What is the best computer backup system?

A computer backup system is critical as home computers approach the terabyte limit. Rebuilding just the operating system can take a long time, even if the data files were archived on CDs or other media. The best computer backup system for an individual depends on many factors, including personal needs, preferences, skills, and financial considerations.

CDs can be used to back up data.

External magnetic tape drives provided affordable backup at a time when the alternative was floppy disks or, later, compact disks. While still widely used for network backup, most tape drives have extremely slow access times. With the price of hard drives falling and more convenient alternatives, the magnetic tape drive is becoming a legacy and not the best option for the home user.

Flash drives can be used to back up a computer system.

Some people choose to use software to take a disk image of their system. A disk image is a large, compressed file that takes up much less space than cloning or copying a disk. The disk image can be saved anywhere, even on the main drive, although this is not the best place. It is safer to place the disk image on a secondary or external drive. In the event that the primary drive fails, the image can be used to rebuild the system on a new hard drive.

A computer’s hard drive can be damaged in a variety of ways, which can lead to data loss.

The advantage of a disk image is that it consumes a relatively small amount of space. One drawback is that it cannot be accessed directly, but must be restored by the software that created it. This might mean booting from a proprietary CD to access the restore process. While the procedure is not complicated, it can be a bit stressful having to “jump over everything” to rebuild the system.

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A computer backup system can be useful in case of theft.

A better computer backup system dedicates a secondary hard drive as a clone of the primary drive. If the primary drive fails, the secondary drive will take its place. No need to restore, no downtime and no hassle. Just boot from the backup drive and get on with your business.

Software like the popular Acronis™ can clone a primary drive to a secondary drive in a matter of minutes. The secondary drive can be installed internally or housed in an external enclosure. In the event of a drive failure, a desktop or laptop computer has the ability to boot from an external device so work can continue using the external (or secondary) drive until the failed drive is replaced. At this point, the external drive is cloned back into the new primary drive.

The great thing about this computer backup system is that there are no hurdles to jump through and you don’t have to wait for a new drive to keep going. Your clone is ready the moment the main unit fails. If the secondary unit is housed outside, you can also store it in a safe place, such as a locked fireproof safe. The disadvantage of using this computer backup system is that a new drive must be purchased and the entire drive must be dedicated as a clone.

Another solution that uses two disks (minimum) is RAID or Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Both drives are installed internally, making it a desktop-only solution. RAID has different flavors or methods of operation, called RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 2, etc. RAID 1 is a mirror technology, which means that everything written to the primary drive is simultaneously written to a secondary drive, maintaining a constant duplicate or mirror of the primary drive. If one of the drives fails, it is replaced and the mirror drive copies itself to the replacement drive.

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An advantage over the old computer backup system is that both drives are always up to date. Disadvantages include RAID setup (the function of the motherboard), which can be technically challenging. RAID 1 also doubles the load on the computer’s processing unit (CPU), which could slow down some systems. Also, duplication opens the door for both drives to be corrupted by the same malicious event. Using the above solution if a system crashes after installing a program, for example, one can use the “offline” clone drive to copy the primary drive, returning it to a previous state.

If you’re not willing to add a dedicated clone drive, remote backup services are available online. Users subscribe to the service, set up login credentials to a secure server, and use the site’s software to back up their system to the remote Web server.

Advantages include ease of use and online access to the computer’s backup system from anywhere in the world. The backup is also safe from damage that might occur to your personal computer due to natural disaster or theft. Disadvantages include the inherent risks of placing data on a server that you do not own and over which you have little ultimate control. It is also important to note that you cannot boot from a remote online backup.

Magnetic tape drives provided affordable backup at a time when floppy disks were the alternative.

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