Archive for Monday, September 10, 2012


Protect computer files: Decide how to back up photos, presentations and more before it’s too late

September 10, 2012


Dr. Dave talks about computer hard drives

Dave Greenbaum talks about hard drive failures and the importance of backing up your data. Enlarge video

An external hard drive is a cost-effective way to back up important computer files in case of hardware failure, theft, damage or accidental deletion.

An external hard drive is a cost-effective way to back up important computer files in case of hardware failure, theft, damage or accidental deletion.

The inside of a typical computer hard drive is shown. “You have to expect that your computer is going to fail at some point. A good rule of thumb is to replace your computer every 3-5 years,” said David Greenbaum, owner of Dr. Dave Computer Repair Services.

The inside of a typical computer hard drive is shown. “You have to expect that your computer is going to fail at some point. A good rule of thumb is to replace your computer every 3-5 years,” said David Greenbaum, owner of Dr. Dave Computer Repair Services.

When Michael Readinger’s daughter’s laptop died, he thought she had lost everything — years worth of pictures, memories, and schoolwork erased.

“It’s like losing stuff in a fire or something,” Readinger said. “It’s just gone.”

His wife insisted on holding onto the computer, confident that someday someone would be able to recover what was lost. A couple years later, Readinger came across an advertisement for Dr. Dave Computer Repair Services, and a repairman was able to retrieve the files. The Readingers are thankful to have the photos back but now take precautions to prevent future catastrophes.

“We learned a huge lesson,” Readinger said. “We now use an external hard drive to back stuff up so we don’t lose everything.”

Like most people in today’s digital age, Readinger has put a lot of his life on his computer. From photos and documents to music and home videos, a personal computer is a lot more than a piece of technology. It’s a valuable storage facility.

“Living in the digital age, for most people all their important information is on a computer or some sort of electronic device,” said Nicholas Christensen, a counterintelligence agent for the Geek Squad at Best Buy. “You don’t realize how much you have to lose until it’s gone.”

For families, as was the case with the Readingers, some of the most valuable files on a computer are ones that can’t be replicated, such as photos and home videos.

“One aspect of my job that I really hate is giving people bad news and telling them they lost everything,” said David Greenbaum, owner of Dr. Dave Computer Repair Services. “They are usually the most upset about losing pictures.”

Photos aren’t the only valuable files on computers, however. For students, some of the most important information on a computer includes assignments, papers and research.

The Geek Squad in Lawrence sees a lot of hard drive issues and requests for data retrievals around the start of semesters and during finals.

“Around finals time we usually have a few people come in who don’t have a project or a paper backed up and then they’re computer goes out on them,” Christensen said. “People don’t normally think about backing them up until they’re gone.”

Files can vanish for a number of reasons including hard drive crashes, accidental deletion, theft or damage to the computer. While some data recovery experts are able retrieve files when a hard drive crashes, beta recovery can cost several thousand dollars.

“We always recommend backing everything up in advance and to keep an ongoing backup,” Christensen said.

At Best Buy, if the Geek Squad is not able to recover data at the store, they can send it off to a large repair center to do more in-depth recovery. The cost varies depending on the services required.

External hard drives are one way to backup computer files. They range in cost from $75 to $150, but compared to the $3,000 to $5,000 one might pay for recovery, an external hard drive is a cost effective method, Greenbaum said.

Another option when the hard drive crashes is to buy a new computer and transfer the information. At Best Buy, the customer can do this at a discounted rate of about $100 to $150, Christensen said.

Online backup services, such as Carbonite, Mozy, CrashPlan, and Backblaze, are another way to backup computer files. Most of theses services are about $50 per computer a year, with no limitations on how many files can be baked up.

Christensen said he would recommend using an external hard drive in addition to online backup services just to make sure the information is backed up in two places.

“Being prepared is the best offense,” he said. “We recommend getting an external hard drive and keeping everything backed up in at least two locations.”

Despite simple and cost effective backup solutions, some computer users need to be persuaded when it comes to taking the time and effort to backup files, Greenbaum said. Some people perceive their chances of theft or damage to the computer to be pretty low.

That may be true, but even if nothing happens to the computer externally, all hard drives will eventually fail. Laptops in particular tend to see more hard drive issues because they are mobile, Christensen said.

“A 3-year-old computer is like a car with 100,000 miles on it,” Greenbaum said. “You have to expect that your computer is going to fail at some point. A good rule of thumb is to replace your computer every 3-5 years.”

Despite any inconveniences associated with backing up files, Readinger is adamant about backing up photos, documents, and other information, such as taxes. He backs up his files at least every two months.

“Computers age so quickly, so it’s important to keep that process up,” Readinger said. “If you get into the habit of doing it and you keep it up, someday it is going to make the difference for you.”


Tristan Moody 4 years ago

I'm disappointed that the article doesn't mention the free Dropbox service. Also worth pointing out that using an external hard drive for backups won't help you if your house burns down. To be safe, you need to keep a copy of your most important data off-site, like in a bank safe deposit box or a relative's house.

One last comment: video that autoplays that I can't stop? Mega-fail.

Dave Greenbaum 4 years ago

Agreed--online services provide that "off-site" capability. I mention that in the video. Dropbox is a synchronization service and not a true backup since it has the ability to destroy data.

Ken Harris 4 years ago

Dropbox would be good for storing files like school papers, since its biggest advantage is being able to get those files on any device you own. But the size of the free version of Dropbox is fairly limited.

Safety deposit boxes are unrealistic for this kind of data storage. External hard drives and online backup is really the way to go. Whatever you do, it should be something you turn on and forget about. Let it work in the background with little user intervention. That way you won't be stuck because you kept forgetting to hit the "Back Up" button.

Dave Greenbaum 4 years ago

I wouldn't forget about it--I suggest testing it at least three times a year: during the change of the clocks (easy to remember) and the end of the school year.

Tristan Moody 4 years ago

The safe deposit box is for you to put an external hard drive in, not paper, as a low-cost alternative to some of the more expensive online services.

Another good option if you're working with lots of text would be something like GitHub (if you are brave enough to get into git), which maintains complete revision history.

Brandon Devlin 4 years ago

Backing up data is only half of the issue. . .you also need to be sure that you can recover the data as well. It's frustrating to lose data you need due to hardware failure. . .it's even worse to know where it is, and not be able to get to it.

Dave Greenbaum 4 years ago

Very very true. Always test your backups (see above comment)

Kate Rogge 4 years ago

I'm a photographs archivist, and I recommend that you PRINT the very best of your digital photographs (make more than one print of the best, if you can afford it, and store an archival copy set in a separate location). Digital files fail, and digital file storage and software readers/editors will always become obsolete. But paper photograph prints, even those of digital images printed in ink, will outlast any technology (just as paper prints of data files are more stable and more likely permanent than digital files of that same data).

Maintain your digital files, but when every image you have is only digital, you are wholly at the mercy of digital instability and obsolescent storage hardware/software. You can commit yourself, as archives do, to carefully migrating digital files from one storage media and system platform to the next, and even from one digital format to a more stable format (e.g., TIFF and RAW), on a strict schedule, but unless digital data preservation is a part of your business operation, all it takes is time for you, or your children, to forget to migrate your files (or how and why to do it, come to that) in a timely manner, and they are unrecoverable (consider what 7" and 3.5" floppy disk files you can access now).

Dave Greenbaum 4 years ago

Awesome comment. I actually recommend the same for important written documents such as your thesis. In an emergency it can always be retyped. Unless you keep up with technology, your archives may not be usable. Just ask NASA

Dave Greenbaum 4 years ago

However they do fail and that doesn't prevent against theft or other disaster. A backup is still required.

Dave Greenbaum 4 years ago

That would certainly be VERY quick and for a small amount of data ideal. I'd still recommend an off-site backup service as an extra level of protection.

tomatogrower 4 years ago

Ever see the Shoe cartoon? One of the birds is observing Evard Munch's Scream, and he goes "That reminds me. I need to backup my computer."

LadyJ 4 years ago

My daughter e-mails herself any important stuff, especially papers she is writing. My son had two back up hard drives, both of which broke within a couple of days of each other.

begin60 4 years ago

Thanks for this informative article.

uzeziq 4 years ago

I was never really concerned about backing up my files but this article really made me see the need to do so. I did some surfing and I came across this great site that helps people back up their PC and you can always retrieve your information anytime, anywhere. You can check it out here I hope this is helpful.

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