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I have data and files on my system, running Windows, and want to make sure that I don't lose all the data or information when it gets toasted, either by a power surge or corrupted medium.

I've heard that I should look into some kind of archive tool.

What should I be looking into here in a backup program?

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24 Answers 24

up vote 21 down vote accepted

I use SyncBack by 2BrightSparks. It has a wide range of functions, including backing up to a network drive, and synchronising two folders. The free version has been sufficient for my needs.

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Syncback is undoubtedly powerful but its user interface even on basic mode, is not intuitive for non-technical users. I use it at home myself, but I do not install it on customers computers for this reason. –  Ash Aug 11 '09 at 2:10

I like the built in backup system in Vista business. Simple, straight forward, no issues yet.

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I hate the built-in backup with Windows. Let's say that I have a huge folder in my documents folder called BigFoo. Let's say that I reparent that folder to Documents\SomeNewFolder\BigFoo. Can you guess what my backup has now? Two copies of BigFoo. Ugh. –  jasonh Dec 11 '09 at 19:30
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Windows Backup is great when it's working and not giving you cryptic error messages. Plus, no image backup on the home versions. –  Mark Johnson Mar 27 '11 at 16:51
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Rant: Guess, why I got to this page? My main disk failed today and I had to replace it. I had backup set up on another disk with Windows Backup. It failed to restore with very unhelpful message about not being able to find disks to restore my system. Now I have 2 days of reinstalling everything ahead of me. Thanks. Next please! And remember: Backup is completely unimportant, it's restore that counts! –  Tomek Szpakowicz Jul 12 '11 at 15:15

I recommend Cobian Backup. It is free and we use it to backup customer databases.

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+1 for unicode support. –  hyperslug Jul 22 '09 at 1:06

I'm a big fan of CrashPlan if you have multiple machines, some friends/family members you could hook into it, or even just an extra hard drive. It's software that backups up data to other machines in your group rather than a centralized, pay-for service. In the event of a system crash, you will be able to get your data back MUCH quicker. It also has decently priced online backup options.

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I still use xcopy to copy all my personal files to an external hard drive on startup.

Here's my startup.bat:

xcopy d:\files f:\backup\files /D /E /Y /EXCLUDE:BackupExclude.txt

This recurses directories, only copies files that have been modified and suppresses the message to replace an existing file, the list of files/folders in BackupExclude.txt will not be copied.

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I've tried Acronis True Image Workstation (it seems that this year they've renamed the product) and found it to be very, very good. It creates images of drives, or backups of folders, it's very customizable at both backup time and restore time. You can mount drive images and access them as normal. The only "downside" is that it's not free :-)

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I use Mozy. They have a free service level that offers up to 2GB of storage (you can increase that by recommending other users to the service using a referral code they provide). They also offer an Unlimited storage level for $4.95 a month. I've been using them to backup over 100GB of data for the past few years. IMHO the price is more than acceptable for the security and quality of service they provide.

My favorite parts:

  1. Backup Sets. You give it a list of file extensions (file types) and it will automatically find and back them up anywhere they appear on your computer. Want to make sure all your Office Documents or photos are always backed up without having to remember to put them in any particular place? This is it.

  2. Windows Integration and "Shadow Copy". Mozy offers a "shadow copy" like function that saves the past 3 versions of every file backed up. Their integration with Windows is such that you can right-click on a file to gain access to those "Previous Versions" and view/revert-to any one of them... anytime.

  3. Speed. Assuming of course that your internet connection has good upload speeds, their servers can keep up.

  4. Stability. I've been running Mozy for years. I can't remember a single time I noticed my computer behaving slower or unreliable in anyway due to their software. Nuff' said.

... they also have Mozy Pro for businesses.

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Microsoft SyncToy; use Echo mode to do easy incremental backups, and it's free.

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I have had bad experiences with this. It leaves crap everywhere - little sync files in every folder it looks at, and it is unreliable, leaving old files and silently not copying new ones. There's a reason they call it a toy. –  Joel in Gö Sep 16 '10 at 10:22

I'm awaiting something Time Machine-like, which also is about easy restore, and about using redundant multiple disks. See my comments at Time Machine for Windows.

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Carbonite is a really neat backup service. It uploads your data to the internet, making it accessible from anywhere in case of an emergency. It's been advertised by the popular tech-personality Leo Laporte for many years.

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Carbonite is pretty nice (and impacts system performance less than Mozy in my experience), BUT it is very sneaky with what file types it will or will not backup. Video files are particularly troublesome -- you have to manually select individual video files (NOTE: not a directory of video files) that should be backed up. They will not be backed up otherwise. –  arathorn Aug 6 '09 at 14:33
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@arathorn: wow, that's terrible functionality. Any idea what the reasoning is? –  tnorthcutt Sep 15 '09 at 12:29

I use GFI Backup home edition because it's easy to use, free and light but flexible.

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After pulling some backup tapes and finding that the software that made the backup on them was no longer available and functional, I stopped using software that didn't make the backups in a common format.

I used one product for a while that produced zip files which can be transferred to any media I like.

Recently, though, I switched to using a windows powershell script (run via the windows scheduler) which uses the gnu-win32 ports of tar and gzip to generate the backup, then I copy the monthlies to DVD.

Ideally, I'd move the DVDs offsite, but I've not done that yet. For me, the best option is likely to be a safety deposit box, but I've not wanted to take on the expense yet. :)

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Bearing in mind that working out a backup schedule is not a simple task, bar full backups every night, read up on what's best for you.

If you want off-site/online then Mozy is OK, although I've not ad much luck in a non-personal enviroment (cross platform)

Backing up of a hard disk or USB stick then Microsoft SyncToy is a good idea, and easy to use (windows only)

For a more corperate enviroment Symantic BackUp Exec would be my choice. Backing up to tape or disk it would meet you needs, but costs can vary (windows only, possibly linux)

as mentioned .bat files could be used as a personal backup to a shared disk...make sure you get the syntax right though.

Alternative off-site would be portable Hard Disk and do a weekly backup with that, truecrypt the volume and take it home with you, bringing it in as nessecary, but bear in mind data protection.

Backing up of systems rather than data and CloneZilla/Acronis might be up your street.

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For disk imaging (once a month), I've had great success with DriveImageXML. It's like Acronis, mentioned above, except there's a free version. And despite being an image, it's possible to restore individual files/directories. The downside is that there is no way in the free version to do incremental backups.

And, it has a plugin for Bart-PE, meaning you can restore a system that won't boot if the boot disk gets corrupted. As happened to me last night :-(.

For daily backups, I used to use ROBOCOPY in a cron job every night. It works, but I was left with an astronomical log file every morning (5+MB). I found that calling SyncBack from the cron job was much more effective; it generates an HTML file listing only the files changed, and highlights errors (locked files, etc) in colour, so you get a good idea of what is not actually backed up.

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After getting totally fed up with the bugs in Acronis Backup & Recovery and their poor customer support, I have switched to Symantec Backup Exec.

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For imaging and incremental backup, I like Acronis True Image. For a very cheap ($29.95), scalable, pure copying program I like Second Copy (www.centered.com). My tech partner and I have used SC for years for our clients, ranging from home users to small businesses.

I see that Seagate has now released their Replica, which looks to be a Time Machine/Time Capsule for Windows. I haven't used it but I'm interested. For most of my clients, ease of use and automation is key. I also don't like backup programs that put the files in a proprietary format (which is why Second Copy is nice). I'll definitely have to check out Replica. The hard drive sizes seem a bit on the skimpy size (250GB single PC, 500GB multiple PCs). Seagate's site says the single PC is ~$130 so I will wait to see some reviews before buying one.

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Jungle Disk is a great option if you want secure off-site backups.

Features

  • Uses Amazon S3 or Rackspace storage
  • Strong Encryption
  • Fairly inexpensive
  • Offers clients for Window, Mac, and Linux
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I've been using AJC backup for a number of years now on all our workstations, in addition to Windows backups on the server. What I like about it is that it versions files each time they are saved, and you can restore any previous version, rather than just the last saved version. Pretty much like a simple to use version control system for dummies, with good revision comparison tools for text and images. The program is stable, cost effective, and easy enough to set-up. That said, I use it for documents not huge media files. Horses for courses and all that.

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I tried some backup programs but ended up using 7-zip command line with the Update options switch. I have a backup script with instructions like:

7z u %backup%\Work%main%.7z -u- -up0q3x2z0!%backup%\Work%current%.7z D:\Work\* -r

Disadvantage: although it does incremental updates, it only diffs against the "main", complete version. You cannot consecutively diff against the previous version of the backup.

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Regardless of the backup software you use, and the methods you use, you should also think on how you want to rotate your tapes or medias, like daily/weekly/monthly. Some places I know of will have multiple dailies for two weeks, and one of them is kept for six months. The monthly one is taken off the rotation, to be kept for a year, and so on. This is a strategy you should think about, regardless of the platform / backup software you use or even the media you use. Tape loaders may change a bit your tape rotation strategy as well. Another thing to consider is the off-site storage of your backups. Here, it also depends on how critical your data is. If your office has a disaster, can you continue operations somewhere else ? Finally, the off-site storage of tapes can be done different ways. For example, some will take the latest backup off-site immediately, others will the previous one off-site, but will keep the latest on-site, for easier recovery.

My point here is that the software/hardware is only one piece of establishing a backup strategy. Tape handling procedures and off-site strategy is another, equally important, piece of the puzzle.

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I would like to recommend SOS Online Backup... because...

  • It's PC Magazine's Editors' Choice online backup tool
  • Just schedule your backup, it will automatically update and maintaining version system
  • Past 3 years I am using with zero faults
  • Good support and reasonable price compare than others
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You can use MirrorFolder for backups, even for some kind of RAID-1, though I've not (yet) tried that.

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I've used rsync on windows via cygwin. I'm currently trying Bvckup. I've recommend rebit for unsophisticated users.

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I'm surprised no one has suggested using Dropbox to backup your most essential files.

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protected by Diago Jan 14 '11 at 7:33

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