Backup and Recovery

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

One of the most important things you can do for your PC is to prepare to recover from disaster.  Unfortunately, most users tend to either ignore this entirely or at best they back up data sporadically.

In this article I will cover some proactive steps that you can take to safeguard your data and reduce recovery time.

Reasons for Data Loss

The most common reason that someone loses data is accidental file deletion.  Windows offers some built-in protection with the Recycle Bin so you can bring back something recently deleted.  However, once you empty the recycle bin, you are out of luck.  (There is one “slim” chance of recovery that I will cover in the next section.)

The next most common reason is hard drive failure.  This can cause a partial loss of some files or in the worst case loss of all data and programs.

Another possibility is that a virus can delete files, damage the hard drive, or so thoroughly infect the PC that the only remedy is to reinstall Windows and all your software.

Backup Methods

If you have accidentally deleted some files and also emptied the Recycle Bin, it is possible to recover the files if you act quickly. 

  1. Stop using the computer IMMEDIATELY.  If you continue to use the PC and/or install software or add files, you will be overwriting the lost files on the hard drive making them lost forever. 
  2. On another PC, locate some data recovery software that preferably runs off of a CD so that nothing is installed on the computer.  Do not install it on your PC or you will lose data.

 You might want to seek some professional help in trying to recover the files.

The best way to restore a missing file is to get a copy from a recent backup that you have made.  There are many ways to make this backup copy.  Some of these methods are:

  • Manually copy files and folders to a CD, DVD, flash drive, or an external hard drive
  • Use third party software to make scheduled backups to external media
  • Have Windows back up data automatically to external media (Windows 7 and XP Professional)
  • Use an online service such as Mozy or Carbonite to continuously back up files

Whatever method you use, make sure that you do it regularly. An outdated copy of the file may help, but nothing beats a current copy. You should store the backup media away from the computer, and preferably at an off-site location.  It doesn’t help to have the PC and the backup both destroyed by a fire or other disaster.

Recovery Methods

Suppose the worst has happened and the operating system must be reinstalled.  Perhaps a virus has caused this or the hard drive just failed. In either case you must give the PC a fresh start.  The major methods of reinstalling the operating system are:

  • Recovery disks that came from the manufacturer
  • A recovery partition on the hard drive
  • The Operating System CD or DVD

The first two methods will take the machine back to the day it came from the factory.  If you had a hard drive failure, the second option will not be available and you will have to order CDs or DVDs from the manufacturer.

If you are reinstalling the operating system, you will need to also install all of the drivers for devices such as the video, sound, and network cards.

You will need to reinstall all of your software and then transfer any backup data to the PC.  With the operating system and software restored, you can reinstall any printers or scanners.

Unfortunately, it is highly likely that you will lose something in the process of doing this. Maybe you don’t have all the software or driver disks.  You may have omitted backing up some of your files.  Maybe you didn’t know how to back up e-mail or your contact list.

A Better Way

If the previous section sounded like a lot of pain and suffering, it is.  There is one more recovery method that I can suggest.  You can purchase third party software that will create an exact image of your hard drive and store it on DVDs or external drives.  You may want to seek professional help to do this.

When you must recover from a major problem, all you need is the recovery program CD or DVD and your media.  Your PC will be restored to exactly as it looked the day the image was taken, including all of your data, software, drivers, devices, and user settings.  And it can do all of this in less than an hour in most cases.  After that, you can restore the latest files from your most recent backup and the recovery is complete.

Periodically or whenever you make major additions or changes to the PC, you should create a new image.


I can say with almost certainty that a computer disaster will affect you at some time.  If you prepare for this eventuality, you will be able to recover with minimal pain and suffering.  If you don’t prepare, stock up on some pain relievers, because you’ll need them.

Disclaimer:  I do not receive any compensation from products mentioned in this article.

About Dick Buchanan

I started working with computers some 25 years ago when my wife, Carol, and I purchased our first PC which was a Kaypro IV CP/M machine. This lead to studying computer science at Seattle Pacific University and becoming a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). During this time I have worked for The Boeing Company, IBM Global Services, and Microsoft. I currently own and operate a local computing services company called Byte Savvy located in Kalispell, MT
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