What Files Should I Backup?

I am constantly reminding people to keep regular backups of their files, but what does that really mean? There are hundreds of folders and sub folders on your computer, so which ones should and shouldn’t be backed up?

pcoverhaul-files

 

First of all,  let’s talk about the software you can use to run the backup. There are lots of programs you can use to back these files up. New computers often have some sort of backup software installed and some external hard drives come with pre-installed backup software as well. A backup feature is also sometimes built in to some of the large antivirus suites. But if your computer or external drive doesn’t give you a backup option, don’t panic. If you have Windows 7 or Windows 8 or Windows 10, a backup feature is built in.  And of course there are several great free backup tools out there, like Redo Backup & Restore, Create Synchronicity, and Free File Sync. It’s not important which backup software you use, just be sure to get one that you are comfortable using and use it or schedule it to run regularly.

Free File Sync's interface. The 'Source" drive is shown on the left, the "Target" on the right.
Free File Sync’s interface. The ‘Source” drive is shown on the left, the “Target” on the right.

 

And one more important note-  one backup is never enough. That external hard drive you are using to back up your files is likely going to be in the same location as your computer in order to run these backups. If you have a theft, a natural disaster like a fire or flood, or a power surge fries your computer, chances are the backup drive will meet the same fate. So the key is to have a backup that’s not located wherever your computer is. Most people use a cloud backup for this. If you are confused about the cloud, it basically just means it’s kept on a server outside of your location. Free services like DropboxGoogle Drive, Box,  JustCloud, and Microsoft’s Onedrive may be enough if you only have a few Gigabytes of data to back up. If you have a large amount of data, paid services like iDrive, Cloudwards.net, or even Amazon’s Cloud backup solution are a better option. They allow you to upload very large document, photo, video and music collections (or whatever else you need to store) to a secure account and usually the cost is under $10 a month. Spending $100+ a year to backup your data may seem like a lot of money, but when it’s compared to the $1000-$1600 data recovery companies usually charge to attempt to get your files back after a hard drive crash, it’s a very good investment. DVD or BluRay media also make an excellent backup for files that won’t be changing, like years of older photos. these can be put in a fireproof safe, safety deposit box, or even given to a friend or family member to keep at their place so you will always have a copy “offsite” so to speak.

 

Carbonite's different plan options for home users.
Carbonite’s different plan options for home users.

 

Before we select the folders to back up, there are some hidden folders we need to be able to see, so you should change your settings to make them visible. You can do it manually, or I have a handy little script you can download that will do it for you.

You can manually show hidden files too.

Click on START->COMPUTER->TOOLS and then select the Folder option button.

To show hidden files in Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, select Tools, then Folder Options
To show hidden files in Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, select Tools, then Folder Options

 

Then choose the VIEW tab, and under HIDDEN FILES AND FOLDERS, choose the radio button for Show Hidden Files , folders and drives.

Then choose the VIEW tab, and under HIDDEN FILES AND FOLDERS, choose the radio button for Show Hidden Files , folders and drives.
Then choose the VIEW tab, and under HIDDEN FILES AND FOLDERS, choose the radio button for Show Hidden Files , folders and drives.

 

Finally, the files you should backup.

Files to back up for Windows XP
Files to back up for Windows XP

 

♦  Documents: Your documents folder is an obvious choice. This folder can be a catch it all for some people, with files of various types from actual documents, resumes, tax forms, to downloaded exe files, photos and subfolders created by programs on your computer. Depending on which version of Windows you have, this may also be called “My documents”.

♦ Photos & Videos: The “Pictures” or “My Pictures” folder and the “Videos” or “My Videos” folder are the most important folders I back up. Most of us have been using digital cameras for at least 10 years now and don’t have any negatives to fall back on if we lose these originals (like we did in the old days). Unless you are a professional photographer these have no monetary value, but preserving these memories is priceless. I back these up to disk and the cloud, but also burn a DVD at the end of each year as a set of permanent negatives. Mine are BluRay discs, which cost roughly $1 each but it’s well worth it knowing every photo ever taken of my children are safely stored away.

♦Music: “Music” or “My Music” folder.  –My Mp3 collection is huge and includes stuff I ripped from CD years and years ago, songs I converted from cassette of my old high school bands, and download music. If you use Itunes, this is where the Itunes data is stored for your music, playlists and apps.

♦Application Data: “AppData” or “Application Data” folder. This is that hidden folder we need to back up. The subfolders inside here contain settings and preferences for your software, as well as your PST file for Outlook that is used to store all of your Outlook data, including your emails, contacts, calendar, and more.

♦Bookmarks: For Internet Explorer, these are stored in “Favorites”. If you use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, there are in a subfolder of your AppData folder.

Of course, you can always just back up your entire User profile. The downside to this is you use more space and end up backing up lots of temporary files, but it’s one way to make sure you get every file you need without missing anything. This could be found at C:\Users\Username in Windows 7, 8  or Vista, and C:\Documents and Settings\Username for Windows XP.

You can back up the entire user profile. This is the default Administrator profile in Windows XP.
You can back up the entire user profile. This is the default Administrator profile in Windows XP.

 

Don’t bother backing up the “Windows” or “Program Files” folders, since you can’t restore your Operating System or your programs without completely reinstalling them.

 

 

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