Help suggest a backup plan

I am building a new PC and would like to set it up to periodically backup my files, but I'm not really sure where to begin. I have to admit that I have never really backed up any files in the past and I have been pretty lucky, but I would like to start fresh with the new PC and make sure I have a plan that will ensure that I never lose any important files.

My PC will have a 256 GB SSD, which will contain the OS (Windows 7) and will be the drive that I use to install most of my games. I will also have a 2 TB HDD, which will be used for storing all media, documents, downloaded files, etc.

What would be the recommended method for keeping both drives backed up? Should I be taking full images of the drives or just backing up specific files or folders? Based on the answer to that question, what size drive would I need to store those backups? Also based on the answer to those questions, what software would best suit my purpose?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give me. I have to admit that I am a complete novice when it comes to backing up files, so I will definitely appreciate any recommendations.
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More about help suggest backup plan
  1. Best answer
    This is one of those things where if you ask five people, you will get six different answers. There are endless approaches to this question. What you do will depend on what is important to you and how much effort you are willing to put in. I have heard of one person who makes two copies of each backup and keeps one at his parent's house. That way, if his house blows up (G-d forbid), he will still have backups.

    My personal take, quickly. OS and data backups are separate issues, as long as you have properly moved My Documents, and your game saves, to a partition other than the OS partition. If the only thing on the OS partition is the OS, you back it up when you install something new, preferably a full backup. If the system fails, you restore to that point, apply updates, run a malware scan, and you are back in business.

    The data is another issue. How many days worth you are willing to lose will drive your strategy. If you are willing to lose a week worth, then do a backup every week. If a day worth, do a backup at the end of each day. If nothing, get a network fileserver and live-backup software to backup each write as it happens.

    1) Backups are usually done in cycles of full - incremental - incremental - repeat. You do a full backup of the drive, then the next time just backup what changed since the last time, and after that just backup what changed since the last time. When you feel like it, you end the cycle with another full.

    1a) For system drives, I do full image backups of the drive, not the partition. I need a full backup because I will restore the drive image and expect to boot from it. For data drives, I do file-level backups, because I am more likely to go back to get a dead file than to restore the whole drive. But I could restore the whole drive if I wanted to.

    1b) Backups should always be done to external drives. A full-system failure can wipe out internal backups. Technically, you should have at least two separate drives. Do a full and its incrementals to drive A. The next time you do a full, switch to drive B. For the third full, wipe drive A and use it again.

    2) Whatever backup utility you use, you should have a bootable CD / DVD and run from it. If your OS drive dies, you won't be able to use the Windows backup utility to restore the backup to your new drive. Personally, I use EASEUS ToDo backup. I used to use Norton Ghost 8.0. It's many years old; the only reason I changed is that it does not respect the 4K alignment that SSDs need.

    3) As I said, the recommended method depends on what you are willing to lose in a failure, and how much work you are willing to put into backups. If only certain folders are important to you, and you can rebuild the rest, backup those folders. I backup my entire data partitions. Make sure that the OS partition does not have data on it, like game saves, or else do two backups of the OS partition. One to save those files (pick and choose the directories), and one full disk image to restore in case of failure.

    4) How big a drive you need depends on whether or not you are going to back up whole drives, and how many incrementals you are going to do before starting a full. I probably have 5 - 7 TB of backup space, but I'm a little strange that way.

    So the answer is, "it depends." The best start is to pick _any_ backup software and do a backup of _all_ your data. That way, at least you have something. Some backup apps do not let you restore individual files from an image dump, so an image dump of your data drive would be useless to get back that file that got overwritten. EASEUS ToDo backup is "good enough" that I haven't tested more alternatives; but I do not consider it to be ideal. The paid-for Acronis True Image has gained much respect, but you have to pay for it.
  2. Best answer selected by CubsWin.
  3. If you like, I could discuss specifics if you give me more information about how much time and money you are willing to put into it, and how many days of info you can survive losing.
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