Backup your PC!!!

Earlier in the week I was doing some very demanding stuff on the home PC, so I went out and bought some more RAM for it. This would give me a 1 GB pig pen for all the software to play in.


After fitting the new RAM I had a series of crashes, resulting in some pretty serious corruption of the hard drive.

After a fruitless night spent trying to get it working, I gave up and reverted to the backup.

My backup is a 100% image of the main disk, so out with the screwdriver and 3/4 hour spent swapping hard drives had me back in business, though with 6 weeks data lost.

Now I’m picking through the corrupted drive selectively trying to pull back that missing 6 weeks….

And later I have to try and find which module is busted, and then go fight with the shop I bought it from…



(Note: This advice is not good enough for a corporate PC)


Most backup programs and processes for home PC’s SUCK big time. They only do a portion of your disk – maybe your user files. Very few do your registry entries, and even fewer do all the installed programs. Even those that do, tend to do so badly or incompletely, or assume you do not suffer a total loss.

If you ever have to restore based on your hazy memory of all that stuff you’ve downloaded and installed over the years, you’d know how hit and miss this can be.

I STRONGLY recommend everybody do what I do:

Buy an external USB 2 drive case (about $50 to $100 – eBay can be a bit hit and miss). Do NOT buy one with a drive in it.

Next, buy an IDENTICAL drive (same manufacturer and model number) drive to what you run in your PC, and put that into your external drive case.

(At this step, you may not be able to buy what you already use if it is a bit on the old side. In that case you have a much more complex job requiring purchase of 2 new drives, and a complex migration process to get everything onto the new bigger drive, and to get that installed…)

Then, use software like Paragon Drive Copy (which I was able to get as a free download) to periodically make a 100% duplicate of your entire main drive to your USB drive.

Do this about every 4 weeks.

It will take a while – duplicating my 80 GB drive takes about 1.5 hours. Live with it.


Backup up important data (like digital photos, letters, important downloads, etc) to other media, like a rewritable CD or DVD.

Try and do this WEEKLY.

This backup won’t wave you from every ill… If you end up with data corruption of any kind you will just duplicate it – so check you main drive for errors now and again.

What this backup process does, though, is to save you from much pain and suffering in the event of a total loss.


I’ve been doing this from paranoia on 2 PC’s for the last 12-18 months, and now it has literally saved me. Only trouble is, I was not paranoid enough and did not do the full backup frequently enough.

6 weeks of lost info includes a lot of digital photos, a whole stack of SWMBO’s study material, tax records, home budgeting, and more. It looks like I’ll be able to get about 95% of this back from the stuffed drive, so I have been lucky.


Paragon drive copy does not work for me because I have 4 main hard drive partitions with different file systems, for booting Windows XP as well as Linux. Paragon drive copy barfs for some reason when copying some of the Linux stuff (it is meant to work, but fails).

Here is the happy hackers way to do a 100% copy if you have Linux (ideal for a micro-linux booting off a Flash drive or separate hard drive partition):

1. Boot into Linux, in single user mode. Make sure your USB hot-plug support is running (it is by default on most). To boot in single user mode, you need to put the word “single” without the quotes onto your boot line. If using GRUB to boot, use the “e” key to edit the boot line.

2. ASSUMING your main hard drive is hda, and your usb drive is sda, then enter the command (change as appropriate if your devices are called different things):

dd if=/dev/hda of=/dev/sda bs=100M

3. Wait for this command to complete – it will take a while – bigger drives take longer – 80GB will be 1-2 hours.

4. Shutdown linux (use the halt command).

5. Unplug your USB hard drive and lock it up somewhere secure.

The “dd” command above is used to copy pretty much anything to anything. It’s been in unix for a long time (I don’t know what “dd” stands for – it seems awfully similar to the old IBM MVS JCL “DD” statement….)

The command copies from the input file (”if=”) which specifies the entire device “hda”, to the output file (”of=”), which is the entire target drive. The “bs” parameter tell it the block size to use, in this case 100 MB. This reduces the amount of IO needed and speeds up the copy process a bit. This number does not matter very much, just make sure it is less than about 1/2 the amount of physical RAM you have. On a modern PC I suggest this should be at least 1MB, and preferably quite a bit more. Don’t use really small numbers or the backup will take forever.

This copy does the entire drive, including boot sectors, partition tables, data, the lot. It is basically a raw copy, byte for byte.

Works a treat for me!

One Comment

Wally, hi. Just cruising your blog and saw your linux backup note. There is actually a great bootable CD called “System Rescue CD”, you might know about this by now since your article was from 2005. This is what I use to make full dumps of both NTFS and EXT3 partitions. Do some Google’s on it, it is well regarded and used by many.


Comment by William Croft | July 15th, 2009 6:19 am | Permalink

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