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Computer Crash! How to Prevent Loss of Valuable Data

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/26/2007 | Computer

Have you ever had a computer crash whereby all your data was lost? What very likely happened is that your computer's hard drive became defective. Yes, it happens more frequently than one might expect. There are all sorts of reasons why computer hard drives can fail and there's not a whole lot that can be done to prevent these failures. Another consideration for the protection of data is the possibility of fire and theft. The main objective of this article is to provide you with some practical strategies that will allow you to easily protect and recover your data.

First let's talk briefly about what is meant by valuable data. On any given computer system there are generally two types of data stored on the computer's hard drive. The first type is "software" data and the second type is "user" data. Many people don't actually realize that software is data in its own right. But software data is not the kind of data that you really need to concern yourself with when it comes to recovery of data. The reason for this is that software data is easily recoverable from the installation disks received when software is purchased.

The data that we will focus on in this article is "user" data. Let's define user data specifically. User data is the data that users create from the software that is run on a computer. For example, if a word processor is used to create a document or a letter, the word processor provides functions to save this data. The data that is created and saved through the word processor is "user" data. Most programs will create and save data somewhere on the hard drive.

There are many kinds of user data that can and will be created on the hard drive. For example, picture files, documents, accounting data from a money management program, music files, video files, and email and email address data are all different types of user data. This is not an exhaustive list. But it does highlight the types of data that accumulates on most computer hard drives through the use of various programs or software.

Here's the bottom line when it comes to recovery of data of both types. If a hard drive crashes and the operating system needs to be completely reinstalled or, in the worst case, the hard drive needs to be completely replaced, software can easily be recovered by simply reinstalling these from their installation disks. However, if the "user" data has not been backed up, then it is lost for good. Most people do not pay enough attention to this basic fact about computer systems until it's too late.

Remember, the key concept here is "prevention" and in order to prevent loss of valuable data you must always anticipate the possibility of hard disk failures, fire damage, or theft. So let's talk about some basic options that are easily available to implement a good data management plan.

Option 1: Consider having two internal hard drives.
Most home computers generally all come with only one internal hard drive. This one hard drive stores both software and user data. Which means that this one single hard drive is experiencing a lot of wear and tear. Every time a program is launched it's being accessed. Every single function that the operating system invokes will likely hit the hard drive etc. This heavy wear and tear can eventually lead to physical failures. Also, many viruses are designed to hit the operating system. If the user data is on the same physical drive as the operating system, then it can be severely impacted by viruses as well.

So why not install a second internal hard drive. Very few people ever think of this option and, with the price of hard drives going down drastically, it's a very cost effective approach to securing user data. What does this accomplish? Well first of all, using this approach, the user data can be physically separated from the software data. The main drive, also known as the boot or master drive, would be strictly dedicated to holding only the operating system and all other software. The second hard drive (known as the slave drive) would be strictly dedicated to storing only your user data.

Here are the benefits of this approach. First and foremost the user data is completely isolated to a more secure and less used drive. This drive would experience a lot less wear and tear. Also, it would be much easier to back up your data onto other storage mediums such as writable compact disks (cds) or digital versatile disks (dvds). That's because this data would be in one centralized place. In other words, user data is much easier to find when it is isolated on a separate drive.

Another key point regarding storing user data on the primary drive is that it is also much more at risk for viruses. Again, by isolating user data onto a physically separate drive, the risk of data loss or corruption from viruses would be greatly minimized.

Another strong point for this option is that total system recoveries (i.e. re-installing the operating system) is much easier if you don't have to include re-installing the user data as well. The main hard drive can quickly be reformatted without worrying about backing up the user data and then re-imaged with a fresh copy of the operating system.

Option 2: Save your data to cd or dvd disks.
This is by far the cheapest option and a very good approach to securing user data. All that is needed is a cd or dvd burner and some blank disks, which cost pennies to buy. This option can be the only option used for securing data but it is highly recommended that option 1 be used in conjunction with this option for two reasons. First, the back ups to cd or dvd will only be as current as the last time the backups were done. Secondly, if the operating system needs to be completely re-installed, the user data will also need to be copied from cds or dvds onto the single hard drive. Thus making the recovery a bit more cumbersome but still doable.

The main benefit of saving user data onto cds or dvds is that it is being further isolated and one step removed from the hard drives. When using this option, two copies should be maintained. The reason for maintaining two copies is so that one of the copies can be stored off site. This means keeping one set of disks at some other location other than at home or the office. The reason this is an important consideration is because of the possibility of fire and theft. Another reason is that a cd or dvd backup can also become corrupted. It's better to have two or more copies.

Option 3: Attach an external USB Hard Drive to the system.
With the price of hard drives getting much cheaper, this is another really good option. By attaching an external USB hard drive to the system, special backup programs can be installed and scheduled to run over night. There are many cost effective backup programs available. Do an Internet search on these. Backup programs can be configured to save user data to the external hard drive. This option can also be used in place of options 1 and 2. But some of the benefits achieved by these other options are lost or minimized if this is the only option you choose. However, it is another good option because the back up process is fully automated and the user data is still physically separated from the main hard drive.

Hopefully this article has raised the importance of user data. The options presented here are the very same options used by many highly experience data processing centers and can be easily adopted by the average computer user. The most important point to remember is that good planning for potential disasters is the best protection against loss of valuable user data. You may not think of it this way at first but the user data that you accumulate on your computer takes time to build up and acquire. If you value your time then you'll value your data. Your data has a lot of value. So why not take a few simple steps to protect it.