General discussion

What's a good 'set it and forget it' PC backup strategy?

I'm looking for recommendations for a backup strategy that minimizes data loss due to computer crash, and requires minimum effort on my part after it is set up/configured.

We "all know" we are supposed to back up our computers and files on a regular basis. Twenty years ago I was a network administrator who moved into being the network engineer. After five years of that, I went back to general electronics engineering... just saying this so you know that I know what I should be doing.

For a while after leaving IT, I had a backup program that I had scheduled with the [then] recommended method of daily backups, weekly backups, and monthly backups with "trimming" and then related off-site storage. OK... overkill for most home systems, but I do/did tend to be obsessive compulsive about that sort of thing. I stopped doing this because the backup software I was using "evolved" and no longer supported that kind of backup strategy.

Periodically, I've looked at various backup programs but the ones I've seen did not seem to offer that kind of backup scheme. I especially liked the auto-trimming aspect, as it meant I didn't have to worry about the backups gobbling up all of my hard drive.

So now I only do backups sporadically, and that bothers me. I would prefer to have a "set it and forget it" approach to my computer backups. When I got my first 1.5TB external USB hard drive for my Windows 7 computer, I tried to use the (then) Windows Image backup, unsuccessfully. Windows did not recognize the drive as valid for the destination for the image. Internet research verified that this was a common and unresolved problem. I've not looked into it for the last couple of years (other, more important things requiring my attention).

I have worked under security constraints for much of my professional life, and as a result, I'm not comfortable backing up files to "the cloud" or similar sites not under my personal control. I have used Google Drive to temporarily transfer pictures from one device to another (because the two devices could not directly talk to each other).

I'm looking for recommendations for a backup strategy (or strategies) that minimizes data loss due to a failure, and requires minimum effort on my part after it's set up/configured.

Thoughts or suggestions? Thanks!

--Submitted by Roslyn T.

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Comments
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My strategy for PC backup is...

For automating simple directory/file backups I use a program called SecondCopy. Very powerful and has many options for backing up to external drives and NAS boxes.
I also have been a long time user of Acronis TrueImage. You can backup your entire computer, live, to a file (in TI format) to an external file/NAS box in FULL or incremental backups. It also allows you to, CLONE, your system drive to an external drive in case your computer drive dies.

HTH

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Cloud + HDD

Use a cloud backup service to backup your critical documents, and a HDD to backup your entire OS. The cloud backup ensures your documents are backed up every day and maintained offsite. The HDD allows you to easily recover your system if your machine crashes. Backup to HDD when you perform a substantial install or updates. The HDD backup is just a convenience. It is simpler and faster to recover your system from a HDD backup than from a cloud backup. I use Crashplan for cloud backup, and Time Machine for local system backup. I also use iCloud and Google Drive for some of my documents, giving triple redundancy for my most important documents. I suggest 1Password for passwords.

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Don't forget : backups fail

HDDs fail. I had one fail in the middle of a restore after my laptop had already been wiped. Cloud backups can also fail. They can silently stop backing up due to an OS upgrade that does not play nice with third party applications. Redundancy is good.

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Make multiple copies

Yes, I've found that it is not good to ever use less than 2 backup methods and less than 3 copies of the data.

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Use a Mirrored HD setup on your Back-up Server

I still use Windows Home Server as my automatic backup system, but any NAS backup system will do. Just make sure the Server you're using is set up with RAID 1 mirrored hard drives (which are administered by the motherboard rather than the OS). When one HD fails, the other is a mirrored copy so that one simply replaces the bad drive and then the good drive recopies everything to the new HD.

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Options galore.

I've used Acronis in the past, creating a bootable CD and backing up to an external drive. Frankly, too much trouble (but certainly capable of doing a bare metal restore). Since they started putting the Windows license key in non-volatile memory, no real need for that. The Windows media creation tool allows you to create a USB bootable key that you can do a nice clean install of Windows using, even to a new drive. For $99/year I have an office subscription for up to 6 users that also includes a 1 terabyte one drive for each. Just install and activate one drive, it gets all of your documents, photos, etc. by default. You said not cloud based? OK, buy an external drive and tell Windows to use it for backup Windows 10 backup and restore does a much better job (hourly) than Windows 7 ever did. No need to back up the operating system, just save license keys (I save them to one drive) and literally I can install an operating system and patch it up to date in 20 minutes (obviously an SSD, mechanical drives will take longer). Login with my Windows account, and everything is there. People like to tell you "use this program and jump through these hoops", obviously in Windows 7 that was necessary, but not anymore. Now just do a nice clean install of Windows 10, login, and you're done (almost, I still have to install other software myself, like office, photoshop, textpad, winrar, makemkv, etc, etc). People make things much more difficult than it needs to be, simply because in Windows 7, it was really bad.

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re: Options galore.

I will second the Office 365 subscription. You can add your choice of folders to backup if you don't use Windows default locations to store items.

In addition to that a couple of USB drives and a regular habit of swapping them out to create Windows Image files on for each machine you have. Makes restoring a system after a crash or bad update much less painful and time consuming. I always suggest keeping one copy of the backup out of the house or office in the event of a catastrophe. Hard drives are cheap and proven reliable for decades now. SSDs are faster, but don't have a track record yet for archival purposes.

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Not simple

If this is so great then why do you have to install application software manually? I've got dozens of packages installed -- I don't want to have to search for, load, and configure them all manually. A good backup/restore app should back up and restore everything automatically.

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Registry

Unfortunately, the design of (at least) windows is that there is a central repository for a lot of settings and what application software is installed. It's called a registry. I would not recommend most users trying to edit the registry with regedit, but it is important that this be backed up and restored as part of a complete restoration (sometimes called "bare metal" restore) of a computer. You would have a difficult time working with the registry as a direct file. If you must do file and folder backups, be aware that there are hidden files, system files and system folders that you may not have direct access to, even if you are an administrator. My recommendation, use a well-known backup/restore program. At work, I've used Backup Exec (Symantec) and Netbackup (also, Symantec). Both are complicated to purchase because the price is scalable. That is, if you only have one server to backup, the price is less than if you have a "farm" of servers, or if you are backing up workstations, databases, email systems, and how many backup/restore servers you have, tape units? etc. There are plenty of "home" backup software systems that others have already mentioned such as Acronis, Reflect, etc. I have not used many of those so you may want to research those. A good one will backup and restore to bare metal INCLUDING the registry.

While just copying your files may work for some, you may need to consider the following if you need to restore to bare metal (that is, a system with the disk wiped clean):

1. Reinstall Windows
2. Reconfigure all settings
3. Reinstall ALL application software

(you really can't save most application software just by copying folders -- the registry settings are required)

Still some prefer to start over fresh and just want the actual data saved.

Also, many professional backup software applications allow you to set how many copies of, let's say, a weekly backup cycle that you keep. For example, I preferred a minimum of three cycles (grandfather, father, son) with intervening incremental backup. That way, if I accidentally backup a trashed file, I can have some chance to go back in time. Just maintaining a single full backup (synthetic?) is great for speed in case of full loss, especially, but may not allow one to go back in time. Everyone has different ideas how they want their system backed up and, more importantly, restored.

In addition to dealing with the registry, folders and files have security information associated with each that needs to be restored after a loss or sometimes applications won't work correctly. I found that trying to remove security so I have complete access to files, makes things impossible in certain situations.

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"Not simple"

"I don't want to have to search", etc.

Oh, c'mon! A few years ago my PC kept crashing. After replacing the CPU--which didn't help--and then ordering a refurb motherboard from China--which also didn't help--I wound up having to do a full install of everything to a different machine (also going from 32- to 64-bit).

The new install with all the programs only took a hundred hours. What's the big deal? Laugh  

Fortunately, I had copies of all the installers readily available.  Otherwise it might have been a pain!

(Turns out about a year later I found out the problem was an Nvidia video driver. I replaced the video card with an AMD and that fixed it. That's now a spare, since it's 32-bit.)

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Acronis too much trouble?

I've been using it for years. It's definitely set and forget. If disaster strikes I want my version (not a clean install).

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Not too much trouble !

He did a CD boot, not an install. This program is the best at backup and restore weather a file or complete drive.

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"Just do a clean install"

Yeah ... except that you may run into "program has been installed too many times" and the company only supports the current and 2 most recent versions. Or you have to uninstall it from the crashed system before it will let you reinstall. Or some other such problem.

If all you're installing is Windows and Office 365, it's no big deal. But if you've got a bunch of older or non-mainstream programs, you're screwed if you don't have a full system backup.

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I used to have a method, maybe its still valid

I used Reflect Macrium for a long time with monthly and incrementals and image backups. It was definitely set it and forget it. But then it dawned on me, if this computer dies, the backup formats are tied to that software. It is ancient (10+years) and I did not upgrade so I fear my backup hard drive would be useless. I think I made a recovery drive, but I never really understood what that entailed and how or if a full restore on another system would work that did not have the Reflect (old probably deprecated) software.. Do you have to make recovery drives regularly? I printed out all the restore instructions but I admit it was overwhelming and I probably couldn't find it now if I tried.

When the 1TB drive started to get full, I modified the schedule to be much less frequent just because. Then recently the external hard drive started making a racket so I killed the schedule completely.

Now I am in fear of a crash and loss of data. The computer is now 10 years old -- In good health, but ya never know...) I bought a spiffy new W10 laptop that I haven't configured yet. I need a backup strategy too.

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Still good

Macrium is alive and well. Your backup made with your old version should still work with the latest version.

The recovery medium is not linked to any installed version as it's self contained : You boot from that medium, then it fetch your latest full image backup and restore all the files to the drive, even a new unformatted one : it will format it. It will then look at any incremental backup and update the changed files to their latest versions.

Macrium can be set to automatically make place when the drive become saturated by deleting the oldest backup. You can set a threshold value. A good value is about the size of the drive(s) of the computer.
Anyway, before making a new backup, it check if there is enough space available and will purge old files to make the needed space.

You can restore to a completely different computer if needed, like in the case of a computer destroyed by some accident.

There is no need to make a new recovery drive regularly. It is recommended to make a new one after an update to a new major version update (number before the first dot), not for a minor update (change after any dot).

« Then recently the external hard drive started making a racket so I killed the schedule completely. » Time to retire that one and get a new one. It may die anytime.

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Use a reputable backup application and a BIG extarnal drive

I use Macrium Reflect, but there are several other options, like SecondCopy proposed bu another user. If you are using a Mac or Linux, your choice will differ as not all backup applications are cross platform.

Get an external drive as large as you can. Keep it connected at all times. This is perhaps THE most important point.

You may want to have two external drives that you manually switch periodically, but it's not a requirement. Also, that partly defeat the «set & forget» idea.

Set your chosen backup application so that is create a full image backup every week, and your choice of incremental or differential (if available) updated every day.
A full image backup will contain ALL the files MINUS the page file, the hybernate file, the tmp and temp folders as well as the internet cache as they are volatile by nature and will get re-created as needed. Any unused disk space will not affect the size of the backup.

Any cloud backup service will act as second fail-safe. Nice to have, but not required. If you need more than the basic storage offering, and it's extremely easy to saturate that free storage, that will mean a recurring monthly fee.

The external drive is excellent for full image backups : The OS, ALL installed applications, your settings and personification and user files.

Cloud storage is great for selected folders with files that change often. It's also great to synchronize working files across several devices, like your PC or Mac, tablet, smart phone, ...

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. . .

Dropbox keeps five PC's updated across "the network," Carbonite backs up one to the cloud every night. When I need a new drive I know it takes more time than Macrium Reflect to get you back in shape, but I prefer to start with a clean OS, new Office 365, and re-load my apps. Clean-clean. Happy

Note: Edit by forum admin to remove offensive remark.

Post was last edited on December 5, 2019 2:23 PM PST

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Time Machine

I use Time Machine regularly and then periodically back up the most critical stuff (I don’t really have that much) or things I want to access on other devices at other locations to Dropbox or iCloud.

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Windows File History + Macrium Reflect Free Version

Macrium Reflect free version has a step-by-step to set up a schedule for data backup and also full System Image backup on a schedule. Follow the steps carefully, and Reflect will do those regular backups for you.

Windows "File History" feature will automatically backup all of your data (but not the actual Windows operating system). You can tell it how often to do the data backup, so it's set and forget.

Windows "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)" is still included with Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. It can make a full System Image backup which includes Windows plus all programs and data. But, it doesn't do it on a regular schedule, so it's good to have such a backup but there's no scheduling.

One more thing. Hackers and ransomware have become a danger to your computer even if you're very careful on the internet and careful about not opening suspicious emails. Because of that danger it's best to have an external hard drive (or SSD) that you can connect at backup time then unplug it after the backup is completed. I realize this sort of spoils the whole set-and-forget plan, yet I urge you to consider this for at least the occasional full System Image. By doing so, you can easily restore your system even if some nasty malware or ransomware has destroyed or totally encrypted/locked your data. Just use a repair disk (or a repair USB flash drive) which can reformat or erase the infected / locked system, then connect the external drive and restore from it.

Check out this tutorial for Macrium:
https://www.macrium.com/configuring-a-backup-with-macrium-reflect
Cheers.

Post was last edited on December 5, 2019 2:24 PM PST

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Pay for Macrium

The paid version of Macrium write protects an external drive from anything but Macrium. You don’t have to disconnect it to be safe from ransom ware. It’s set and forget except updates.
Add cloud backup if you want to be safe from theft or fire. Otherwise Macrium is a great choice.

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My computer backup.

I have fast internet connectivity and I use Backblaze for offsite backup. This has saved me several times, but now I have reliable local drives (Western Digital Black) so I worry less. But I keep Backblaze.

Harvey

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Image software is the best

I use paragon from germany. They have a freeware version or did. Even if you have to purchase is worth it. Makes a mirror copy of your drive and nothing is left out. So if malware grabs you or viruses or anything you can restore to a last known backup. It can boot off a usb drive for super serious problems also saving the registry from the last backup. The only issue I had was once I purchased antivirus software and it threw a fit when I needed to restore. So use Microsoft built in or freeware. For laptops it is all you need or if you have a desktop the O/S drive. Have used for many years

Post was last edited on December 6, 2019 4:42 PM PST

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PC Win10 backup on external HD..

My backups are done automatically as full, then daily incremental to an external HD using EaseUS ToDo Home V12 back-up software. I has saved my bacon several times when my Win10 decided to do a belly up on the internal HD.
I restored many times from complete brain dead to the previous or couple of days image from the external HD using this software.
So far so good.
George Zz

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Cobian 10 + Acronis

All four of my machines run Cobian 10 (which I prefer to 11), which is freeware, for all of my files and Acronis to back up the OS. These are set up to run redundantly and automatically to various internal and external hard drives. Setting up all of the drives and backups can take some time (maybe an hour), but I never have to think about it. I prefer Cobian (which makes copies of all files and folder structures) because if I need to revert to an earlier version it's very easy to find it. Everything is backed up every day.

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Acronis

I've been using Acronis backup for YEARS!

What I enjoy about this program is 1) old(er) backup archive files are compatible with any/all future versions. 2) it has/does its own VSS to sort-of "mount" even the system partition/drive -- I have a C:\ and another drive/partition (D:\) -- so it's great that the computer can still be up and running and even used (although I don't suggest doing many things at the same time). 3) it can backup complete HDDs leaving all the partitions intact and in order & untouched. 4) It’s kinda convoluted, but you can even go into an archive file and peruse/copy its contents!

Specifically, I have been using Acronis True Image 2019 Business; but this program requires a purchase.

Good luck to you and hope this helps!

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Acronis saved me many times!

I can't count the times Acronis saved my day! I have been using this program since 2010, updating every two years or so.
Use a 2 tb external drive and a restauration disk. and back up at least once a month.

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Backup Solution

I recommend https://spideroak.com/one/ . You can have a 21 Free trial. This is cloud backup with encryption and only you have the encryption key. Your files are encrypted and "spideroak" employees can't see your files.Lose the "key" and you lose your files.
It's a paid service but I think the rates are reasonable.
This is set and forget, just choose the folders you wish to backup and it will do so automatically.
Some of my clients use this service.

Post was last edited on December 6, 2019 5:39 PM PST

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Hurricane Sandy Taught Me A Few Lessons

Rapid power fluctuations killed my boot and data hard drives. On top of that my last backup was from the previous month. So the lessons learned are...a good ups is your friend and backups are life savers.

My backup solution is Macrium Reflect and I love it. I use the scheduler function to automate a nightly backup of my hard drives to an external 8 TB USB drive. This drive is always connected. Then 3 times a week I do a manual backup to a small, portable 2 TB drive. The only time that drive is connected is for backups. It is small enough, in its own little travel case, that I can grab and go in case of an emergency.

And finally I have my media files on my 6 TB internal drive that I manually sync with a Synology NAS (hooked up to its own ups). The media files don't change that often so doing it manually is not a big deal.

One note about Macrium, If you have it, the first thing you should do is create a bootable flash drive with their "build rescue drive" function.

Post was last edited on December 6, 2019 6:16 PM PST

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Macrium & home theater - Florida too

I'm getting ready to set up a comprehensive back up with Macrium and also to streamline my home theater access, router & remote control access. seems like we have similar interests. Any chance we can find a way/place to chat?
Paul

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Autover or Yadis and Backblaze

I've been using Autover or Yadis (Time Machine-like programs for Windows) for local backup to a NAS, plus Backblaze for cloud storage.

Autover and Yadis required a little babysitting when I first started using them. Things like my browser and Evernote directories and a coupla others had enough activity that they quickly filled up my NAS drives. What I did was mask those out in the main backup task and add a new task for the busy directories with much fewer updates. After a month or so, they've settled down and seem to work fairly well.

One problem with these two programs is that they're abandonware. The author of Autover has at least posted his source on Git. The authors of Yadis haven't decided to do that, yet. I tried a couple of other Time Machine-like programs, like Genie Timeline, but felt their interface got it the way far more than it helped.

I chose Backblaze because I do a lot of amateur sports videos. Carbonite charges a lot more to back up a few TB of videos, where Backblaze is flat rate no matter the size. So, it made economic sense for me. From my research, both of those companies have good reputations.

If I were to start over today, I would probably use Duplicati for the NAS. I'm pretty happy with Backblaze for the cloud. But, I would consider upgrading the NAS at my mom's and using that for remote storage.

In the past I've tried traditional style backup programs with incremental backups, and had really poor luck with them. They got slower and slower until each backup was taking more than 24 hours to complete. I think because the destinations trees had gotten so large. It has been years since I switched over, so I don't know if the extra memory in today's machines would mitigate that behavior.

One thing I've found is that I cannot consistently get stock Windows to map a network drive that requires a sign-in. I've been using Netdrives for years with no problems. I set up a scheduled task to connect a coupla minutes after login, when the Windows network system is up and running.

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