What is the fastest and easiest way to back up large amounts of data?

Recently my fairly new laptop running XP Home was failing to start up. It would just stop at the log in screen showing "Windows XP Home Edition, but NO USER ICONS! There was no way to get into the system, not even in safe mode. It would do the same exact thing. So I followed some advice from here to repair the OS from the XP cd, which should leave programs and documents intact. When I did this all of my original programs where still there but all my documents where wiped out and then after I restarted it froze up again at "Welcome". So I ended up reformatting and installing new. Luckily I had most of my documents backed up on cds but I still lost some important stuff. HERES THE QUESTION: What is the fastest and easiest way to back up large and numerous amounts of data? My laptop has a 40 GB HD and USB 2.0. I take allot of digital photos weekly (currently 10 GBs on HD), mp3s (currently 10 GBs on HD), and the usual word and excel documents. I was thinking about using a spare 5.25" 60 GB internal hard drive by using an external case SEE:  http://www.meritline.com/firewire-usb-external-enclosure-5-25-cd-dvd-drive-hdd.html  . Then just copy and paste "My Documents" to the external HD. Will it need to completely rewrite “My Documents” or will it just find the new or changed files? Will this work or is there a completely better way? This way seems easy to me. Also, Is there a way to make a copy of my complete system so when this happens again I wont need to reinstall everything? Is there a way to do both of these things at the same time? What do you experts think?
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Lee W, MVPConnect With a Mentor Technology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
XP Home Sucks.  BUT, most people have it who have home computers and to go pro would cost roughly another $100.  One of the reasons I say this is that XP Pro has a Backup tool that will backup to file.  While I have managed to use this program by copying the executable from an XP Pro system to the XP Home system, I can't actually recommend doing things this way as you might well be violating copyrights/software agreements/etc.  One of the reasons I find that software particular good for the average joe though, is that it does a "system state" backup - which backs up your registry and critical windows files so you can later restore them if necessary.

Windows XP Home seems to rely exclusively on basic recovery options that restore your system to a previous point in time (System Restore).  Great... unless you run your system corrupt too long - then you can never restore to the point where things were ok.

Given your description, I'd probably recommend doing just what you're planning on.  with a couple of little modifications.  For example, I'd write a script (happy to do so for you if you just say the word), that backs up all your data and then I'd schedule it to run however often you want it to.  Nightly.  Weekly, whatever you think is comfortable for you.  This script would copy all your data from whatever locations you want (must specify them in advance) to the external USB 2.0 hard drive.

I actually did something similar for my girlfriend - only the copy is to a network drive, not an external USB drive.  Every day, a batch file kicks off at 3am to copy any changed files from her profile directory to the server in a new directory based on the date.  She can easily recover any lost files from any date.

Now, the following is really more of a personal preference with an explanation of why...
I would do something similar, only with a firewire hard drive and a device (which I already own) called a FireWire DriveDock - available from www.wiebetech.com.  I find this device especially handy because there is NO ENCLOSURE.  You can plug pretty much any IDE hard drive into the unit and gain access to the drive.  So if you have a LOT of data, you can buy a new 80-400 GB INTERNAL hard drive (much cheaper than the external ones) whenever you need more space.  Of course, your notebook also needs to be able to handle Firewire (some do, others require a PCCard add-on).  

Of course, you could also consider getting REAL backup software - there's an extensive list here:

And lastly, once you have the system setup as you like, you can get yourself a copy of Ghost or Drive Copy/Drive Image/Deploy Center (basically the same product, varying prices).  Then every 6 months (or more often if you like), you can take an image of the system and restore it if necessary.
nobusConnect With a Mentor Commented:
i recommend using a rev drive if you are willing to spend a few bucks, it's fast,  removableand easy to use:

Cyber-DudeConnect With a Mentor Commented:

In-case you have no User Icons, you can start the explorer manually by hitting the Ctrl + Alt + Delete keys, choose 'Task Manager' => 'File' from the menu => 'New Task' and browse for the 'explorer.exe' file => Click 'OK'.
Now you will be able to browse for errors and forth;

Now for your query;
leew provided proper info but I would like to add:
Your plan is a good one, as well as the product you are looking for to buy. It has a fan unit which is a very important factor. Also, a script is a good idea but I would add compresstion due to the need of saving space (even though space would not be a factoor after purchasing a new drive, it would be a great asset while backing up data to CDs).

Other than that; your plan is a good plan.

nobus suggsted the iOmenga; which have great products but a bit expensive; and sometimes... expensive is good...

Hope that helped

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If you are comfortable with formatting and partitioning your drive, then I suggest partitioning your hard drive into two logical drives. Since you have 40 gigs to play with, I would make the primary partition only 5-8 gigs. This gives enough room for operating system files as well as caching that the OS has to do anyhow. (you can change the location of where your OS does its caching if there is a problem down the road.)

If you store all of your data on the data partition then when you have to format the OS, none of that data is lost. I've been doing that with all of my hard drives for years and i've never lost any data. The only problem then would be hard drive failure. I suggest backing up personal critical files on CDs or DVDs about every six months (more if you're paranoid) and work critical data every couple of weeks (or after big milestones are reached).

DVD burners are cheap and the media keeps coming down in price. For a home user with only a few gigs of critical data, this is the perfect solution for backups.

PS  Always virus check your files before doing backups or formatting (if possible).
I find mirroring of harddisks and rotating them is the best ( for me )
XP home can't mirror so I use Symantec GHOST for this task and another HardDisk ( bigger the better as you can have more than one image on the BACKUP disk ) Get the full version as it can backup in a number of ways. You can use Ghost Explorer to restore individual files etc or for create failure just restore the whole image.

At work I use hot swappable drives on a Promise controller. This is a hardware solution so Windows only sees one DISK. Being hot swapple you can just pull disks out and rotate them.
By rotating the three harddisks I always have a decent backup. You can also plug the backup disk in, import it and back it up - NO open files.

Jared LukerCommented:
I don't know that you need to get too fancy with this.  The external drive is the cheap and easy way to go.  You can download ROBOCOPY from Microsofts web site.  Once you have those two things, then you can write a simple batch file to back up whatever you want to the external drive.  With USB 2.0, as long as you let the backup run overnight, then it will be done before morning.

simply windows backup
and it's also the cheapest, as u already have it :)
Eric91722Author Commented:
OK, this is what I ended up doing. This one product was the answer to resolve all my issues. Its the Apricorn EZ BUS DT KIT - HI-Speed USB 2.0 Backup & External Storage System! http://www.apricorn.com/product_details.php?ID=332  I  stumbled apon this product at Frys Electonics near where I live looking for external USB hard drive cases. They had about 8 to choose from, prices ranged from $40 to $110.  This item was only $59 and included back up software unlike the others. So I thought I would give it a shot. When I got to the counter for check out I also got a $30 mail in rebate (nice!).  I took it home and began putting it together (installing a spare 60 GB HD into the case WITH MAC OS X already installed / formatted). I followed all the directions and hooked it up to my comp via usb. Nothing happened! Hmmm, what the heck. I knew I might have issues do to the HD already having OS X installed. The external drive was not appearing in My Computer, but was appearing in the device manager. I could not access the HD to reformat it to NTSF in any way that I know of. So I did a search on Experts Exchange. I found out you can format HDs through START > CONTROL PANEL > PERFORMANCE AND MAINTENANCE > ADMINISTRATIVE TOOLS > COMPUTER MANAGEMENT > STORAGE > DISK MANAGEMENT. Here I was finaly able to format the external drive into three 20 GB partitions. So far it has worked great for me. This product came with a program called "EZ Gig II" that performs complete HD back up images or single partition back up images to the external USB HD. When installing the program it prompts you to create a bootable cd to restore an image incase of HD failure. This is probably what "Ghost" does but this already came with the product. You can also view the backed up images to restore a single file if needed (very easy to use) ! It also came with "Clone EZ" for cloning HDs, "Cryptainer LE" lets you encrypt and password protect files or folders, and "Second Copy 2000" this program allows you to schedule back ups of specific files and folders (uncompressed) to the external HD. With "Second Copy 2000" I created a profile (you can create multiple profiles to back what you want, when you want, and where you want) that backs up "My Documents" to the external HD once a day at 6:00 PM. It over writes the existing profile back up so it basicaly creates a daily mirror. This has been the answer to my 4 issues.

1) Uses an existing internal HD I already own and converts it for external use.      YES

2) Makes automatic back ups of "My Documents".       YES    "Second Copy 2000"

3) Makes a complete HD back up incase my HD has another melt down.     YES    "EZ Gig II"

4) Cheapest and easiest way to accomplish these things.      YES

Now hopefully the next time my HD takes a dump this will completely restore my computer and settings back to normal without having to reinstall everything. My only complaint that I have about this product is the the fan is a little noisey. Other than that its awesome. The aluminum case looks realy good and durable.

Thanks for your help everyone!
Jared LukerCommented:
There have been several good options on this thread.  I would recommend splitting points.
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