Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

One of the Reasons I Think Backups Are SO Important

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!


Show Transcript

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

Podcast audio


49 comments on “One of the Reasons I Think Backups Are SO Important”

  1. Hi. Great video, and I’m sorry it came in response to such a loss.
    A year or two ago, I collected as many photos as I could, of family, and from family. The oldest pics went back three generations. I scanned all of the pics, and put them on DVDs, one copy for each family member. 3.17 GBs to a disk.
    It took about a week (maybe 20 hours) to put it together, after I received all the pics. It was fun, inexpensive, and appreciated by everyone who now has a copy.
    That project was the best and most important backup I’ve ever made.

    • My concern about digital photos is making sure that the media can be read by the next generation.
      How many of you can read 8-1/2″ floppies from the 1980’s? Or even 3-1/2″ floppies from the 1990’s? How long before DVDs are “obsolete” and unreadable? (Search for “lunar orbiter image recovery project” for an example.)
      Anyone can “access” film negatives, regardless of how old they are. But, as Leo pointed out, they can be lost in an instant, and are hard to back up.
      So, take some time every 5-10 years to copy your backup collection to the latest media. And make sure your family does the same.

      • I have a bunch of old negatives from 40 years ago. When I tried to access them I found they were pitted and did not print well at all. We can only hope to do the best we can with what we have.

      • Anyone being able to access film negatives is not necessarily true. First, you have to find a photography shop. Then you have to find out whether they actually still have the old equipment. Photography shops are getting harder to find with everything going digital and you can buy the cameras and printers at tons of shops these days. And I know of a couple shops that don’t have the old equipment. Everything they sell is digital so they don’t process film/negatives.

    • That’s a great method of backing up photos and personal videos. Send copies to several relatives. It will be appreciated and serve as a backup. See my other comment on my experience.

  2. And, in keeping with your “if it’s only in one place, it’s not backed up” theme…

    We had a client come to us after a hard drive crash. She religiously backed up her photos on her computer. However, she was in the bad habit of deleting her photos from the camera after copying them to the computer, but before the computer backup was made. Of course, the crash occurred in the gap after deleting from the camera and making the backup. And, to add insult to injury, those photos included the last pictures of her recently-deceased pet.

    Fortunately, we were able to recover her pictures, even if the O/S was trashed.

  3. As usual, a very informative video. But in my case there were annoying subtitles of the audio. Now Leo speaks lovely English and is extremely easy to understand, why is it necessary to have these. In some cases I got repetitive subtitles almost covering the screen, maybe a glitch? In the dozens of videos I have seen of Leo, this is a first.

    • Just click the CC icon on the YouTube video to turn off subtitles. (They should be off by default.) ALso if you view the video full screen, or on YouTube, the video will be larger and the captions proportionately smaller.

  4. When our kids were young, we took a lot of photos of the kids. We sent the undeveloped film to my in-laws who made extra prints of the photos for my parents and us. When we lost most of our personal copies of the photos during a move, we were able to make scans of the negatives they had kept. We didn’t realize that we were backing up at the time.

  5. Hi Leo, thanks for the article. Its because of you that I learned about Macrium reflect and now use it on multiple computers. I do not however, have offsite backups. I’m not sure its practical to copy backup images to a cloud service. It would take forever and of course it would be a paid plan. I like Amazon’s plan of unlimited storage for $59 per year, but it wants to sync to a folder. I don’t want to sync, I just want to copy the latest image to a could drive. Any recomendations? Thanks, Brian

    • Unless you have a very fast internet connection it’s impractical to copy images to the cloud. This is where a more limited set of files and folders would make sense to upload. My approach is to keep those kinds of things in DropBox/OneDrive style folders so that they;re constantly uploaded as I work on them.

      • upload time is not that important. i have a program, syncovery, which sync’s my computer and the cloud. I have over 1+ terabytes, pictures, movies, etc (I was the family archiver)
        even though it took several weeks for it all to go up to amazon (unlimited account), the now-routine sync’s don’t take much time.
        and even though i have backups to local external drives, the cloud is now actually a fast way to back up today’s changes (before I pull the hard drive out of the safe every week or so), and could easily recover the most recent changes also.
        again, there are multiple ways to back up items; redundancy is a good thing, using several avenues.

        • That would work if you are dealing with individual files. An image backup is so big, that by the time it is backed up, you would have made several backup images in the mean time. I know this from experience. I tried to prove Leo wrong on that by uploading my image backup file, but I gave up after three weeks.

  6. Thanks for another great video Leo. I wish I had backed up my wedding video from 1970. We never even got to see it once. We live in Ontario, a friend videoed the entire wedding. My wife’s grandfather said “Let me take it back to New Brunswick and play it. Then I will mail it back.” Well, it never came back, and no relatives down east have ever claimed to have seen it. After 46 years, I still can’t stop wondering what ever happened to our wedding video.

  7. The “Zomerlust-desaster” or who knew the word “back-up” in 1966
    Dear Leo,
    I am a dutchman, originally from The Hague, and it was obviously with great interest that I listened to your story about the fatal loss of the old time pictures from your (grand)parents. I left Holland in 1973 , starting a new life as a civil servant in the foreign office. From then until 2010 we live in 12 different places in several continents and our personal belongings moved with us. The one thing we had learned, I cannot remember who did so, probably one of the many removal companies we dealt with, to keep my photo negatives separate from the printed pictures. As we have a huge number of photo albums, they obviously travelled in the removal container but the negatives either came along in our suitcase or were temporarely stored in a safe place.
    Meanwhile I am a pensioner, have thousands of digital pictures, backed up all over the place, asking myself who might be interested in all that stuff once I have rached the end of the second half of my life. The kids are making hundreds of digital pictures themselves while we were struggeling with 24 or 36 pictues at the time.
    One thing is for sure however, you have absolutely convinced me abuot backing up my systems and I thank you for that.
    Hartelijke groet,

  8. About 30 odd years ago I was a member of a local sports club which had a lounge, where all the history ,famous past players and events were portrayed on photographs around the walls.
    I happen to say to the chairman of the club one night “have you had all these photos backed up in a different location.” He replied I don’t think so and why?. I told him about a famous rugby club which had lost all their history etc displayed similarly in photos,which were destroyed in a fire and they are still asking people in the community if they happen to have any copies of the photos.
    Suffice to say they did not have many copies and lost all their history.
    I suggested i would re-photograph all the photos, there being no digital means at that time, I had to process them myself and made three copies of everything. One was deposited in a bank, I kept a copy and the chairman had a copy. They have all since been scanned and kept with the original copies.
    Perhaps a bit of belt and braces but like you say irreplaceable and well worth the effort.

  9. Some years ago my daughter and her husband lost their house and everything in it. She had just loaned me the CD’s with their wedding pictures the week before, so that I could get some copies, or they too would have been gone.

    You always think, “It couldn’t happen to me.” But it can. In fact, sooner or later, it probably will.

    • I find it hard to believe anything can last 1,000 years. Not that I think they are lying but because you can’t prove it will last 1,000 years. In 1,000 years, show me it lasted and I’ll believe it.

      But even if it did last, in 1,000 years will anyone have a device capable of reading the disc? I’ve got one floppy drive in a computer that I’m almost ready to throw out (I might just pull the drive before getting rid of the computer). I’ve copied all my floppies to a CD and a couple years ago copied all the CDs to a USB hard drive. If you don’t keep up with the technology, you’re going to be left with backups that you can’t use. And if you can’t use it, why have a backup?

      • Oh I don’t know, the hieroglyphs from ancient Egypt manged to survive along with the Rosetta Stone and we can read them today, so there is hope for you still.
        I’m absolutely certain that every digital storage device and corresponding reader ever invented will be with us for ever, barring catastrophic events, in which case it won’t matter.

        The question of course for private citizens will be the price to make use of the devices.

  10. As another one who was born in the Hague, Holland, I enjoyed the video very much. Also the various comments by others.
    And I am backing up both computers.

    Would like to use OneDrive but do not like to pay monthly for it.

    Beste groetjets von myine

    Karel (aka Karl Menzel)

    • Not advertising but WD Elements 1TB USB hard drives cost less than $90 AUS lees for US$ I have half a dozen of them and combined with Macrium, they are brilliant, fast and small and you don’t have to pay or rely on someone else. Just don’t keep everything in the same drawer.

  11. Leo, Great video and points about backing up data!!!!
    I am old fashioned and back in the ’80s started storing negatives in a safe-deposit box so they would be in a separate, safe location! I have had lost data and picss even with backups. Recently I accidentally found some data under a different user name. The problem being that as I change PCs, I have used a slightly different user name and the data became irretrievable because I didn’t know where it was.

  12. Have a friend who recently lost a couple of thousand songs due to failure to backup. He had all these things stored on an external hard drive, and only on that one external hard drive. He dropped it, and the hard drive died. I kept asking him why he hadn’t backed up and he kept saying he HAD backed up. He had stored them on an external hard drive. Apparently he’d gotten the idea that “backing up” meant storing your files on an external hard drive rather than on your computer, not that “backing up” meant having your data in at least two places. Funny thing is, I’ve talked to other people who have gotten the idea that an external hard drive is permanent and will last forever, so it’s fine to store your data only on that one single hard drive.

    • For a long time I couldn’t understand what Leo meant by “if it’s only in one place, it’s not backed up”. I thought it would be obvious. Turns out, it’s not.

      • Agreed. It’s not so obvious. Leo got me backing up my computer. But I have never got around to backing up my movies … they are on an external hard drive sitting next to the TV. Technically they are backed up because they are actually copies of my VHS tapes. However, the point of putting them on the hard drive was that I was getting afraid that my VCR was getting old and may not be around much longer. If I don’t backup the “backup” of the tapes, I’m at a risk of losing all my movies.

  13. I have always backed up to a secondary source, after I had one hard drive fail on me, I can not stress this enough with people. with the advent of MS one drive I upgraded to 1 tb. the really, really important stuff I store on MS one drive AND my personal web site, and 2 HD’s. save, save, save!!!!

  14. Above, Andy Whiteman said something about losing data because he used a different user name for a computer. Changing a PC or using a different user name shouldn’t cause you to lose old data. There are even ways to get around losing a computer password.

    But this reminded me of another aspect of backups which do cause people to lose data: Often we rely on applications or tools that use very proprietary methods to do things, only to find out that our reliance on these has resulted in irretrievable data loss. Backup software which uses proprietary methods for encoding, encapsulating or organizing data can be a problem when access to the software is lost. How do you use access to such software? Lose its password, go to another operating system where the application doesn’t run, install an application update which is no longer compatible with the previous data formatting method, not be able to install the application on a new computer for some reason, etc. So, the moral of this story is that the most reliable method of backing up is the basic “copy” of files in their native format. Of course, files rely on host applications to open and look at, but there is no way of getting around that, short of paper printouts (which should be kept for certain types of information).

  15. Leo said that if his house were to catch fire he would grab his wife, pets, and photos to run out of the house. No argument there, but there are other things you might consider taking with you. Of course, you would need to have organized and “backed up” these things ahead of time so you can grab them run quickly. Things such as your passport or other documents, marriage certificate, credit cards, home and car insurance papers, copies of a few utility bills with your name and address on them, (if you are a young person) evidence of your school graduation, a checkbook and bank account numbers, printed copies of your address book and list of passwords/pins, copy of your will, spare car keys, etc. Of course, if you keep the originals of your important documents in a safe deposit box, then also grab the key to your bank safe box. In my “grab-and-go” box I also have two small external drives with all my backed up data.

    • You’re dead already!

      Most of the certificates, docs, etc can be scanned and backed up anyhow. Spare keys and cheque books can fry for all I care – they’re replaceable in the matter of hours or days. Jewelry and antiques are insurable or go in the safety deposit box / or a fire and flood proof home safe. Even the safety deposit box keys are replaceable for a nominal fee by the bank.

      You have my nod for the passport, but even that is replaceable in the matter of weeks – and less if emergency travel is required.

      If the fire was so small that you’ve got the time to grab all these things, you should probably turn your attention to putting the fire out first :)

      • You may have missed a couple of things I said: “Of course, you would need to have organized and backed up these things ahead of time so you can grab them run quickly”, and have a “grab-and-go box”, which is one small bag already packed and ready. During a time of stress I would want to minimize the effort and headache re-establishing something as silly as my identity. Try walking into a bank and saying I want to withdraw cash but my ID and checkbook were burned in a fire. If you know how to do this, let us all know.

    • My criteria is what cannot be re-created. Most of what you list, while indeed very important, can be recreated – albeit often with a LOT of work, time and frustration. (Being mostly paperless, things like back account numbers, copies of recent bills and so on, are all in my cloud storage. :-) ).

  16. Spot on Leo.

    I saw or heard many similar stories on data loss and have taken your advice to heart since 09 on backing up. I’m like a squirrel hiding his loot for the winter months with external storage units strewn about everywhere (carefully of course) including back-ups in the cloud :)
    Should a fire catch on in my house – God forbid, I’d lose some hardware here and there, but nothing valuable enough to lose any sleep over.

    BTW, that’s a question that everyone should ask themselves… what would you grab first in the event of a fire (life presumably in-tow of course)?

    Cheers Leo.

  17. I left Hungary with my parents in December 1956 to save our lives from retaliation by the restored communist government. As we dragged ourselves across the Hungarian-Austrian border all we were able to take with us were some change of clothes and family photographs. Later in the USA these photos were in albums that we could view on the coffee table. Still they deteriorated in storage and mishandling. A few years ago I bought a scanner by Epson “Perfection V370 Photo”. This machine is now ancient, but it still does an excellent job of scanning photographs, slides, and negatives in addition to documents. I began to scan the old photos, and later the 35 millimeter slides, and still later color photos. Using “FastStone” I was able to repair many of the old Daguerrotype and later black and white prints that were damaged by humidity and silverfish. Of the color slides, they also suffered over the years accumulating fingerprints, liquids splashed, dust, and lint. all of that I was able to repair once I had the photos digitized.

    As for backup, the photos are not unique. I have all of my data in a Dropbox folder. As such, any changes I make are instantly backed up. I also do daily, weekly, an monthly system backup on external drives that stay off line until I use them. The daily is on an internal secondary drive, so it is automatic. I do not rely on preserving data on any portable device such as CD or DVD. As one said, if the device becomes passe, we have no way to read them. Digital data maintained on the hard drive is different. My photos are all JPG format, and videos for now are MP4. If the formats begin to pass for a better version, I will simply do the conversion and have the new ones saved.

  18. It’s not a question of whether or not your computer will crash; it’s when. I have had two crashes and suffered complete loss of data both times. Fortunately key files were backed up, so I was able to recover almost everything. Unfortunately I lost about 2 months worth of work and changes because when I had my last crash I had not backed up in about two months. It is so important to back up daily. I always used to use manual backup, which is a hassle to do daily. Unless you back up everything daily, you can’t always remember what changed that day. I finally switched to an automated daily backup on the cloud and have already used it twice to recover data that I accidentally deleted myself. Periodically I also back up all my data to additional hard drives, including to another computer. Also back up periodically to a USB stick, which I store off site. Paper copies of important documents and pictures is also a good thing to have, even though, as Leo points out, they can all be lost in one fire. BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP. I have friends and relatives who run around with tablet computers and phones with many, many pictures on them and I doubt that they have backups. Someday they will lose them and wish they had backed up. Interestingly twice my data loss involved mirrored network drives, but once a power failure caused the network storage unit to fail and the data became scrambled. A second time, both my mirrored drives crashed at the same time. In theory, you have two copies on mirrored network storage, but it is still only one physical location, so it can be lost if the network unit fails. On my units the data is in a proprietary format too, so if the unit fails, I would have to pay for data recovery services, unless I can recover from another copy that it is backed up elsewhere.

  19. Thanks for another great edition Leo. I’d like to ask if you could perhaps do an article/video discussing formats for the best way to back things up. I’m talking about photos (JPG, PNG, TIF etc, etc . .) and the many formats for video. I’ve used many after scanning a photo but all the ones direct from my camera are stored as ‘Lossy’ JPG – not ideal but that’s how they come. Video can sometimes sort itself and you can’t change it, or not easily but the photo formats are an interesting subject. I use PDF for archiving docs but photos are like trying to guess the future. What do you recommend? Thanks Leo, Brian (Australia)

    • JPG has a quality setting, so if you have the opportunity set that to be the highest quality when the original is saved. I expect jpgs to be readable pretty much forever just because there are so many. PNG is loss-less, but bigger, but would be my next choice I think. After that it’s somewhat of a crap shoot. As for PDF – same statement as JPG, there are SO MANY documents in PDF that I expect it to be around for a very long time.

  20. I have an interesting backup strategy I have been using since the turn of the century (windows 95). In short it is a “copy each individual file method”. All data files (doc, mp3, ect) have their own folder under C:/old laptop. Yes I have to tell MSWord, Firefox, ect, to save to its proper subfolder that I have specifically designated. Once a month I save “old laptop” to two other sources (before actual save I rename the previous backup “old laptop old” before saving just in case). And yes I save in 3 different locations. In the last 20 years I have lost data only once when 2 computers crashed within 3 months and I was not fully able to fully salvage the second system to my third laptop. (This was in the days when I only backed up to 2 computers.) Hint!!! Always have more than one backup

    Now you would ask why not an image backup such as Macrium and even Windows 10 has one? Well to date I do not have a portable hard drive that will read in a PE environment. As my image files are over 200gig and do not fit in a FAT32 format system. and my NTFS format drives are not recognized in a PE environment. Any help on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

    • Most current PE environments – like the Macrium and Easeus rescue disks, as well as a recovery disk made with Windows – will read NTFS. Can’t speak to your specific external drives, but I’ve not had any problems with the several different drives I use.

  21. That might come as a surprise to you, but it was because of you (leo) that I started to understand the importance of backing up. Back in the early 2000s (I don’t quite remember whether it was in 2002, 2003) there was a program called “GW Scan” which, for some reason, was always referencing to That’s exactly when I started to read your articles and became accustomed to lots of things in computer learning.

    My backup plan is not complicated but should be sufficient in and of itself. Two PCs: one a Samsung more than 6 years old and the other an HP Pavilion, brand new, that I bought last year in June. Six external HDs and a portable one of just 1 TB. Lo and behold, the latter is the most important to me because I never leave it attached to my PCs after backing up. You ought to understand why. I back up almost every day and I use both Macrium Reflect (my favorite) and EaseUS Todo. To top it all off, I also use OneDrive for cloud storage since I am a subscriber to Office 365.

    Again all of this is thanks to you. Do you think I am doing OK or something is missing?

    • Looks good to me. :-) (FWIW Ask Leo! didn’t begin until late 2003, and I certainly don’t recall any referrals from “GW Scan”, but … whatever got you here! :-) )


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.