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These tips assume you have Windows XP.
What should you backup?
-At a minimum you should backup a few folders under what is called your profile folder. This is usually located at c:\documents and settings\username where username is the name you log into the PC as.
-The folders you should backup are My Documents, Desktop, and Favorites.
-What is in My Documents? If you save your data files, Word, Excel, pictures, videos, ect in the default locations they are in here. This is a very important folder.
-Desktop. This contains all the icons on your desktop. People often save data files to the desktop, which is why I recommend backing this up as well.
-Favorites. The favorites folder holds you of your Internet Explorer favorite links.
How should you backup?
-If you just want to backup the folders listed above the easiest thing to do it purchase a memory stick, sometimes called a USB flash drive. Plug this into your PC and copy the folders above to the flash drive.
-How big of a flash drive should you buy? Within Windows Explorer find the folders listed above, right click on the folder then click properties. Within this window you will see size. Add up all three folders and make sure whatever you buy can hold at least that much data.
-You can also copy these folders to CDs if you have a CDRW or DVD-CDRW. The difference between the two CD drives is the DVD-CDRW will hold over 4 GIG of data, where as the CDRW only holds about 700MB.
-For the technical person you could install a second hard drive, if you know how to do this then you probably know how to back up already…..
-How do you copy a folder a flash drive? Plug the flash drive into your PC. Then go into Windows Explorer. Expand My Computer (click plus sign next to my computer). You should notice a new drive letter, this will be your flash drive, probably drive E or F. Expand C drive. Expand Documents and Settings. Click on your username. Folders will now show on the right. Click on Favorites, now hold down the CTRL key and click on My Documents and also click on Desktop, now release the CTRL key. All three folders are now highlighted. Now click on the edit pull down menu and click copy. Now you want to go to that new drive you found, click on it to highlight it. Now go back to edit and click paste. You will see a copy window start, when complete the copy window will disappear.
-If using a flash drive and you want to make a new backup you will probably need to delete your old backup from the flash drive first.
What else could you backup?
-Applications, such as games where you save old games, MS Money or Quicken usually save their data within their associated program folders. You will want to take that into consideration when deciding what to backup. These programs are usually a subfolder located under c:\program files.
Can I backup my entire hard drive?
-Yes, however there will be a lot of in use files. The best thing to do if you want to backup your whole hard drive is to purchase an application, such as Symantec "Norton" Ghost as well as a second hard drive. This program will make an exact image of your current C drive to a separate hard drive. For the non-technical person you should visit your local computer repair shop to get the second hard drive and Ghost installed. They should also be able to show you how the application works. The advantage to this vs just backing up your data is if you loose your hard drive you can make your imaged drive your new C drive and it will look exactly like it did when you last imaged it, programs, data, icons, everything!