Hard drives have moving parts. Little motors that spin disks around at 7,200 revolutions per minute. Like anything with moving parts, hard drives eventually wear out.

If yours wore out today – how much information would you lose? Family photos? Accounting data? More?

Backing up is a bit of a nuisance to have to do, but if you have anything vaguely important stored on your computer it’s a necessary chore. With the price and availability of CD or DVD burners, it’s not quite the task it used to be, either. A couple of options:

One: Burn it to CD or DVD

Quick tip: use re-writable media for your important backups. Either CD-RW or DVD-RW/DVD+RW. The reason? Regular CDs and DVDs have big questions over their longevity. Maybe they’ll last for decades, maybe they won’t. It’s pretty much agreed though that the re-writable versions last much longer, as they use a different method of actually storing the data. I won’t get all technical here, but to be on the safe side, use rewritables for your backups or archives.

Two: Use an external hard drive

An alternative is to use an external hard drive. These plug into a USB port so they’re nice and easy to use. Create a folder with the date, and copy your ’stuff’ over. Next time, create a new folder with the new date, and so on. When the external drive gets full, delete the oldest folder and keep going.

What to backup?

This will vary from person to person & computer to computer. But you’re basically looking for:

  1. Your “My Documents” folder.
  2. If you’re using Outlook, search for your *.pst file. That has all your email, your calendar etc.
  3. If you’re using Outlook Express, search for the *.dbx files and include the whole folder that they’re in. Then find your *.wab file, which is your address book.
  4. Accounting programs like MYOB or Quickbooks often save files in their own folders – make note of where they are too.
  5. Check any other industry-specific software you might be running, and see where they save their data files.

This list is by no means complete – get some specific advice if you’re unsure.

But whatever you do – put some sort of backup strategy in place before it’s too late!