HowTo backup your computer

My usualy advice is "use rsync", but Jesse gives some really good advice:

As you can imagine, this is one of those topics that geeks take pride in having long and serious arguments about. Oh wait, that is just about every geek topic (email clients, photo software etc).

So: some recommendations I have for backup workflow (This is just the way I think about this kind of stuff)

  • put all your files into one folder (Don't spread them all over the using Desktop, Documents, Music, Movies, Favorites, etc like the Mac tries to make you do). This makes backups a lot easier. on OSX, everything ends up in /Users/fur (for you). So maybe that is good enough....depends what kind of granularity you want.

  • separate your files into small important files (each file is on the order of kilobytes) and large less important files (each file is on the order of megabytes)

  • I actually separate things into three groups: kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes, because I work with video that is in the gigabyte range and these require special handling

  • Once you have your files separated like this, backing up is straighforward. Your kilobyte files can be copied to:

    • Your unix account at UC (about the safest place in the world for data)
    • Burn to CD-ROM (if you have a burner)
    • Copy to a USB flash drive (cheap and reliable)
    • Copy to an external hard drive (I think you have one already)
  • Your "on the order of megabytes" files can be copied to:

    • CD-ROM or DVD-ROM
    • an external hard drive

I recommend having at least three different copies. For example having two external hard drives and burning CDs. Or you can use one external hard drive, a USB flash drive, and burn CDs.

Finally, doing backups is mostly about personality and discipline. I can talk for hours about backup theory (and I help my mom with backups, etc). But truth is I don't really do backups. Raj is much better about actually doing backups (I think).

Hard drives. Hitachi and Seagate make the most reliable drives. (Note that given the strategies above, it shouldn't matter if the drive dies because you have other backups. But I still like to get good drives.) I would stay away from MaxStor and Western Digital. Unfortunately with FireWire drives, it is often difficult to ascertain who manufactured the drive that is actually in FireWire enclosure (unless the enclosure is branded). So for example I get my external drives from OtherWorld Computing. I don't know what drives they use, but I've had good experiences:

Raj has told me he hates OWC and will never buy from them again...dunno where he buys drives.

USB flash drives (the tiny ones) are cheap and pretty reliable. Probably physically more reliable than hard drives, but they are easier to lose since they are so tiny.

Retrospect and Backup Software: I generally stay away from "backup software" because in the rare event that I do a backup, I want to know exactly what is going on with my files. But that's just the way I am, a lot of people use Retrospect. My general idea with backups is to keep lots of copies of small important files around and understand that if my hard drive crashes I will have to spend a few days rebuilding my system. With Retrospect, you might not have to go through that pain (I don't know for sure). You may also want to look at something called Carbon Copy Cloner.

It's a free program that can clone your entire internal hard drive to an external firewire drive. This means you can actually boot up your powerbook from the extern firewire drive and basically continue computing along as if nothing happened (except of course that there is now this brick of an external hard drive connected to you powerbook):

So there you go. Simple, right? :-)