Nifty Computer Backup Procedures

When it comes to backup I’m pretty anal. I’m not one of those people who learned the “hard way” how important it is to backup data and systems, but learned through others’ mistakes and frustrations.

I’m by no means an expert at this, but I’ve found a system that has worked PERFECTLY for me, and has saved my behind on numerous occasions. Not only has this system saved me from losing data, but has also saved me literally weeks of time, and months of frustration associated with the re-install of applications and settings.

The programs I use for this system are:

Norton Ghost: For complete system backups.
Backer: For backing up / synchronizing specific files & folders.


Weekly: Run Backer (or similar program) to backup most commonly used / edited files.
Backer File Storage: Most recent on second hard drive, next on CD in my briefcase, older CD gets moved to fire safe.

Monthly: Run Norton Ghost (or similar program) to backup the COMPLETE system.
Ghost File Storage: Most recent on second hard drive, next on CD into the fire safe, older CDs to offsite location.


Using Norton Ghost I create a complete system (OS, Programs, Data, Settings) backup. These backups will be used if I encounter: a virus, malicious attacks, physical catastrophe (flood, fire, earthquake, etc.), a bad application, or anything else that causes a negative change in my system that would require a total re-install of the OS, applications, and program settings. I’ve also found that even if there is a fix to some of these problems it is often more effective to simply restore a previous version of my system then to spend hours monkeying around with the problem.

Example: Every month I run Norton Ghost to create an “image” of my complete system. I increment the file names (RL_A.gho and then RL_B.gho, etc.) and save the file to another hard drive. Approximately every 3 months I burn my most recent “image” to CD and put these in a secure “off site” location. I’m compressing the images using the highest compression “z9” and get my 5 GB drive down to 2.7 GB. Each incremented image is documented with information about the system, below is an example of the text file that accompanies my Ghost images (using FileNote).

Contents of RL_E.txt
Ghost file on: 6/6/04
From Last Ghost: RL_D
Original Disk/Data Size: 5.13GB
Total space used for Ghost: 2.7Gb

# of ghost files at split of 699MB each: 5
System running fine
Ghosted prior to Pinnacle Studio 9 installation.
Programs Removed:
MS Plus
Moved PageFile to drive g:/

This more frequent backup is of data that changes often, for example, mail, My Documents, etc. If the system blows up a week before my next “total backup” then I can still use this weekly data and apply it to last month’s “total backup” and only have lost a week of data. I use Backer (which is VERY customizable) to synchronize my data to a second hard drive. I configure Backer and select the folders and/or files I want to synchronize and the “destination” for the files. I have a drive that is devoted to backups and the files are all put in a folder called “Backer”. This drive also has all of my monthly Ghost images.

Example: Every week I click Backer on my desktop. First the program looks to see what files & folders have changed on the “source” since the last backup and then copies ONLY the newly changed files over to the “destination” & then removes “orphaned” files from the backer folder. After the program is done backing up all of my files to the other drive I burn a copy of the backer folder to a CD. I put the new CD in my bag (which I take with me everywhere and allows me quick access to recent files whenever I need them) and take the old CD and put it in a fire safe.

In May I was reading an article on The browser was the only thing running with no other applications or windows. While reading I noticed a bunch of odd flashing boxes down in my toolbar that looked like windows opening and closing. Next thing I knew I was getting popups that said things like, “…. bla bla bla program was just installed, click okay” and “could not install bla bla bla”. I quickly turned off my system and removed the network cable from my PC (so I wouldn’t cause any problems to other computers on my home network). I turned my PC back on to investigate and found that Norton Anti Virus was disabled and uninstalled, and that a bunch of new programs were installed on my PC.

I attempted to re-install Norton AV, but after many attempts, I couldn’t get the application to reinstall. After about 30 mins of monkeying around I decided to go with plan B… restore a Ghost image. Here are the steps I took to get me back to a great working system without any problems.

  1. First I ran Backer to put my most recent files on my backup drive.
  2. Ghosted the “broken” system so I could recover any files that I may have missed using Backer.
  3. Found the most recent Ghost image on my computer and re-installed it.
  4. Used Backer (in reverse) to bring back all the files from my backup drive to the newly “Ghosted” computer.
  5. Updated Windows, Norton AV, and haven’t had a problem since.

Total process time, about an hour. It would have only been about 20 mins. if I left out step #2.

Looking back, even if I could have fixed many of the problems caused by this attack / virus (which I doubt I could have done), I don’t think I could have corrected all the problems / changes to the registry and other files & programs. Thank goodness for Norton Ghost!

This type of situation has happened to me quite a few times before. Most of those times were due to an application I installed or uninstalled that caused my system to go all wonky. Without my backup system here is what I would have had to do multiple times:

  1. Backup all my files (hoping that I still have access to them).
  2. Format the hard drive
  3. Reinstall Windows
  4. Reinstall Office
  5. Reinstall misc. applications
  6. Setup Outlook
  7. Setup all other application
  8. Remember and change about a million personal config. settings.
  9. Restore all my files (hoping that I still have access to them).

Total process time, about a whole day for 1-7 and many weeks / months for 8-9!

I don’t always burn my Ghosted images to a CD for two reasons: 1) because it is time consuming with 5 cds, 2) because I’ve never had a hard drive fail, and if / when one does I’ll only be out a max of a few months of programs & settings, but my most often changed files will be handled on my weekly backups

Update 12/28/07: I no longer use Backer or Norton Ghost as my sync applications.  See my new computer backup process here: New Computer Backup And Restore

Oh, and I’m also using DropBox now to keep backups of my most important files.