What is a file-based data backup


Backup is one of the most neglected topics for PC users. It has never been so easy and cheap to make a backup. Time to tackle the topic.

What is a backup?

A backup is first of all the securing of data. Depending on your requirements, it can be a lot or very little. Extreme could be: A private person regularly copies only the most important data to a USB stick for backup and a data center has not just one, but several backups of each hard drive on various data carriers. In between you should find a compromise that gives you enough security personally and does not cause too much effort.

A backup can be rushed according to several criteria. Two important categories according to purpose and type are the system backup and the file-based backup. The first saves an entire system, i.e. the operating system, all programs and documents, but also the boot sectors and other information that is needed to restore the hard disk. The term "image" is also often used. Most of the time everything is saved in one large file.

The opposite is the file-based backup. Here individual files are backed up and you can view the backup with Windows Explorer and also restore individual files. This is also possible with most images, but the backup cannot be opened there as easily as a directory. A file-based backup will normally not include the entire hard drive but only the important personal data such as documents created, pictures taken and videos made.

With the system backups, you can still differentiate between an incremental and full backup. A full backup is a backup of the entire hard disk (or at least the occupied part), an incremental backup only contains the differences to the last backup. Typically, you make a full backup at regular intervals and then only incremental backups between these full backups. This has several advantages. On the one hand, the incremental backups take up less space than a full backup. On the other hand, they make it possible to restore more than just one stand. This has the advantage that you can undo all changes up to a certain date. Let's assume you have accidentally deleted a file, made a new full backup and overwritten the old one, then the backup is of no use to you because you no longer have the status in which the file was saved.

However, incremental backups use more memory. There are several backup statuses for files that are being processed, many temporary files are also backed up, such as the browser cache, so a full backup is made from time to time.

Another principle is the father-son principle. You make two copies here. The first backup is the father, the next is the son. The backup but one then replaces the father and the fourth backup overwrites the son, etc. So you always have two statuses to which you can go back.

Why do I need a backup as a private system?

When doing a backup, everyone thinks of a hard drive crash first. This is relatively unlikely today, as hard drives have become more and more reliable over the years. But there are also reasons for a backup for private individuals:

  • you can restore an accidentally deleted or overwritten file
  • Viruses like the federal trojan can block access to the computer. Other malware encrypts its own files so that they can no longer be read. Allegedly you get the keys for en access or decryption for cash, but that's not the case.
  • Maybe you have things on your PC that are not worth money, but have high ideal value, such as the pictures of your wedding or of your son's childhood. Or your bank accounts etc ...
  • A backup can be used very easily to clone a PC, i.e. to upload it to a second PC in the same way. This is very useful when you have to install several PCs.
  • It saves a lot of time. Even if you can reinstall Windows using a setup CD, you can also reinstall all programs and have no problems with licenses, which run a counter with every installation, then it costs you considerably more work and much more time than restoring a backup. Fine-tuning everything from work, not to mention.

How do I make a backup - the hardware side

The most important basic rule is that a backup must be made on its own medium. This ensures that there is no hard drive failure. The previously used removable media such as streamers or burned CDs / DVDs no longer make sense with today's hard drive sizes or are very expensive.

At today's prices, it shouldn't be a problem to add a second hard drive to your PC. That costs 50 to 100 euros. (February 2014: A 500 GB hard drive is around 50 euros, 2000 GB can be had for 80-90 euros) an internal hard drive is the cheapest option on the one hand, and it is faster than a USB drive on the other. It is quickly installed in a PC, simply plug it into the slot, plug in the power and SATA plug (both are reverse polarity protected) and fasten with short screws (be careful if you get the screws to the PC, there are two lengths with the same diameter, the longer ones are for the assembly of the mainboard, it is enough if the PC is not moved, but usually simply push the plate into the cage, the tangled cables usually prevent it from slipping out of there). Once the disk is installed, it still needs to be formatted. You can do this in the Control panel in the Computer management, choose there Data storage and there Disk management. The hard disk can be recognized by the fact that it does not yet have a drive letter. With a right click on the disk you can give it a drive letter or format it. You can also create several partitions (up to 4) and thus divide a disk into parts with their own drive letters.

If you have a notebook that cannot be installed, you can use a USB hard drive. The disadvantage of this is that backups are made at regular intervals. If the USB hard drive is not connected, which happens quickly with a notebook, the backup fails. With a desktop computer where the USB disks are permanently plugged in, you can also use a USB disk. sensibly a USB 3.0 disk, since USB 2.0 only achieves about a quarter of the speed of a hard disk. USB hard disks, on the other hand, have the advantage that you only have to plug them in, there is no installation or partitioning / formatting necessary.

An alternative to the USB disk in the notebook and at the latest if you have more than one PC / notebook is a NAS. A NAS is a network attached storage. In the simplest case, this is a disk in a housing like a USB disk with an ARM microprocessor and a minimal Linux operating system. The cheapest are available including a plate for 150 euros. There can also be several disks (up to 16) with a Xeon server under the Windows Server operating system. Then you can easily reach price regions of 1000 to 2000 euros, but this is pure overkill for private individuals. For many, however, the simple solution should be sufficient. A NASA is connected to the router via a network cable and then runs continuously. You can use it to make content such as media files available for many computers or you can store backups on it. Administration then takes place via a browser. The cheap ARM based solutions are not powerful enough to run the disk at full speed. Your speed is then slightly higher than USB 2.0. The better solutions are limited by the network interface (with Gigabit Ethernet a maximum of 100 MByte / s). A NAS also has its own redundancy. The smallest have two hard disk slots (2-bay). Even if you can combine these into a large hard drive, you should operate them as RAID 1, 5 or 6 for the sake of redundancy:

One advantage of a NAS is that it can be located elsewhere, why is that an advantage? If there is a fire in the house or a burglar lets your expensive notebook go with you, then you will appreciate it when a NAS is in a corner in the basement.

People are arguing about whether the hard drive should only be used for backups. The purists say yes, this also saves the hard drive, which does not run continuously but usually switches off if there is no action for a few minutes. In my opinion, if you have enough storage space, you can also use it for other files that you can do without, e.g. transferred Internet files, videos, etc. However, it is advisable to leave enough space for a backup. Either by creating not one but two partitions on the disk and only using one for backups: Guideline: it should be at least twice as large as the data to be backed up. Or if, for example, you use Windows on-board tools that take up a percentage of the disk, you have to make sure that there is enough free space.

If it is only about the important data, i.e. a file-based backup, then you can store it in the cloud. There are services such as Dropbox or programs such as Skydrive (OneDrive) and Google Drive. They synchronize a folder with the server and run in the background. You just have to get into the habit of storing the files in this folder or subfolder. My personal experience with a large number of small files, such as those created during programming, is that both Skydrive and Google Drive cause an eternally high processor load when the computer is started and Google Drive then completely drops the sails with more than 60,000 files. If you have less data or are larger than pictures or videos, they are more something for you. But they are only one solution for file-based backup. If Windows no longer starts, these services are of no use. They are also intended to synchronize multiple devices (PCs, tablets, smartphones), i.e. to synchronize the data. The main disadvantage is the comparably low data rate of an online connection. Even if this is 10 MBit / s, this is only 1.25 MByte / s. Even slow USB sticks are many times slower.

Since the files are then stored on a third-party provider, data security takes on a new role. If you are consistent, you should encrypt all files. But that contradicts the basic idea that a backup should cause as little effort as possible. So I still think the cloud is a bad solution for backups.

... and the software side

Of course you still need a program to create a backup. In Windows from version 7 one is built in and is called Windows backup. You can find it by typing "yourself" in the search field or in the control panel under Save and recover. With a backup set up it looks like this:

When you set up the backup, you can specify exactly what is to be backed up, with Windows and all programs on C: being included in the system image anyway, you just have to add something if you are backing up other hard drives. The backup creates images of both the system and personal files. You can then restore them at this point or delete backups.

You specify a hard disk (more precisely a partition), whereby this may not be an active partition. So you need a second hard drive (it would also work with one if you were to repartition it, ie create two partitions with two drive letters such as C: and D: on it, but this is not recommended. The backup is maximally one from this space Use thirds of the free memory, after which old backups are deleted if there are new ones.

Since there are situations in which you can no longer start Windows, you should do a System repair disc create (third option at the top left). To do this, you simply insert a CD into the burner and a mini operating system is stored on it that can restore the backup, even if Windows no longer starts. You can also do this from a Windows setup DVD using the repair console, but that's not very intuitive and many who have pre-installed Windows do not have a Windows setup CD at all. So it is advisable to create such a repair CD.

You can also store other data on the hard drive. For me it is other backups and especially videos that need a lot of memory, but which I can happily do without. This is what this illustration shows:

You then specify the point in time (here weekly) and the backup starts automatically at this point in time. Ideally, you take a point in time when the PC is also on. With a second internal hard drive, the speed is high, for me there are around 70 gigabytes that have to be backed up and they take about 30 minutes, you can still work on it and usually don't notice much of the backup.

There are also numerous commercial or free backup programs. For years I recommended True Image for this purpose, which also creates a second backup on my PC (twice as good), but the ratings have gotten pretty bad for the last few issues. I myself still work with version 11 from 2007, which also runs on Windows 7. I received Norton Ghost with my SSD, but this software required so much processor load that I don't use it. These programs also usually offer to create a boot CD with which the backup can be restored. Such a boot CD should also be booted before the Ernsthall to see whether it is running, because there is usually a mini-Linux on it and at least with Acronis this sometimes has problems with certain PC configurations and does not recognize the mouse. If the external USB disk or the NAS is not recognized, then you cannot restore the backup in this way. Therefore, I would recommend using the Windows backup in parallel with an external backup program - double backup is better.

My experience with Windows backup is not a good one. The program moved into Windows 7. It is still supported in the newer versions but no longer developed and when I needed it once, the recovery did not work. That doesn't seem to be an isolated case, as you can see forums. The backup is slow and takes up a lot of space on the second disk.

As you can see, a biscup is not that difficult to set up. The one shown here is a system backup with its own container files. With Windows there are separate folders on the drive which are named like the backed up PC and which cannot be accessed, only the backup.

If your backup software can do it, you should have a Verification of the data activate after copying. This doubles the time for a backup, since each file has to be read twice, but you can identify transfer errors. These are not uncommon today. A hard drive has an error rate of 1 bit out of 1013 until 1014 transmitted bits. That sounds like a lot, but it is reached at 1.2 to 12 terabytes. So a larger disk was once full and statistically one bit was incorrectly transmitted. In addition, bit errors can occur when the data is loaded into the working memory and during transmission. I've already had a bit error with smaller amounts of data (60 GB) and the probability increases when the hard drive is older.

To reduce the amount of data, some things should not be copied. Excluding data is just as impossible with Windows backup as the comparison, but Microsoft still has to give other companies some room for their products. You don't have to copy the files pagefile.sys and hibernate.sys from the directory C: \. it contains the swap file and the last state of the main memory when it is idle. As a rule, they are almost as big as your RAM, so with an 8 GByte RAM they can amount to 16 - 24 gigabytes.

It is not necessary to copy all of the temporary files. They are saved in the folder C: \ Windows \ temp. The same applies to the browser data. Unfortunately, every browser has its own folder, one for each user. If you do a manual backup you should first use the function "Disk cleanup"Call from Windows with which you can at least delete the cache for Internet Explorer (plus other temporary files). With other browsers you have to do this manually in the settings. Browser caches can contain a few gigabytes of data.

File-based backup

It can be useful to create a file-based backup in addition to the backup of the entire system. With most backup programs it is awkward to look at individual files. Some offer an explorer function, but you cannot use the tools you know. Anyone who knows SpeedCommander or Totalcommander will not want to miss their functionality. Furthermore, you can more easily copy a file-based backup to a USB stick or save it in some other way and thus edit your data on another computer or upload it to it. In the case of a file-based backup, the folder structure is retained.

A file-based backup was under the good old DOS the Xcopy command copied files and folders from a source folder to a target folder. Of course, a good backup program only copies the files that are new or have changed. You can write something like this yourself by writing a small batch file in the z. B. stands:

Xcopy C: \ Users \ Ich \ Documents \ *. Odt F: \ Backup \ documents

Xcopy C: \ Users \ Ich \ Pictures \ *. Jpg F: \ Backup \ Pictures \

You can do this in a similar way in one of the "Norton Commander Clones" discussed above by setting the source window on the left and the target window on the right. It is easier if you use a specially developed program such as Easybackup from me. This can also be done by the backup at set intervals, starts up when Windows starts and offers Verify and Restore.


There are only three important rules for backups:

  • Make backups - start after setting up Windows

  • Do them regularly (create a schedule!)

  • Put them on a different data carrier than the one on which Windows is located.

If you pay attention to them, then the backup will also work.

I have also published a book on the subject of computers. "Computer history (s)" contains what the title says: individual episodes from the early days of the PC. They are episodes from the résumés of Ed Roberts, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Stephen Wozniak, Gary Kildall, Adam Osborne, Jack Tramiel and Chuck Peddle and how they created the PC.

The book is rounded off by a brief explanation of the computer technology in front of the PC, as well as a summary of what happened afterwards when the claims were staked. I have tried to write a book that sets it apart from other books in that it not only tells history but also explains why certain products were successful, i.e. it deals with the technology.

The second edition, published in 2014, has been updated and slightly expanded. The most extensive change is a 60-page chapter on Seymour Cray and the supercomputers he designed. Due to price reductions for new editions, at 19.90 euros it is 5 euros cheaper than the first edition, despite the increased volume. It has also been published as an e-book for 10.99 euros.

More about the book on its own page.

Here is a complete overview of my books with direct links to the BOD bookshop. The books can also be ordered directly from bookstores (since I write about very special topics, you will hardly find them in the display) and they are of course available on the popular online platforms such as Amazon, Libri, Buecher.de.

© of the text: Bernd Leitenberger. Any publication of this text in whole or in part may only be made with the consent of the author.