I have my OS and programs on a separate drive, a 128GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD. I backup that one once a week by imaging with Macrium Reflect Free
. (Here is a good tutorial
on how to use Macrium Reflect.) An image is a "snapshot" of a drive or partition that is similar to a photo negative. It is used to restore a drive or partition but can't be used as is to access data without using software to mount it. The advantage of an image is it can be used to create an exact copy of a drive or partition that is fully functional, including booting. I make a weekly image of my boot drive once a week and just before making any major changes, such as trying out a new program, and save them to one of the data drives in my computer. Those drives get backed up daily. Imaging works so well for restoring an OS and programs to an earlier date, I disabled System Restore (which was never very reliable for me) and just use imaging only.
While imaging or cloning can be used to backup data, both are time consuming and can take a lot of drive space. Folder/file syncing is far more efficient, taking less time and space and putting less wear and tear on a drive. While there are several folder/file syncing programs available, I like FreeFileSync
because it's free, is fairly easy to use, and has a couple of features I like I haven't seen on other folder/file syncing programs (more on that in a moment). A folder/file syncing program works by comparing folder pairs (an entire drive can be considered to be a folder) and does what it has been set to do to make both folders have the same content. For making backups, use the mirror option and make the source and the backup drives the folder pair. FreeFileSync will compare the two paired "folders". If there is a folder or file on the source drive that isn't on the destination drive, FreeFileSync will copy that file from the source drive to the destination drive. If a file on the source drive has been changed since it was first copied to the destination drive, FreeFileSync will delete the file that is on the destination drive and replace it with the changed one copied from the source drive. If a file on the destination drive has been deleted from the source drive, then FreeFileSync will also delete it from the destination drive.
One thing that can complicate using a folder/file syncing program is external drives can change their drive letters. This would break the folder pair. However, FreeFileSync has a provision that I haven't seen on other folder/file syncing programs that allows one to use the name
of the destination drive instead of the drive letter to establish the folder pair. That way, FreeFileSync will always be able to find the destination drive not matter what the drive letter may be.
Another feature FreeFileSync has I haven't seen elsewhere is the ability to determine what happens to files it deletes. One can choose to send files to Computer Neverland, never more to be seen. sent to the Recycle Bin, or sent to a folder on another drive called a Versioning folder. I like the Versioning folder because it allows me to be able to retrieve an accidentally deleted file, even if FreeFileSync has already deleted it on the backup.
I used to backup my data drives only once a week by cloning them but it was taking far too long (three hours, no matter how much or little data had been added, changed, or deleted) and didn't have any practical versioning provisions. Since FreeFileSync only deals with added, changed, or deleted files, how long it takes depends mostly on the number and size of the files affected. On most days, it takes me less than a handful of minutes to do a backup.