The easy way to back up your files to an external drive

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An important part of a comprehensive data backup strategy is having a reliable, consistent backup to an external drive.  Today I’ll show you how I recommend doing this.  I’m using a small program for Windows called Second Copy.

Second Copy

 

First, a quick recap:

Last Monday I told you about CryptoLocker, a new ransomware virus that encrypts your personal files and makes you pay $300 to get the decryption key that will unlock them.  I also mentioned that the best way to protect yourself from having to pay the money is to back them up to an external drive, and then make sure that the external drive is not normally connected to the computer.  It’s important to note that this external drive backup is in addition to the automated offsite backup that you should already have in place.  You need both, for different reasons.

Today we are going to talk about the software to use for doing that local backup.  I looked at several backup programs before deciding on this one.  Also, some of you may recall that I used to recommend one called Karen’s Replicator.  If you are still using that and it is working for you, there’s nothing wrong with continuing with that.  At this point, however, I believe Second Copy is a better choice and is easier to use.

Help with Second Copy setup

Here are some of the features that I like about Second Copy:

  • It works on all currently supported versions of Windows, from Windows XP through Windows 8
  • It can back up files, even if the file is open or in use at the time of the backup
  • The backup is non-proprietary.  This is very important.  You can take your backup file on your external drive and copy those files to any other Windows computer without having to install Second Copy again on that computer.
  • You have the option of archiving old versions of the same file.
  • You have the option of encrypting your files if you want to.  This is great if you have sensitive or critical information, and you don’t want it to be accessed if your external drive gets lost or stolen.
  • It’s easy to set up.  I like things like this to operate in a very organized manner, and I loved how I could set this up in a purely logical way.
  • It’s automated.  However, due to the nature of the purpose of this backup, we have to do some things manually.

Second Copy is not free.  It’s $29.95.  However, you do get a 30-day free trial to evaluate it.  When you do buy it, make sure you only pay $29.95.  When you click the “Buy Now” button, it automatically adds to your cart an optional Backup CD that they will send you.  This costs another $9.95 and you don’t need it.  Just check the box in the “Remove” column and click “Update”.

Second Copy order screen

(If you have more than one computer that needs this backup software, click on “Volume discount prices” in the shopping cart and purchase all of the licenses at the same time to save money.) But none of that is needed in the beginning because they give you the free trial.



But before you get Second Copy and set it up, you need to lay some groundwork.  First, you need to determine what you need to back up.

The “standard” things that often get backed up are Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos, Desktop, Website Favorites, and possibly email.  Your list might include more than these things.

Once you have determined what folders need to be backed up, you need to make a folder on your external drive for each of them.  This is where the backups will be stored.

To get started, go here (affiliate link) and click on “Download demo”or “Buy now” and follow the standard download and installation procedure.  Here are some screenshots of the process.

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

Second Copy installation

 

At this point the installation is finished, and you can run the program.  During the evaluation period you will see this screen come up:

Second Copy installation

 

This is the main program screen, before you have created any backup profiles:

Second Copy installation

 

Now, you need to create a new Profile Group.  For me, I do this backup weekly, so I just called mine “Weekly backup”.  Click File – Profile Group – New Profile Group and give it the name you choose.

Then, under your new Profile Group tab, click File – New Profile.  You will need a New Profile for each of the folders that you already created on your external drive.  The New Profile process goes screen by screen and you just answer questions about each folder.

I will go through the process for one folder and show screenshots below.  You would do this for each of your folders (Documents, Pictures, etc.).  In this example I will create a profile for my Documents folder.

When you click File – New Profile, a new window opens.  In this window, choose Custom Setup and click Next.

Second Copy profile setup

 

Now you will see the “What?” tab.  This is where you choose the folder that you want to have backed up.  Click the Browse button, navigate to the folder and choose it.  Check the box to include subfolders.  Click Next.

Second Copy profile setup

 

Next screen asks you to choose which files you want to back up.  The easiest thing is to just choose “All files and folders” and click Next.

Second Copy profile creation

 

Now Second Copy wants to know where you are going to store this backup folder.  It’s going to go on your external drive, in the “My Documents” folder you created earlier.  In my case, the external drive shows up as Drive F.  Just click the Browser button to find that drive and the correct folder.

Second Copy profile creation

 

Next question is when the program should run.  For me, I have elected to run it manually.  If you set it to run on a regular schedule, remember that you have to plug the drive into the USB just before the backup runs, then remove it when the backup is done.

Second Copy profile creation

 

Now comes the question of “How?” – meaning what actually happens at the backup time.  For me, I choose Exact Copy.  That means the folder on the external drive will be exactly like the one on your computer.  So if you delete a file on the computer, the next time a backup is run that same file will be deleted in the backup folder.  But to play it safe, you can have that file stored in an Archive subfolder just in case you need it.  I like to keep the last couple of versions just in case.  If the Archive folder doesn’t exist yet, Second Copy will offer to create it.

Second Copy profile creation

 

In the last step,  you give this profile a name.  Since this profile is backing up the My Documents folder, I call it My Documents.

Second Copy profile creation

 

That completes that profile.  Now you have to do that with each of the primary folders you want to create.  After I did that, this is what my Second Copy window looks like:

Second Copy profile creation

And with that, the setup process is complete.  Now, in order to manually do the local backup to the external drive, you just follow these 3 steps:

1. Connect the external drive to your computer

2. Right-click on the “Weekly Backup” tab and choose “Run all Profiles in Group” and wait for the backup to finish

3. Disconnect the external drive

One thing to keep in mind: the program will continue to look for your external drive at whatever drive letter it claimed in the initial setup.  You need to pay attention to this.  For example, if you set everything up with the external drive as drive F, then while it’s unplugged you plugged in a camera, that camera might now be drive F.  Then your external drive will probably be drive G the next time you plug it in.  So just make a note when you plug it in that it is the proper drive letter, to match the original profile setup.

You can do this backup weekly, daily, or on whatever schedule you want.  Since I know I won’t remember to do this consistently on my own, I just set an automated reminder to pop up on my Google calendar each week to do it.  And remember, this is done in addition to the online automated backup process that I also recommend.

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