Monday, November 19, 2007

When Your Computer Info Vanishes

There is a saying in “geek” circles. “It is not a matter of if your computer hard drive will fail; it is a matter of when it will fail. Few components in today’s desktop computers get more wear and tear than the hard drive and few components are more important. The hard drive in a desk top computer runs whenever the computer is turned on. It adds and deletes information to its “innards” hundreds, even thousands, of times during a single hour of operation. Designers and engineers make them smaller and smaller with their storage capacity larger and larger. The dirty little secret is that this is one of the few components in a computer that is mechanical in nature. That is, it has moving parts. Moving parts break. When they break your information is locked forever in the recesses of this little box with very little probability that it can ever be retrieved, at least for us mere mortals without pocket protectors and with finite pocketbooks.

Not too many years ago when the capacities of hard drives were much less robust, we were forced to remove information stored there in order to have space for new stuff. We may have copied the information on to floppy discs or some other media. Today, when the standard hard drive in the most basic computer can hold enough information to fill a small town library, it is easy to forget about it. You will forget about it at your peril. The drive will fail. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but it will fail.

There are simple things you can do to protect your information. Here are some examples.

If you use your computer to manage your finances and use software like QuickBooks®, Quicken® or Managing your Money®, you can establish a simple routine. Each time you make changes to your data (i.e. pay bills, write checks, do online banking, etc.) go ahead and save your data to the hard drive, but before you exit the program, back up that data. All these software packages have simple back up commands. Once you get into the routine this adds less than a minute to your work.

I suggest that the best media to back up to is a simple CD data disc. Most new computers have a CD drive that will record data to a CD. You must have a blank CD that is formatted to READ and WRITE data. The blank discs will have printed on the package “CD-R/W.” CD-R discs can only be recorded on one time; CD-R/W discs are just like floppy discs or memory sticks, you can record on them many times

The same should be done each year when you do your taxes on your computer. Rather than keeping all the data on the hard drive, copy it to a CD and put it in a safe place. Hopefully you will never need to use it again. If Uncle Sam calls, you will have it ready.

Many of us now use our computers as family photo albums. Again, to have all your photos stored on the hard drive is very dangerous unless you plan to get into the “witness protection program” and don’t want pictures of you to exits. If you group your photos in file directories by date or subject matter, it is an easy task to make copies of those directories on CDs.

There are services that will do all of this for you if you have internet access. We will look at these services and other back up tips next week.

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