up viruses along with the desired files. In addition, we discussed the importance of keeping your backup media offsite. A backup diskette/tape/CD/DVD/etc. is not going to help you if it’s located in or around your computer and your house burns down. Another topic of discussion was the added safety of backing up files before running disk maintenance utilities such as those that defragment data on your hard drive.

The backup media types we spent the most time discussing are listed below, along with ballpark costs, capacities, and comparative pros & cons. Here is an overview:


  • Capacity: 1.44 MB (approx. 700 pages of plain text).
  • Cost: $20-60 for drive, a few cents to $0.30 apiece for diskettes.
  • Pros: Most computers have a diskette drive. Media is small, light, and portable.
  • Cons: Diskettes have a limited capacity, along with slow read and write speeds. Diskettes are typically not reliable for long-term storage since they are prone to data loss from nearby magnets or magnetic fields. Magnetic charges stored on the media tend to degrade over time even without external interference of electromagnetic fields.

    Capacity: Up to 256 MB (approx. 180 diskettes).
    Cost: $30-$100 for memory stick.
    Pros: Media is very small and portable (about half the size of a automobile’s keyless entry remote control). No software drivers are needed for newer versions of Windows (2000 and above), and drivers are readily available for downloading (for free) for use with older Windows versions. No computer hardware is required except for a USB port. Media is not as prone to damage as diskettes, CD discs, or DVD discs.
    Cons: Limited capacity in comparison to CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs.

    Capacity: 650/700 MB (approx. 450 diskettes).
    Cost: $50-$180 for drive, free to $1 apiece for discs.
    Pros: Most computers have a CD-ROM drive that can read discs. Relatively stable long-term storage (typically 5 years or more). Remember that disc label adhesives and writing on the CD-ROM disc can shorten the life of the data by adversely affecting the dye that contains the microscopic pits used to store data.
    Cons: Same physical size disc as DVD-ROM, but only has approx. 13% of the capacity of a DVD-ROM. Scratches on disc can cause data loss.

    Capacity: 4.7 GB (approx. 3,350 diskettes).
    Cost: $90 to $350 for drive, $2 to $8 apiece for discs.
    Pros: Same size discs and similar storage life as CD-ROM disc, but holds as much as seven-and-a-half CD-ROM discs.
    Cons: Still a bit pricey for drives and storage media. Scratches on disc can cause data loss. Typically only newer computers have DVD drives. You may have to choose between which DVD format will work best for your needs (DVD-R, DVD+R, etc.) due to lack of a single industry standard.

    Capacity: 20 GB to 300+ GB (approx. 14,000 to 200,000+ diskettes).
    Cost: $50 to $1,800 for drive.
    Pros: Excellent long-term stability of data. Very fast read and write speed. Huge capacities.
    Drives are typically shielded in a metal box inside your computer’s case or in an external hard drive case.
    Cons: Internal drives are typically mounted inside the computer, so they are not particularly portable (although external hard drives are becoming more popular due to their portability). Lightning strikes, fires, overheating due to malfunctioning cooling fans, and other calamities can destroy the main hard drive and backup hard drive at the same time.

    Capacity: 10 GB to 100 GB (approx. 7,000 to 70,000 diskettes).
    Cost: $200 to $2,500 for drive, $3 to $60 apiece for tapes.
    Pros: Huge capacity available. Media is small and portable. Good long-term stability. Excellent for businesses that need to backup large quantities of data.
    Cons: Relatively slow read and write speeds due to sequential data storage. Potential for magnetic interference (similar to diskettes) as well as magnetic degradation over time. Potential for mechanical failure of tape after extended use. Expensive for casual computer users in comparison to other backup methods.

    Be sure to attend our September meeting. Dr. Maxey will do live demonstrates of backing up entire hard drive partitions, and show you how easy it is with the appropriate software and know-how. See you there!

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