Tutorial: Backing up data made easy

Mikey 3 comments
  • Tutorial
Tutorial: Backing up data made easy

Many have experienced the heartache of lost files, and if you are one of the lucky that hasn't yet, rest assured it is only a matter of time.

Hard drives spin at 7200rpm the entire time your computer is switched on and they are constantly reading and writing to the platter even when you aren't doing anything (even more so on Vista), so there is a good chance the wear and tear will get the better of your data eventually. Even I have felt the sting of lost data, but luckily for me it was 80gb of random multimedia instead of 80gb of family memories.

Backups are essential these days, especially as the age of the digital camera means you are probably collecting your family memories in megapixels as opposed to polaroids. If you are like me, the thought of losing precious photos and video because of hard drive failure isn't pleasant. Even more discerning is the thought that the unpleasantness could have been easily avoided if you had listened to your geek friends who kept nagging you about backups. If you don't have a geek friend, consider me yours during this tutorial.

For our purposes we will be discussing backing up to an external hard drive, as it is the easiest solution which provides plenty of space.

Our goal is to have 2 copies of the important data. One that you use often or need access to quickly, and a copy of those same files stored on an external hard drive.

What's required?

As mentioned already, you will need an external hard drive. The biggest capacity you can afford. You can get a 500gb external USB2 hard drive ready to go these days for about $150. That's insanely cheap for the high peace of mind you will get, and it is the only investment you need to make.

You will also need software to perform the backups. Windows already has built in backup software but it is hardly as flexible as the 3rd party applications. I use a freeware app called SyncBack, by 2BrightSparks. They do have a pay version of the software but the free version is more than enough for our purposes. Grab SyncBack Free here.

Setting up the hard drive.

Once you have your shiny new external hard drive just plug it in to any available USB port, flip the power switch and wait for the drive letter to appear in Windows Explorer. Windows will usually assign the next available drive letter, in my case it was H. You may have to format the drive, and you will know if this is the case when you double click the drive letter and you are prompted to format. If you are prompted, then allow it.

To make it a little easier to identify the drive you can right click on the drive letter and select 'rename' to give it a name instead of just a letter; 'Backups' for example.


In some rare cases the hard drive might not show up in Windows Explorer. This usually happens under one of the following circumstances.

  • The hard drive (foreign volume) needs to be imported or initiated via Disk Management
  • Windows has assigned a drive letter that has already been assigned to another removable device (like a memory card or mobile phone)

If this is the case, read the following. If not, jump down to 'Setting up the new hard drive'.

Importing the disk: Disk Management can be accessed by right clicking on My Computer and selecting 'Manage'. Then click on 'Disk Management' in the left pane. You will be presented with a list of all your hard drives currently connected and on. This is where you have to do a little sleuthing. Look out for the disk that you think is your new drive. If you had purchased a 150gb drive for example, you will see that number closely reflected in the list of drives. In my case it shows as 149.05gb. Double click on it and follow the prompts to initialising the disk, and format afterwards if it asks.

Changing the drive letter: While in Disk Management, right click on the drive that you believe is your new external disk. Then select 'Change Drive letter and Paths'. Follow the prompts to changing it to a new drive letter. I would suggest something further towards the end of the alphabet, like X for example. Once you have done this, your drive should immediately appear in Window Explorer. Double click it and format if prompted.


Setting up the backup folders.

Once you are able to access your new external hard drive, start creating folders which represent the files you want to backup; pictures, documents, music etc. Now move onto the software setup.


Setting up the software.

Install SyncBack and run it when finished. Click the 'New' button in the lower left. The 'Profile Type' dialog will appear asking you to choose a backup option. Select either 'Backup' or 'Synchronisation'. The differences between these are:

Backup: Copy files from a source directory into a destination directory (mirroring the files).

Synchronisation: Keep both the source and destination directories the same.


These might sound like they do the same thing, but they don't. Synchronisation will keep source and destination in sync, which has the potential to be harmful. It means if you were to delete a file from the destination, it will be deleted from the source and vice-versa. This can have it's advantages, but imagine you walked away from your PC and your 4 year old came and started messing with the files on your source drive. If she deletes them, the action will be mirrored on the destination as well - which leaves you with no copies of the files at all. Scary. For this tutorial we will be sticking with standard 'Backup'.

After clicking 'OK' to 'Backup' give the profile a name. I will be backing up my 'Drivers' folder so I have named the profile 'Drivers'.


Click 'OK' and then specify the source and destination directories by clicking the Icon icons at Source and Destination respectively. Remember the 'source' is the folder where your imporant files are stored (the files you want to backup), and the 'destination' is the folder you created on your new external hard drive for them.

Source and Destination

Click 'OK' now. You will be prompted to perform a test run, but there is no need for this so click 'No'.

Add your other profiles now (if you have any) by clicking the 'New' button again, and keep going until all your backup profiles are set.

Running the backup.

You can immediately run a backup by simply double clicking the profile in the list. You will be asked what you want the double click action to do. I suggest choosing 'run the profile'.

If you want to make things automated, you can set a schedule for each backup profile. To do this, single click on a profile in the list and then click the 'Schedule' button. Follow the easy prompts to making your backups automatically occur at a specified daily/weekly/monthly interval.

Taking things further.

By now you can see this is a fairly easy process, one which should make you sleep better. If you are feeling confident, right click on any profile and select 'Modify' to see what some of the other settings do. You can even switch to Expert Mode at that time.


This tutorial should have more than enough information to assist you with backing up your data, but if you get stuck leave a message below and I will help you out.

Happy backups.

Not a Member!


Sunday 10th February 2008 | 10:43 PM

@ mike so do the external hard drive work in conjunction with syncback? i think i got a little confused.

Not a Member!


Sunday 10th February 2008 | 10:51 PM

SyncBack is just the software for making the backups - in other words - to automate the process of making a copy of your important files to your portable drive.

You can use any backup software you prefer but for this tutorial I used SyncBack because it has served me well for years.

Not a Member!


Monday 11th February 2008 | 09:39 AM

Thanks for an easy tutorial. Got about 60 dvds of backups already and lately been wondering if there is a better cost effective way. I didn't know hard disks were so affordable now so i'm off to get a new one today.

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