Using belt and braces

Looking back over previous columns, I see it’s been nearly a year since I accidentally formatted my hard drive.

I can’t believe it’s been that long because my wounds are still smarting from that unfortunate incident. One result of the experience is that I have adopted a belt and braces attitude to backups to try and make sure I’m never without a computer I can use and that I don’t lose data again.

2010-06-05_203110   Microsoft SyncToy 2.1

I have written about some of the measures I’ve taken including the acquisition of a Gigabyte netbook computer that can be used if my main machine is ever unavailable, and which has the added bonus that it is portable, so I can Internet in bed.

Another measure I took was to get a large external hard drive to store copies of my data files including my ever-expanding collection of pictures. The unit I eventually chose was a 1 TB Seagate FreeAgent which connects to my computer with a USB cable.

Both computer and drive comply with the USB 2.0 standard which seemed like a miracle in its day, but which now feels quite slow when moving large volumes of data.

The files stored on the drive are all copies and not accessed from day to day, so the slowish speed don’t matter all that much. That doesn’t stop me looking forward to the arrival of USB 3.0, however!

Most of my most vital files are to be found in my personal folder but there are a few programs that store information in other locations, so I make sure that this is regularly copied into the personal folder.

I am currently using a Microsoft program called SyncToy to copy the personal folder to a second hard drive in my computer, and also to the external drive as well. It’s a belt and braces approach which uses up quite a lot of hard drive space but, as I have learnt from bitter experience, it really is better to be safe than sorry.

Using SyncToy is pretty easy and involves setting up one or more folder pairs which is a geekish way of saying that you have to choose a folder to copy from and a folder to copy to.

You have a couple of options when setting up folder pairs which include whether you want to synchronise the original and the copy, or just have the copy as an echo of the original.

The main difference between the options is that, when folders are synchronised, a file deleted in the copy will also be deleted in the original. I prefer to use the echo setting where files in the original are never deleted and any additions and changes in the original are echoed in the copy.

Once your folder pairs are set up, you can click the Preview button and SyncToy will, as a final precaution, give you a list of all the steps that it is going to take in running that job. When you’re happy that all is as it should be, you click Run, and the files will be copied.

The first time the process runs, it may take quite some time to complete if there is a lot of data but, on subsequent occasions, only new and updated files are copied, meaning that the process is much quicker.

SyncToy does not have its own scheduler but you can add it to Windows’ Task Scheduler so that it runs at a particular time each day. I don’t bother and usually start it going when I pack up for the day, leaving it to do whatever it has to do.


4 thoughts on “Using belt and braces

  1. Very interesting. As someone once said” Backup is alway done after a disc crash.One question , I am now using PcDiskClone (standard) and would like to know – what about pregrams downloaded and paid for.

    • James, PC Disk Clone looks interesting. I have been using a similar program called Acronis and will write it up one of these days. Downloaded and installed programs are saved when a backup clone of the hard drive is made. That being said, there are sometimes limits to how often you can download programs from the developer’s website so I make a practice of creating a backup of my downloaded programs on CD-ROM or DVD and storing serial numbers and activation codes in my Gmail archive, as well as on my local machine.

  2. Your articles are always lucid, helpful and most appreciated. A query on your latest `Good Practice’,

    Using Windows Vista Basic, the SyncToy downloading instructions offer two alternatives – 64 and higher but mine is 32 bit.

    [Accordingly I went to and downloaded their older 2.0 as a lead-in but note the 2.1’s instruction warning against using both. ] What need I to do now, please, to benefit from the latest issue?

    • Hi Harold

      I see what happened! The 32-bit version of 2.1 is actually listed as SyncToySetupPackage_v21_x86.exe which is available for download on the page. FYI, x86 is how geeks sometimes say 32-bit.

      If you have installed and run V2.0, it seems that you should run it again just before installing the upgrade because it seems to want all your folder pairs to be synchronised before you upgrade it. You can then install the upgrade but I’d definitely advise you to use the Preview All feature before synchronising again, just in case.

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