Monday, April 1, 2024

Backing up the laptop

As many of you know, I'm a fanatic when it comes to backing up my laptop. My dad (a computer expert and retired electrical engineer) hammered that wisdom into my brain years ago, and I've never regretted following his advice. Indeed, backing up has saved my fanny any number of times.

The information contained on my laptop is probably the single most valuable thing I possess. It includes all my writing and all my photos (somewhere on the order of 110,000+ of them!). I would be devastated to lose these data, hence my fanaticism in backing up.

Needless to say, I never use "the cloud" for this purpose (which is not a celestial weather formation, but merely someone else's computer). I used to back up to an external hard drive, but a couple years ago Don bought me a thumb drive which holds a massive amount of data – on the order of 512 gigabytes.

This faithful little thumb drive has served me well. Every Saturday, when my work week is finished, I first back up this blog (a harsh lesson from Granny Miller many years ago), and then I do a full-scale backup of my computer, including any new photos I uploaded. Because this represents so much data, I usually budget about three hours for the whole shebang. My archive of photos is so massive that it took about fifteen hours – no exaggeration – to back up the entire thing the first time I used the thumb drive. For this reason, I don't re-back-up the full photo archive each week, but instead just add any new photos I take.

A few weeks ago, I turned to Don and said, "I'd like you to do some research and make a purchase for me. I'd like to get another thumb drive for an extra backup." Backups to backups are always wise. (Besides, such a purchase is a write-off on our taxes.)

Anyway, he did his research and purchased a larger thumb drive, one terabyte in size.

You can see the size comparison below with my old thumb drive.

But how well does it work? I plugged it into my USB port and sample-copied a file with a bunch of photos. It was done so quickly I hardly had time to blink. Whoa!

Encouraged, I spontaneously decided to back up my entire archive of photos (remember, in excess of 110,000 pix). It – took – fifteen – minutes. Remember, the old thumb drive took about fifteen hours!

So I settled in to back up all my documents, a process that took three hours with my old thumb drive. The new thumb drive took twelve minutes. Twelve minutes!

So I'm hooked. This is a marvelous little bit of technology, and it offers me great peace of mind.

While you may not have 110,000+ photos to preserve, I strongly urge everyone to heed my father's advice and back up your computer. You won't regret it.

UPDATE: To those concerned about faulty thumb drives: No worries, I've tested this thumb drive and verified the contents, and it works perfectly. We did purchase another (cheaper) terabyte thumb drive and it didn't work at all, so I understand the concerns. Also, since we have another terabyte thumb drive ordered and on the way, and since the backup times are now so much shorter, I'll do two full-scale backups each week, and the second thumb drive will be stored in our fireproof safe where we also keep our vital documents.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Comical historical note: Here's a one megabyte hard drive being shipped by by IBM in 1956.


  1. Thumb drives are great...until they just die unexpectedly. Try to live by the 3-2-1 rule for backups: 3 copies, 2 mediums, 1 offsite. Your thumb drives might count as 2 copies (if you faithfully backup using both every time), but only 1 medium. And, as Tom Lawrence says, "Untested backups are just wishful thinking." Trying restoring those backups somewhere to make sure they are actually working.

  2. Interestingly enough, our local Goodwill store occassionally has brand new 1TB thumb drives in various brands for $5.00-$8.00 each. Donated by businesses that don't need them, all real brands. Worth checking out for extra backups if you ever visit one of their stores, they are by the registers on the racks of new items they sell. Seen them at 2 different stores in different parts of Idaho.

  3. Patrice,
    I am glad you are a backup fanatic, but I would suggest that you give cloud storage another thought. Or at least doing some sort of off-site storage. There are a variety of situations (fire, theft, civil unrest, floods, etc.) where your computer, USB drives and other other backups on site will be gone or inaccessible. Also, while USB drives are great, I have had multiple fail on me over the years, and there is not much you can do to recover the data. As the old saying goes, "two is one and one is none". I prefer to add, "three is better, four is adequate, and five is acceptable." (I am also a retired electrical engineer, and a self proclaimed computer expert).

  4. Here's another sage piece of advice from someone with almost 45 years of IT experience. A backup is only half of your task. Until you have restored the backup to different test hardware and verified the contents, you don't know if your backup is good. Copy it all down to another laptop and check the contents.

  5. As someone who has tens of thousands of photos, one thing I did last year was copy them all to Blu-Ray, then hand the discs to a friend for safekeeping. It took awhile, but I feel better about the whole thing.

    Thank you for the reminder, though. I back up my devices with a fair amount of regularity (not on the cloud) but I probably need to do so with my laptop in general, as it's really become my second brain these days! *L*

  6. It is a sad truth that thumb drives and SD cards fail. Sometimes they drop data. Sometimes they back up 70-80-90% of what you thought you wrote to them. Sometimes they fail catastrophically as in when you plug them in your computer doesn't recognize them OR worse they cause your computer to crash. You can but the better SD cards like "extreme pro" or "extreme" etc. but in thumb drives it may not be apparent to you that the imbedded memory chip is one of the better ones or one of the less dependable ones.

    Here is my advice: Two hard drives with both containing full backups (not updates). I said "hard drives" but they could be the older design spinning disk kind or the newer solid state kind, it doesn't really matter. AND another laptop with ALL your files on it that you never connect to the internet or modem. In my case I have a perfectly good older Windows 10 laptop that I use as a back up and since I wiped it clean and then loaded all my data I disabled the wifi connection. It could be enabled again I just don't want it connecting automatically.
    I will go one step further and suggest that one or more of the backup drives be placed in an EMP proof container. Not so much for an end of the world scenario but just as an added layer of protection. I kind of assume that after the end of the world our computers won't mean as much to us. Having said that I do have all my survival manuals and data on a tablet AND an old phone and it would be nice to be able to look up edible plants in case I forgot to carry that book with me. But that is for another post.

  7. I absolutely MISS Granny Miller's website. It was so informative. I looked forward to reading it every morning. She was a wonderful teacher and very inspiring.

  8. Okay-now do Apple.
    I do have the cloud, but don't trust it. I like stuff that I can control.

  9. Reading through all these comments, I kind of get the just of it, but as I do not partisapate much with electronics, I see little use for. I milk cows by hand, rebuild truck engines, maintain most all my pre computer equipment myself, I save money gold, and silver. . Make lots of trades for labor or knowledge I know not how.