How to Back Up – Cloning Backup

The following article is another except from Worth’s new book titled “How to Avoid 7 Common & Costly Computer Mistakes – Explained in Plain English” and follows from my previous post where I answered the question “Why Back Up?” and my post where I explained how to back up using incremental backup.

In this article I want to explain one general method for how to back up your computer, namely something called “cloning”.  I won’t repeat the many reasons why it is absolutely essential that you back up on a regular basis, but I will give you some recommendations on methods you can use to protect yourself, including information for both Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac computers.

First off, let’s define “cloning” backups.

Cloning refers to making an exact 100% copy of your computer’s hard drive, typically onto a second internal hard drive, or better, an external hard drive which is left turned off except during the backup process to minimize wear and tear and keep it more reliable.

Some people argue that cloning isn’t really a method of backing up, and while I agree the original reason it was developed as an option was probably to make it easier to upgrade to a new hard drive, it also can make a great way to back up your computer.

If done correctly, when you clone your computer’s hard drive, the clone should be “bootable”, which is to say, you can start the computer up from that drive in exactly the same way you normally start up with your computer’s main hard drive.

The benefit of having a bootable backup copy of your drive is that it minimizes downtime and expense. In some cases, you can start your computer up from the external drive and literally be up and running again in a minute or two.

Running your computer off the backup drive in this way is not a long-term solution, but if you’re waiting on a replacement drive or you’re waiting for a computer tech to replace the main drive after it fails you can at least get work done in the mean time and everything will be exactly the way it was as of the last time you cloned the drive.

Cloning your drive in this way can also save you money by minimizing the time spent by a technician repairing your Mac or PC.  In many cases the tech can simply take the external hard drive out of the case and put it into the computer in place of a bad hard drive, then put the new replacement drive into the external case.

This can take as little as 5-10 minutes to get you back up and running again, as opposed to potentially hours of time with the bill getting bigger by the minute doing it “the old fashioned way” by putting the replacement drive into the computer, installing Windows or Mac OS X, and restoring all the files from the backup and potentially (depending on how you backed up) also reinstalling each and every program such as Microsoft Word, etc. and getting everything manually configured exactly how you had it before.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options to create a hard drive clone like this for Windows. Mac OS X users are fortunate to have more options, but it’s still possible to do on pretty much any computer.

I have found a couple of programs that will duplicate your hard drive in this way for Windows, both of which are free (although there are a couple of caveats on this which I’ll explain in a moment).

The first program for Windows, which makes these 100% “cloned” copies is something called XXClone.  This is a completely free program which does a great job and which I use myself.  The only problem with this program is that it only works properly with Windows XP, and is unfortunately not compatible with Windows Vista or Windows 7. You can find this program by Googling “XXClone”.

Another option for Windows users that does seem to work with all versions of Windows is Seagate DiscWizard (formerly Maxtor MaxBlast).  Discwizard is available for free from Seagate’s website — just Google “Seagate DiscWizard download” to get the link.

The one minor hitch to this is that for it to run, it does require at least one of your hard drives to be either a Seagate or Maxtor brand drive (Maxtor was bought by Seagate a while back).

This isn’t a really big problem for most people because when you buy your USB drive, you can either buy a Maxtor or Seagate brand, which are pretty easy to find, or go to a local computer store and ask them to put a Maxtor brand hard drive into any USB case for you.

These brand drives are also extremely common in computers, so there’s a very good chance you already have one of them as the main internal drive in your PC. I’ve been using Maxtor and more recently Seagate DiscWizard (which is the exact same program with a different name) for years and have tested this out extensively and it seems to have no problems as long as one of the drives is Seagate or Maxtor.

On the Apple Mac side of things people have a few options, the main two being something called “SuperDuper!” and another called Carbon Copy Cloner. SuperDuper is inexpensive, CCC is free (but appreciates donations).

Both are good programs, but I’ve been using CCC for the better part of a decade now as my main backup program and so it’s what I recommend to my clients. Both programs work in the same basic way, so pretty much anything I say about CCC applies equally to SuperDuper.

Unlike Seagate Discwizard on the PC, CCC does not require any specific brand of hard drive, and unlike XXClone — which only works properly with one version of Windows — should work with any modern Mac. If you have an older Mac they also, the last time I checked, keep an older version of CCC available if you need it, but unless your Mac is several years old you should have no problem running the current version of CCC.

On either type of computer, the time it takes to complete the backup varies a lot depending on how much you have on your hard drive, and what type of connector (USB, Firewire, eSATA) you use for the external drive. To do a complete backup it can take anywhere from half an hour to several hours in extreme cases (this is only usually going to be the case if you have an extremely large number of big files such as video files).

But you can start it and walk away, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. This should be done at least once a month, maybe more frequently if you plan to make a lot of changes to the computer, like installing new software, or updating your system with a major update to Windows or the Mac OS.

One of the things I really like about Carbon Copy Cloner (which I believe is also true of SuperDuper, but which unfortunately does not seem to be an option for the Windows programs I’ve mentioned) is that you can actually combine cloning with the other main way to back up your files, known as versioned (or incremental) backup.

Basically CCC can give you the best of both worlds.  With this option turned on, it takes a couple of hours to do the first cloned backup, but then after that it can be as quick as 5 minutes. Because of this, I back up my main computer using CCC every single day as the last thing I do.  This way I know I have everything backed up, and it happens quickly and literally as easily as the flick of the power switch on my external drive.

As a side note, Windows users who might want the ease of backup enjoyed by Mac owners should keep in mind that all Apple Mac computers can run Windows and it’s possible to do this and have Windows backed up right along with the main Mac OS X files.  There are a lot of other benefits to using Macs, but that’s a topic for another time.

If you need more help, take a look at my easy video lesson course on backing up your computer, available for either Mac or Windows computers. In the lessons I show you step by step how to correctly set up use the programs I talk about in the article you just read.

To learn more, click one of the following two links:

How to Back Up – Apple Mac

How to Back Up – Windows PC