In the famous words of Joni Mitchell, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Unfortunately for many home computer customers, not having a reliable data backup solution is a painful lesson to learn. As we all become increasingly dependent on our digital files, having a copy, or multiple copies, of those files is a crucial element of keeping your data safe. The data on your computer or mobile device can disappear in an instant - succumbing to accidental deletion, corruption, malware encryption or theft. The best way to prepare for a data disaster event is to make sure that you have a workable, reliable and verifiable backup solution in place.
A Workable Backup Solution
The first thing that you need to do when considering backing up your data is to find a solution which works for you. People use their computing devices differently, and therefore a backup solution should work with your computing experience. Are you the type of person who prefers to control exactly when you backup your data or would you rather "set it and forget it"? Do you prefer having your data close by, say on an external hard drive, or would you rather have it available 24x7 via the Internet? Does your data reside on just one computer or on multiple devices? Answers to these questions will help you decide on the best backup solution for your situation.
4 Key Elements that Every Backup Scheme Should Have
Your backup needs to be automatic. Life is too busy for most of us to consistently remember to start backing up our data. Most backup software and services, though, can be scheduled to start automatically. Some programs even backup instantly every time a file is added or changed. Don't let it be your job to remember to plug in a storage device or to kick off a backup routine. Let your chosen solution take care of that work for you. Your backup should be verifiable. Many people have a backup plan in place, but unfortunately not many have a restore plan in place. If you are not sure whether or not you can successfully recover the files that you have supposedly backed up, then you don't have a backup plan! Part of your backup routine needs to be periodic testing to make sure your backups are valid. This may be doing something as simple as restoring one of your files or folders to an alternate location on your computer. If you can regularly successfully restore files from your backup when you don't necessarily need them, then chances are better that you will be able to restore them when you do need them.Your backup should Include versioning. It may not be enough to have just one copy of each of your files. As many who have been hit by the Cryptolocker infection have discovered, backup solutions which don't keep multiple copies of files as they are changed are susceptible to being overwritten by malware. Therefore, it is important that your backup solution allows you to restore copies of your files from various points in time in the past.Your backup should be secure. Do you keep thousands of dollars under your mattress because you feel it's more secure than keeping your money in a bank? Many people follow a similar strategy when it comes to protecting their data. Don't assume that your data is secure just because you have a copy of it on an external hard drive attached to your computer. Hard drives can fail at any moment, can be stolen or can fall victim to a virus or a power surge. However, cloud-based backup solutions are, for the most part, much more secure than onsite backups. Most offsite backup solution providers keep their customers' data in tier 1 data facilities with multiple levels of security controls, encryption, environmental protection and co-location. It is safe to say that your data is better protected in one of these "data banks" than under the proverbial mattress in your home.
Backup Solutions that We Recommend
Sarasota Home Computers as two different backup solutions that we recommend. We offer two solutions because each of them is able to cater to the different backup needs of our customers. The first solution that we offer is Carbonite. This backup company has been in the business longer than most of the others, and it has a reputation for simple, affordable backup services for residential customers. Carbonite's user interface is very easy to understand, and customers are able to determine whether or not their data is secure just by looking at the file names on their computers. Carbonite offers unlimited backup for your home computer for just $60.00 per year, which breaks down to $5.00 per month.
The second backup solution that we offer is based on SOS Online Backup and is a Managed Backup Solution. While the cost per gigabyte is more than Carbonite, our Managed Backup allows you to protect an unlimited number of devices (PC's, Macs, Smartphones, tablet devices) under the same plan. Therefore, if you are a household with multiple computers and mobile devices, this backup solution would probably work better for you and would be cheaper in the long run than Carbonite. Furthermore, Managed Backup is monitored and tested regularly. That is, we will take on the responsibility of making sure that your devices are being backed up and that your data is able to be restored when needed. The cost for Managed Backup is $10.00 per month for 20 gigabytes. Additional storage is available for just 50 cents per gigabyte.
Both of these backup solutions provide automatic, scheduled backups to a secured data center, easy restoration procedures, versioning (Managed Backup includes unlimited versioning) and 24x7 access to your files from anywhere via the internet.
Making sure that your data is backed up securely is not a difficult task in today's world. However, it does take a bit of planning and initiative on the front end. However, when a data disaster strikes, you will be glad and grateful that you have a solution in place.
One of the common frustrations among home computer users is that their computers tend to gradually slow down over time. For some computer owners, it is this frustration which eventually drives them to go out and buy a newer, presumably faster computer and set their old one aside. The assumption is that computers just slow down over time and that there is little that you can do to prevent it or deal with the problem. What many people fail to acknowledge, however, is that computers are machines. Like all machines, they require maintenance in order to run optimally. We will explore some of the common reasons that computers run slowly and hopefully clear up some misconceptions.
Hardware or Software?
When troubleshooting the reason that your computer has slowed to a crawl, there are two major areas to explore: hardware, or physical components of your computer (including the hard drive, memory, power systems, etc.) as well as software, including the operating system and all programs installed on your computer. Either of these two major areas, or both, could be contributing to system latency. In this article, we will explore the hardware issues which can cause computer system problems. The hard drive on a desktop or laptop computer is the primary storage location for all software programs as well as user data (pictures, documents, videos, etc.). The older style hard drives have a platter which spins at a very fast rate (either 5400 or 7200 revolutions per minute) and a magnetic medium on which your data is stored. Like any machine with moving parts, the magnetic heads can come into contact with the platter, causing data loss or catastrophic failure of the hard drive. These failures can theoretically occur at any time, whether the hard drive is new or old. Sometimes the hard drive fails without warning, and sometimes it begins to accumulate bad sectors, parts of the hard drive which cannot be read. If this happens, the computer may begin to slow to a crawl because it is attempting to read (and perform data correction routines) from these bad sectors. Though some disk utilities can buy you time, when these symptoms occur, it is best to back up your data to another location and replace the hard drive. The computer's RAM or Random Access Memory, is another potential point of failure on a home computer. Though these types of faults occur less often than hard drive failures, the Windows Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) can sometimes be caused by faulty RAM. This type of failure, though, is relatively cheap to replace. Also, because there is no data permanently stored on the RAM modules, no software will have to be re-installed when replacing RAM. While there are some basic diagnostic tests which a home computer can use to check on these two hardware components, hardware diagnosis is often best left to professional computer technicians who have a full slate of tools and skills to determine the source of the problem. If your computer is running significantly slower than it did when you bought it, you may want to consider making an appointment to have us take a look at your system to help you understand what the underlying issue is.In our next article, we will explore the common software issues which can slow down a computer.
One question that we receive often from customers is some variant of the question, "what kind of computer should I buy?" There is no simple answer, as the variables to consider in a computer purchase are as many as the options available to consumers. In fact, consumers have never had as many options as they do now when it comes to purchasing a computing device. Not only can you choose between a desktop and a laptop, but you can also consider a tablet device or even a mobile phone. In the next couple of articles, we will attempt to lay out for you the things which are important to consider when making your next computer purchase.
What's Most Important to You?
Before you begin to look at all of the options which are out there, you need to answer a few questions for yourself which will help to guide your purchase. What are the three or four things that you need or want to be able to do on your "computer" (in the broad sense of the term, including all of the device types listed above)? Do you mainly want or need to browse on the internet? send and receive email?
Do you want to view & edit photos and/or video? Do you have software programs which have specific hardware or operating system requirements? Do you want to be able to play certain games which will need hardware resources to support it? As you prepare to go shopping, jot down the top 4 things you will be doing on your new device.
To Go Mobile or Not to Go Mobile?
That is the question of our age! Today's laptops and ultrabooks are lighter, faster and hold much more data than ever before. These features make them ideal for folks who need computing power on the go. Likewise, many people are finding that much of what they do online (such as web surfing, email, sending pictures & texts & reading eBooks) can be accomplished from a tablet device. Wireless hotspots are now becoming so widespread that you can get online virtually anywhere. Another question that you need to consider is how important is it for you to be able to take your computer with you.
It happens every day. A computer goes down and will not come up again. Sometimes the issue is a common hard drive failure. Sometimes it is a virus infection which has rendered the operating system unusable. Sometimes it is a hardware failure such as a motherboard or a power supply. Whatever causes a computer system to crash, it can be a frustrating and expensive issue to deal with, especially if your computer knowledge is limited.
The first thing that you need to do when you realize that your computer has died is not to panic. A computer is a machine, and like any machine, it may be able to be fixed. Some issues, such as a power supply or other hardware failure, can be dealt with by purchasing and installing a replacement. Other issues may be resolved more easily than you think if your computer is in the hands of a trained technician.
One of the best ways to recover from a system crash is to prepare for it before it ever happens. Here are some commonsense steps that you need to take in advance to make the inevitable system crash a little bit less painful.
1. Invest in a good power management system. Many folks assume that they can just plug their computer into a wall outlet or a cheap power strip and their expensive electronic equipment will be just fine. In reality, power fluctuations, a power surge or even a power outage can cause data loss and computer component failure. Your best bet is to invest in a combination Uninterruptable Power Supply and surge protector. A device such as this sells for around $60-70 and will go a long way toward protecting your computer and other peripherals from electrical mishaps. You can even configure your computer to close all programs and shut down automatically when it senses that the battery back-up system on the UPS is almost exhausted.
2. Back up your data. Many home computer users know that they are supposed to back up the data on their computers, but many users either forget to do this, they don’t know which files to back up or they don’t back up often enough to ensure that their data is truly protected. I suggest the following backup strategy:
a. Once you have your computer configured the way that you want (i.e. all programs installed and functioning the way that you like), create an image of your hard drive. A drive image is a 1 for 1 snapshot of all of the data, including the operating system, stored on the hard drive of your computer. It used to be that you needed to use a 3rd party program, such as Norton Ghost, to create a disk image. However, with the advent of Windows 7, you can create a system image right within Windows 7 itself. Check out the link below for further details and step-by-step instructions on how to do this.
How to Create a Windows 7 System Image
In Windows 7 a system image can be saved to either multiple DVD’s or (better) an external hard drive. It would be best to create a system image about once per month in order to keep it fairly current. You can even schedule a regular system image backup on your Windows 7 machine.
b. Subscribe to an online backup service, such as Carbonite or SOS Online Backup. These services will automatically backup your documents, music, pictures and other “irreplaceable” files that you designate. The files will be stored in encrypted form in a protected data center away from your home. In the event that disaster strikes, you can rest assured that your data is safe and can be retrieved when needed.
For example, if the hard drive on your computer crashed and you had the above backup strategy in place, you would simply need to do the following:
Though a bit time consuming, this strategy pretty much guarantees that you will be able to restore your hard drive pretty much to the state that it was in before the crash.
- Buy & install a new hard drive of equal or greater size than your original. (Installation of desktop hard drives is a fairly easy task these days, usually plugging in just a couple of wires.)
- Boot your system from a Windows 7 repair disk. (You are given the option to create this when you create a system image.) Restore your backup image to your new hard drive (this usually takes between 30-40 minutes)
- Restore your files from your online backup service. Each service has instructions on how to do this that are pretty straightforward.
3. Call a knowledgeable friend or a reliable onsite computer service if you get stuck. If you’re not quite sure how to do something, you don’t have the time to do something or you just need a hand, don’t hesitate to make a call. It can save you time, money and frustration in the long run. Most reputable computer shops or onsite service providers will be more than happy to give you free advice over the phone. Sometimes having a second set of eyes or ears available to examine the issue can help you to find the root cause and/or the best course of action to take.
If your computer is more than 4 or 5 years old, you may find that it is more cost effective in the long run to replace your crashed computer rather than spending the money to replace parts and/or have it repaired. Each situation is unique, though, and it never hurts to get some advice from one or more professionals. While you can’t predict if and when your computer will ever crash, you can take steps in advance to protect your system and secure your data. Then, if the worst happens, you will be ready.