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Software Review of:
BackUp My PC
from Stomp, Inc.


Vade Forrester is a past-president of Alamo PC Organization.

From the January 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Backing up your hard drive is like exercising: Everyone knows itís good for you, but the tedium discourages many of us from doing it. So why bother to backup your drive? Several reasons come to mind: virus attacks, hard drives crashing, virus attacks, accidentally erasing a file, virus attacks, data or program files becoming corrupted, and, oh, yes, virus attacks. Sooner or later, one of these catastrophes will happen to you, and when it does, the value of a recent backup will be crystal clear. So what strategies can you use to make the backup process less tedious, and therefore, more likely to be used?

A backup strategy
To be useful, a backup process must be effortless, or at least nearly so. You need to be able to start the backup program running, then go away and have the program run unattended until the entire backup process is finished (perhaps overnight). That means your backup storage medium must be large enough to store all the data on your hard drive without stopping to replace any storage media. But with todayís huge hard drives, thatís not so easy. If you back up to a CD burner, you will have to sit there and feed the drive quite a few blank CDs to backup even a small drive. If you back up to a DVD recorder, chances are youíll still need several blank DVDs, even though they hold lots more data than a CD (4700 MB for DVD versus 700 MB for CD). So you really need a device with more storage capacity than even a DVD burner, although CD and DVD burners make great storage devices if you just want to store data files. Fortunately, there are two types of such devices: tape drives, and separate hard drives.

Tape drives use a small tape cartridge, somewhat like an audio cassette, to store data. By using several cartridges, you can make different backup sets, and thus preserve different versions of files. Tape cartridges are not very expensive, ranging from $20 to $40. But tape drives with storage capacities over 40GB (which is a huge amount of data, granted) are quite expensive, since they are designed to backup server drives and are very heavy-duty. If you have less than 40 GB of files to backup, a tape drive could be a good solution to your backup needs.

A cheaper solution, however, is to use a separate hard drive as your backup medium. Hard drives are amazingly inexpensive, and several companies sell external hard drives that connect to a computer via a high-speed interface like FireWire or USB 2.0. Costing only slightly more than an internal drive, an external drive can be unplugged when not in use to protect it from a virus attack. This is my preferred backup medium. I use a 100GB drive in an external case connected via a FireWire connection to my computer. I only power this drive up when I want to make a backup.

Most backup devices include some sort of backup software, but make sure it supports your operating system. In particular, make sure it supports Windows XP, if thatís your operating system. Itís easy to find a tape drive that has older software that doesnít support Windows XP.

BackUp My PC is sold by Stomp, Inc., a company that has specialized in CD labeling equipment and program. The program has its genesis in the backup program which was sold by Seagate, which makes hard drives and tape drives. Seagate spun off their software division as the Veritas company, which licenses the program to Stomp. I go through all this to show that the lineage of the program is very distinguished, which reflects on its reliability.

The whole point of any backup program, like BackUp My PC, is to create a file or set of files that contain all the information on your hard drive. These backup files are stored on some other medium other than the drive they back up. If something catastrophic happens to your drive,  you can use the backup file or files to recreate an exact image of all the files on your hard drive on either the original drive, or on a replacement. I picked BackUp My PC because it supports backing up to DVD-R/RW media, while the backup program that comes with Windows XP doesnít support that format. It also supports backups to other hard drives and to CD burners.

Installing the program was simple; an installation program on the distribution CD did all the work for me. It automatically detects any backup device attached to your computer, so if yours is an external drive, it would be a good idea to have it connected and turned on when you install BackUp My PC. 

The program interface is small and tidy, looking a lot like the Windows XP Backup program. The main screen provides three basic functions: making backups, restoring backups, and comparing backup files to the originals to assure your backup file has no errors. Everything else is basically setting up how the program works. 

Making a backup is easy. You start by choosing the drive you want to backup, including the registry settings, tell BackUp My PC which device to use for the backup, and click on start. BackUp My PC creates a single file which contains all the data you need to restore, either the entire drive, or a single file. If your backup file is larger than your backup medium (as it would be if youíre backing up to a CD burner), BackUp My PC will create a file that spans several disks, or CDs. I didnít compare it to the Microsoft Backup program that comes with Windows XP, but it seemed subjectively faster. 

Since I bought BackUp My PC to make backups on my then newly acquired DVD-R burner, my first backup was on that device. I had about 13 GB of stuff on my hard drive, so the backup file, even using a compression algorithm, required three blank DVD-R discs. The actual backup was speedy, although I didnít sit in front of my computer and time it. 

A week later, when some vital component of Windows XP became corrupted, I was extremely thankful for this backup. I had to reinstall Windows XP, and in doing so, wiped out all the data on my primary drive. After reinstalling the operating system and BackUp My PC, I restored all the data from the DVD-R discs, which took an amazingly short two hours. The last time I restored a complete drive, from a tape backup, took 24 hours. There were a few files that didnít restore properly, but none of them were absolutely essential. My investment in BackUp My PC proved well worthwhile!

BackUp My PC comes with a good 158-page manual that clearly explains the features of the program. You can visit the Stomp, Inc. Web site for details on the program, or to buy it for $79 ($69 if you download it from the Web site). I got my copy at CompUSA, but itís widely available at other locations, also. A simplified, cheaper ($39, or $29 if you download it from the Web site) version called Simple Backup, is also available. It also supports DVD-R/RW drives for backups, but has fewer features.

I highly recommend BackUp My PC for the vital function of backing up your hard drive. The only utility program more important than a backup program is a good virus checker. However, if you backup to another hard drive, the Microsoft Backup program that ships with Windows XP may be all you need.

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