Hard drive crash: What you can do

You are writing the "great American novel" using your computer's word processing program. You save it to your hard drive. How do you protect yourself from a hard drive crash when you no longer can access your work? You "backup" your file.

Backup is the process where you make a second copy of the file that contains your novel. Sounds logical and easy. It is logical but isn't always easy.

Some computer programs have automatic backup built in. The Quicken checkbook program is an example. You exit Quicken and it asks you if you wish to backup before leaving the program. If you say yes, it makes a second copy of your checkbook data in a place you specify. Not all programs work automatically.

Before going further, let's look at the various meanings of the word "backup." Your computer contains literally thousands of files. Most have to do with the operation of various programs that are on your computer. These files came from the disks, cd's or downloads you used when you installed these programs. If you lose them, they can be replaced from the original source.

Data files however are those files you have created yourself. They are the letters you have written, your checkbook files or the great American novel you are writing. If you lose these, you can be in trouble. Here is where backup is important.

When hard disks contained less space for storage of information, many computers had tape mechanisms where you could backup the entire hard drive. This was nice if you had to replace a hard drive. You easily could do it directly from the backup tape.

With today's large capacity hard drives, it no longer is practical to backup the entire hard drive. Now we only want to backup our own data.

Unfortunately the process is neither easy nor uniform. Word processors, for instance, do not have automatic backup. You must "save" your file then use the "save as" process to make another copy in a safe place. Then you have to "save as" again to get it back to your original save location. Sound complicated?

If you know your way around, you can use "Windows Explorer" to find your original file and then "copy" it to your safe location. This requires you to understand "Windows Explorer." Maybe we all should email Microsoft and ask them to build in "backup" into their programs!

Just today I went to the search engine, and searched for "computer file backup." I found a site at where they have a program called Backup Magic that you can download for a free 30 day trial. It claims to allow you to make selective backups. You can select only the files or folders you want to backup and the program makes copies where you direct it. I tried it and it seems to work. You might want to visit there to explore their program.

Finally, where is a safe place to put your backup copies? Personally, I use an Iomega, ZIP drive. This uses a replaceable diskette that holds 100 or 250 megabytes of data. ZIP drives have plenty of room for most backups. Of course, 3 1/2 inch diskettes can be used for small groups of files and cd's can be used for large backups. The object is to make backup copies in anyplace except on the hard drive. This will protect the data from the inevitable hard drive crash.

If you would like to hear more about backups, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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