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10 PROVEN TIPS TO SURVIVE A COMPUTER CRASH

10 PROVEN TIPS TO SURVIVE A COMPUTER CRASH
By Eve Abbott, excerpted from her new book, How to Do Space Age Work with a Stone Age Brain TM

COMPUTER CRASH
Do these words strike fear into you? If not, maybe they should! A computer crash is at best time consuming and expensive, and at worst a genuine business disaster. Here are things you can do now to prevent a crash and/or insure a smooth recovery whether you use your computer at work or for your personal life-or both, like me!

The first rule in minimizing computer disasters is backup. The second rule in easier data recovery is BackUp. The third rule in computer organizing is BACKUP. I am astounded at the number of people (in large and small businesses) who do not back up their work regularly. Without good backups, you risk losing everything if your hard drive goes belly-up.

Start by setting all of your programs to save automatically after 2 minutes. This will protect your work against temporary freeze-ups and unplanned shutdowns.

Second, plug your computer, monitor, and other electronic equipment into a UPS Battery Backup unit to protect it from power surges and outages. A unit like this one will give you 5 minutes to save your work and shut down your computer normally if the power goes out.

Then-BACK UP! (If you're not sure what the best way to back up is, keep reading.)

I bought a brand new Hewlett Packard Pavilion XP system and began to back up weekly. Seven months later, I returned from making a cup of tea to hear my computer going click-click-click loudly. My hard drive had just crashed for no reason at all. As is often the case, I lost everything on it.

I felt confident because I had my data backed up by copying my entire working C-drive onto a CD-but even with backups, and even if your computer is still under warranty, let's get realistic about how much time and money a crash can end up costing you.

It took four days for me to get the special shipping box HP sent me to return the computer. They replaced the hard drive, and it was returned within 10 business days at no charge for repair and shipping. This still adds up to three weeks without my computer.

First, I rented a laptop and spent hours installing the programs I normally use. Laptop rental cost me $250.00 for one month, with a $500 refundable deposit. I could have rented a desktop system for a little less per month, but I would have had to wait a week to get the computer. It was great to have the laptop to use until my repaired computer arrived. But, I had to go through the same restoration process again when it was returned with a new hard drive. More time lost and more frustration, too.

Second, I spent hours importing my data from backup CDs. I still lost almost a week's worth of data (Quicken entries, Word documents, calendar and contact information) because that's how long I go between backups.

Third, I spent hours recreating the custom settings on my software. Fourth, I had to install some smaller programs that I'd forgotten I would need.

THE DAMAGE:
Sometimes data can be recovered from a dead drive, depending on what has caused the crash. Professional data recovery services charge from $500 to $1500 to get your data back, and you have to pay whether or not they recover anything.

You can find more information about data recovery services at http://www.drlabs.com/pricing.html and http://www.dtidata.com/data_recovery.asp.

I paid $1,000.00 in computer consultant fees to get the laptop set up, and my computer taken apart and set up again to get it running A-OK. That's apart from data recovery costs, which my backups saved me from having to pay.

The grand total: $1,250.00 and 7 days in lost time.
Pretty expensive considering that I had all my current data backed up onto CDs.

BACKUP OPTIONS

There are many ways to back up information. Diskette, CD, Zip drive, External hard drive and Web (on-line). I will not discuss tape drive backups simply because tape media is unreliable and awkward compared to newer technologies. If you have more than one computer, you can back up from one to another via network drives-but that only protects you in the event that disaster strikes one machine at a time.

There are four questions you need to ask yourself regarding your back-ups:

1) How critical is your data? (My business and life are on my hard drive = critical)
2) Do you add or process high volumes of information?
3) In what time frame do you add enough to make it a real loss? (day, week, per project)
4) Do you work with very large files of any type?
The more information you process or add to your computer hard drive, the more often you need to back up. For high volume or crucial files you need to backup daily.

Diskette:
There is the small file backup onto diskette. For example, you just entered a lot of Quicken data and you don't want to take a chance on losing it but you don't want to do a full back up, or you have a single Word file, just pop it on a diskette. Remember to label any and all backup media with contents and date.

ZIP drives and disks:
ZIP drives and disks can work well for back ups of larger projects. I had a client who was an author and she kept one ZIP disk for each of her books, which contained every file related to the book - not just the text. If you are satisfied using a ZIP drive and disks for your data storage - don't change to another media. Note: many more people have CDs than zips, so if you need to share data you may need to switch to CDs.

CD:
In the same way you archive paper every year after taxes (along with a backup of your accounting program and data), consider backing up entire projects onto CD when you're finished. This keeps the data available and safe, without cluttering your hard drive. You can file a project closeout CD with the matching archived paper files. Or keep a variety of backups in a CD organizer (date labeled) divided up into Projects, Backups and Programs.

The backup CDs I use are 'data only' to safeguard important information in case a problem develops in between system backups. If you are going to archive (e.g., taxes) and may not access the backup for a long time - go with CDs. CDs are more stable, and you are less likely to run into trouble with irretrievable data. Always use premium brand-name CDs (or other media). Discount media is more likely to fail.

Disk 'Cloning':
For $70 or less, you can back up your entire drive (operating system, programs and data) using "disk cloning" software (Norton Ghost, Paragon Drive Backup, or PowerQuest Drive Image. You can store this "image" of your drive on removable media like CDs and ZIP disks, on tape, or on an external hard drive.

You'll still have to spend a lot of time doing the backups and most people will end up with a set of at least 10 CDs for each backup, since the copy of your drive will take up about 50% of the storage space as your drive itself. (That's not the size of your whole drive, just the part you have filled up.)

You can get more information about disk cloning software at:
http://www.powerquest.com/driveimage/
http://www.symantec.com/sabu/ghost/ghost_personal/
http://www.acronis.com/products/trueimage/
http://www.drive-backup.com/

Web:
There are on-line services (e.g., www.connected.com) which will automatically back up your computer (either totally or just the changed files). This backup and restore option is limited only by the speed of your connection to the internet. Some people leave their computer on all night to do the backups. The reverse process will be more complicated, because you cannot restore directly from the web. Many information technology and graphics professionals use web services because of the massive files they process each day.

Your backup files are stored on their server. This is good because it is off-site in case of disaster recovery. Unfortunately, your data is only as secure as the server it is on. I don't use this option, because I don't think there is any function on the internet that is as secure as doing it myself and keeping control over all the data at all times. If you don't use massive files, you don't need it.

External Hard Drive (XHD):
I chose this option after my crash disaster because I can recreate my entire system without the wasted time of restoring my operating system and settings, downloading programs and data from backups, and resetting application customizations, etc.

An external hard drive ($200) with 'disk cloning' software lets you put your entire drive onto your backups. If you don't use the ghosting software you can only put programs, and data backups onto the external hard drive, not the operating system itself. The ghosting software will enable you to make a 'boot disk' just for restoring from the external hard drive to your main computer.

This option will allow you to completely restore your computer, if necessary (with no hard drive damage). Or, install a new hard drive on your computer and then restore immediately.

Just plug the external hard drive into the computer and start the backup, which verifies the data. Then, you unplug the external hard drive. This takes about fifteen minutes total for my backups. After backing up, I store the XHD in the trunk of my car (in a laptop case for protection). Even if the house burns down I still have my entire computer capability just outside in my car.

First, put an XHD ghost of just your operating system and programs with all the custom settings. Second, do a ghost of your entire system (operating system, programs and data). Third, do regular working drive data backups. Make sure any programs you ever use are in the second XHD backup, and/or in your working hard drive for your 'regular maintenance' backups.

I can get a new computer, copy everything I need and get to work. One possible downside to this; if you have to 'recover' on a new computer with a new system (different configuration and drivers), you will have trouble using the restored system until you reload the correct drivers and eliminate the 'old' ones.

Backup, BackUp, BACKUP!
So, how can you combine these different backup choices to work in your particular situation?
Take the simplest method that will safeguard your information. If all you need is a diskette file box for backups - great!

I use the XHD once a week for a programs and data backup. In between I use diskettes or CDs, depending on the size of the files and how long I want to maintain them. There is enough room on my XHD to put 4 total system-program-data backups of my entire XP system into it. Once, you've done an operating system backup, unless you change your configurations or programs, you don't need to do it again. For regular maintenance, do your working 'data' drive.

If you do nothing, you are guaranteed to have a disaster sooner or later. Choose what works best for you and set a reminder to BACKUP as often as you need to stay sane when it does happen.

For more time saving tips go to http://www.organize.com
Copyright 2005 Eve Abbott. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Copyright, Eve Abbott All Rights Reserved. The Organizer Extraordinaire's new book "How to Do Space Age Work with a Stone Age Brain" TM is available online at http://www.organize.com Sign up for more time-saving tips. Enjoy free brain quizzes to help you work at your personal best! Eve’s guide is the first book to offer easy, online assessments that will help you make your own personal organizing solutions match your individual work style.

Written by: Eve Abbott, the Organizer Extraordinaire

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