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Upcoming EventsWednesday FEBRUARY 26, 2014 Meeting
9:15 AM Set up your computer
9:30 AM Lesson
10:30 AM One on One help
Large Selection of Free Backup Utilities from Gizmo
by Ira Wilsker
Recently I was the speaker for the monthly meeting of the Golden Triangle PC Club (gtpcc.org), discussing the importance of regular backups, free software that provides backup services, and choices of backup media and services. I cannot over stress the importance of creating and maintaining regular backups of critical files, as it is not a question of "if" a hard drive will fail, but "when" will it fail, possibly taking all of your data and files with it.
I started my presentation with a discussion of backup media and services, including external hard drives, and remote "in the cloud" based backup storage. I showed the assembled crowd some current ads for external hard drives on sale at
local stores, with capacities up to 3TB, all for under $100, with fully capable, high capacity external hard drives currently available locally for as little as $49. These external hard drives connect to the computer (desktop or laptop) via a USB cable, and are generally a fast and generally reliable way to create and maintain backups of the hard drive. An external hard drive is very portable by nature; when evacuating for a series of major hurricanes (Rita and Ike), the first item I packed was my freshly updated external drive.
There are also several services available that can store users' data "in the cloud", meaning on remote servers, typically through a broadband internet connection. Some cloud backup providers offer several gigabytes of free storage space, which is adequate for safely and securely storing important data files at remote locations. Some examples of this free service include Google Drive (drive.google.com) and Microsoft SkyDrive (skydrive.live.com). According to Google, "Google Drive lets you store up to 15GB of your stuff for free, access them from anywhere, and collaborate with others. One safe place for all your stuff. Upload photos, videos, documents, and other files that are important to you to Google Drive." Microsoft's SkyDrive is similar, but starts at 7GB of free storage. There are several other providers of cloud storage that offer a wide range of storage capacities and fees, many of which offer free starter accounts with storage capacities on par with what is offered by Google and Microsoft.
There are some obvious advantages and disadvantages of using a cloud storage service for very large size backups. While most are nominally priced, often comparable to amortizing an external hard drive over a normal life cycle, and are readily available across of wide range of devices (computers, smart phones, tablets), the problem is the time necessary to perform a backup and restore. While a typical direct USB connection to an external drive is fast, with USB 2.0 providing an effective speed up to 35 MB/second, and USB 3.0 compatible systems providing an effective throughput of 500 MB/second (source: Wikipedia), most household internet upload speeds are much slower. According to published information, most upload speeds on the popular cable internet service providers are in the 1MB to 2MB/second range, with a few high cost premium plans being somewhat faster, but still generally below USB direct connect speeds. Generally, the upload speeds available to most DSL users is much slower than the upload speeds available over common cable internet connections, but some of the new fiber optic internet connections are starting to offer far superior upload speeds to cloud storage systems; these new fiber connections are still mostly slower than an external hard drive connected directly to a computer via USB. Broadband users of cloud storage systems also need to be aware that some ISPs (Internet Service Providers) cap the volume of data that can be used in a month, either "throttling down" the speed once the cap is reached, or charging significant extra fees for the added data. Users should also be aware that routine internet use may be substantially slowed as backup data is being uploaded.
As far as software utilities to automate and ease the backup process, there are many titles available commercially (paid) with varying features and prices, as well as a good assortment of free backup utilities. Most of the newer external hard drives also come bundled with backup software, often already on the drive, that can quickly be installed on the computer; these software products provided are usually "light" or customized versions of some of the major name brand commercial backup utilities.
The user should decide which types of backups should be performed, as the various software products, both paid and free, offer different types or combinations of backups. Some users prefer a disk image, sometimes called a "clone", "shadow", or "mirror image" of the hard drive. This is a bit by bit copy of the entire hard drive stored on external media, most often another hard drive of some type (internal or external). In the event of a catastrophic hard drive failure, or just simply wanting to totally restore a hard drive to a previous state, this image file can be easily installed, with the finished product being identical in all aspects to the original. Almost all of the backup utilities offer the user the option to immediately upon the installation of the backup software, create a bootable CD or USB flash drive which can be used to boot the computer, and allow the reinstallation of the stored image, even if a blank, new hard drive has been installed.
Many users prefer a file backup, where data files are frequently or continuously backed up to the chosen media (external hard drive or cloud storage), often almost concurrently with the files being saved and written to the original hard drive. Some backup utilities also offer the option of keeping different versions or "iterations" of a file; the real-time backup utility that I am running as I type this can save up to 10 sequential copies of each critical data file, replacing the oldest stored versions of a file with newer versions on a "FIFO" (first in - first out) basis. As my files are stored in "native" or standard formats, I can easily read or open files directly from my external hard drive without the need to go through a backup utility. A variation of this method is "incremental", where a full backup is initially created, with the backup software automatically backing up any new or changed files. Other options are frequently offered by many of the backup utilities.
Gizmo, and his volunteer group of "community" software evaluators, have compiled a listing of the top rated backup utilities. Several members of this all volunteer community have tested these products, and posted their aggregate evaluations on the website, techsupportalert.com. Under the category heading "Best Free Hard Drive Backup Program" (techsupportalert.com/best-free-hard-drive-backup-program.htm), one freeware program, Comodo Backup, won "Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!" with a perfect score of 5 out of 5 on its community evaluations. The reasons for this top rating, according to the evaluators, are, " Offers Shadow Copy, incremental and differential backup, seven levels of encryption, unrestricted features. Short 3 step process." This is basically an "all-in-one", fully functional utility that can perform all of the major backup tasks, plus can encrypt the backups if desired. Available for free download as "unrestricted freeware" directly from the publisher at backup.comodo.com/download-buy.php, this 24.3MB download is available for older 32-bit machines, and newer 64-bit computers. Comodo Backup will run on all recent Windows operating systems including Windows XP with SP2 (service pack 2), Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Server 2003 and 2008. The other highly regarded backup utilities rated by the community include Backup Maker (Personal Edition), FBackup, AOMEI, and EaseUS Todo Backup.
Some users prefer to make an image copy or "clone" of a hard drive for archival and recovery purposes, or for the purpose of creating identical content on multiple machines. Users must be aware that a single installation of Windows is licensed to be used only on a specific machine, and not on multiple machines. Users who want to legally create multiple clones of computers, such as businesses, schools, and PC builders, must obtain a Microsoft license allowing the process, otherwise there may be stiff legal consequences, as well as functional issues, if the clones are not properly licensed. For those who want to create legal clones, such as an archival copy for recovery purposes, or licensed new computers, Gizmo has a selection of cloning software under the heading "Best Free Drive Cloning Software" at techsupportalert.com/best-free-drive-cloning-software.htm.
The top rated cloning software, according to Gizmo's community is Macrium Reflect Free, which had the top 5 star rating, and was selected as, "Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!" The community summary of Macrium Reflect Free's advantages were summarized by the community as, "Very easy to use and fast. can restore individual files, works with Linux files systems, ability to clone hard drives--including the working system partition, schedule backups easily, very stable and reliable, great compression of backup images, can convert to vhd virtual format, includes WindowsPE recovery. Best of category in frequency of updates." The listed cons, or negatives about this product are much in line that it is intended more as a cloning product, and not a traditional comprehensive backup utility. The community negatively commented about this, "No incremental or differential backups, no file/network support-only in non-free edition." The free version is a small program, only 2.2MB, and can be downloaded directly from majorgeeks.com/files/details/macrium_reflect_free_edition.html. Macrium Reflect Free will run on both 32 and 64-bit systems running Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8.
Other tested and rated disk cloning programs are Backup & Recovery 2013, Free Drive Image XML, Clonezilla, and PING (PartImage Is Not Ghost). Links to these other programs are on the "Best Free Drive Cloning Software" web page.
With the wide assortment of free and commercial automated backup utilities, and the ready availability of reasonably priced backup media and services, there is no reason not to have and maintain a contemporary backup. If you remember that the three most important words in computing are, "Backup!, Backup!, and Backup!", you may not have to worry about Murphy's first law of computing, "A properly backed up hard drive will never fail; but the first time there is not a current backup, it will always fail at the most inopportune time!" Better safe than sorry - real sorry.
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