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The ultimate guide to PC backup and disaster prevention

What are you going to do when (not if!) your hard disk drive fails? If you think you're going to restore it from a backup, you might find you have to think again...


Backing up a Windows PC is not an easy matter. OK, it is for computer experts. But most of us are pretty ordinary musicians and recordists and we just want to get on with what we do.

Clearly, it is easy to back up your data. Just copy it to another disk. When the first disk fails, just install a new one and copy it back again.

Yes, that will work. Unless you have a virus, which will copy itself to the backup and do whatever harm it has in mind there too. And don't think that your anti-virus software will protect you against everything that is out there.

And what about fire or theft? Unless you keep your backup off site, then when your computer disappears or goes up in smoke, so will your backup.

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But it isn't data that is the main problem. Backing up data is easy, as I said, but what about backing up your system and applications? This isn't quite so straightforward.

Imagine for a moment that you have an Apple Macintosh computer. To back up your system and applications, copy them to another disk. That's all you have to do. My Macintosh will boot up fine from an external disk. The last time the internal disk failed, that's exactly what I did and I was up and running again in very quick time. (Anyone care to try it with one of the new Intel Macs? We'd like to know how you get on.)

But a Windows PC? No, this method won't work. Everything has to be installed on Windows, not just copied. And Windows PC's don't like booting from external disks.

There is the possibility of 'imaging' your computer's disk. You can use a software such as Drive Snapshot to make an image of your disk onto another disk. If - horror of horrors - you wiped your internal disk accidentally, you could restore it from the image and it would work fine.

Two problems. Firstly, just because you have a backup doesn't mean it will restore correctly. Best to have more than one backup, on different disks.

Secondly, if your internal hard drive has failed and you restore to a different one, your computer might not start up. I know this because I've tried it. I did find some information from Microsoft saying that for this to work reliably the new disk has to be not only the same model but the same firmware version!

OK, if the worst comes to the worst, you can always reinstall from the installation disks that were supplied with your computer (you did keep them safe, didn't you?). Then you can reinstall your applications. This is long-winded, but I've done it myself and it's not totally impractical.

But... many applications these days require activation. Unfortunately your activations died when your hard disk died. Another problem to sort out!

The sheer difficulty of backing up could make me transfer completely to the Mac, or even to Linux and open-source software that doesn't require activation.


Somewhere out there in Record-Producer-land there is someone who knows of a SIMPLE and FOOLPROOF method of backing up a Windows PC - data, operating system, applications, activations and all.

So please, put all of us normal computer users out of our misery and tell us what it is, or where we can find or buy it.

Over to you... Let's build the ultimate guide to PC backup and disaster prevention!

By David Mellor Monday November 20, 2006