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What's an inexpensive way to set up a backup system?


I have a new Win7 PC and I want to buy a backup hard drive that already has your recommended Macrium Reflect installed on it. I would prefer an internal drive but would consider a USB 3.0 external drive as well since I don’t have ESAT or Firewire ports on my PC.

I’m not finding either drives with MR (Macrium Reflect) installed on them after much searching. Do you know of places that sell them with Macrium Reflect installed on them since you recommended Macrium Reflect?

If not, my only option is to buy Macrium Reflect and then install it after I buy a backup hard drive which I would prefer not to have to do since it would likely cost more money to buy both separately which I am short on after recent expensive replacements of several other random things. Any help would be appreciated.

In this excerpt from Answercast #4, I discuss why backup software should not come pre-installed on a hard drive and what you can do to get from free, trial installations.

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Pre-Installed Software

The short answer to your question is “no”. I know of no source that will sell you a hard disc with software pre-installed or with software actually pre-provided. Because you would still end up having to install it and actually running through the install process once you have your hard drive installed.

In all honesty, even if they did, I don’t think it would address your fundamental problem which is cost. A drive costs X; Macrium Reflect costs Y; if they were bundled together they might cost something a little less than X + Y, but my guess is not a lot.

The fact is: the hard drive manufacturer’s gotta be paid; the people who produce Macrium Reflect need to be paid; no matter how you package it, there’s probably not gonna be a way around that. So, in reality, that point is kind of moot because I just don’t know of a preinstall solution like that.

Aging software problems

And in all honesty, I’m not sure that I would want pre-installed software. It seems likely that it would be pretty quick for the version of software that’s installed on the hard drive (that could be sitting in somebody’s stock room for many months before it gets sold) to be out of date the moment you got it.

Especially when it comes to important utilities like backup software and so forth. I want to make sure to get the most recent copy and the right way to do that, of course, is to buy it and then update it regularly.

Keeping the cost low

Now in order to address the costs concerns, I would actually do two things: one is that I would certainly go shopping for a hard drive. They tend to be fairly inexpensive these days. Hopefully, prices are coming down again after a spike last year due to floods in one of the overseas manufacturing facilities.

So get yourself a good hard drive with enough space that meets the criteria that you want; a USB 3 is what it sounds like you’re looking for.

What I would do then is: I would at least start with the free version of Macrium Reflect.

With the free version, you’re not going to be able to do a couple of things. You’re not going to be able to do incremental backups and you’re basically going to be doing only image backups. But a.) it’s free, and b.) an image backup is better than no backup. In fact, it’s way better than no backup.

If you’ve got enough space on that external hard drive, you could keep oodles of image backups of your main machine and it would certainly be more secure than having no backup at all. It’s not the most flexible solution, but if you’re price conscious; if that really is an issue for you, that’s the direction I would send you in.

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19 comments on “What's an inexpensive way to set up a backup system?”

  1. I had two large external back-ups. Both of them “crashed” to the point they were useless. Very disappointing, of course – I had a lot of data on them. My computer guru friend said one of them might be salvageable, but would cost more than $300 to extract the information. That’s more than twice what it sold for. Even at that, there was no guarantee of success. Just thought I’d mention the potential hazards of external back-ups.

  2. I’ve used both Seagate and Western Digital external drives. Both come with backup programs pre-installed. I hated Seagate. Western Digital will password protect your data, allow you some limited flexibility to what you will backup (eg, all or none of pictures), makes incremental backups, and you can tell it to keep x copies of modified files. I think it uses AES 256 bit encryption. I’ve been pleased with it. Still not as good as Macrium, but I would think it would fit the needs of most people who just want to backup a single computer at a time (the manual method you have described elsewhere).

  3. You’ll probably get something not quite what you expected when buying some s’ware. Personally I would not go down the route of the expensive Acronis, plenty about two or three years old but they are all a bit over complicated. Certainly buy a cheap Acronis if you want to just clone your hard disc C to D.
    At your leisure look at the cheap two year old Acronis and see if this software has some thing to offer you. Kind regards.

  4. @Sir-Rand:

    You appear to be equating the cost of the drive with the value of the data stored on it. (Complaining that the cost of recovering the data was more than the cost of the drive.) Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask any business owner who has lost their (un-backed-up) computer, only to find out that while their insurance will replace the hardware, the cost of recovering the data could put them out of business.

    We had a colleague call us recently because a client of his had done something to corrupt their data. Of course, they had no backups. We managed to recover 99+% of their data from the mangled remains, and they were happy to pay us over $600 for the service. (Actually, as I recall, our colleague paid us that much, and his client was happy to pay him even more than that.)

    I’m also curious about your comment about “the potential hazards of external back-ups”. There’s really no such thing as an “internal backup”. (As Leo has stated numerous times, “if your data is in only one place, then it’s not backed up”.) There are, of course, off-site backups, which have their own set of “potential hazards”. (Are you putting you data in the care of someone else? What guarantees of restorability do you have? What happens if they’re suddenly shut down by the government because some clients were backing up pirated software on their systems? Etc., etc., etc.)

  5. Your backup should have 2 components: 1) SYSTEM IMAGE, which will save you much time and anguish if your disk fails or you have a virus infection. 2) DATA, which is the most valuable and possibly priceless, and should be stored offsite.

    Macrium Reflect free version is great for full SYSTEM IMAGE backups. I recommend full image backups anyway, because incremental image backups can have a variety of problems, mostly due to inherent complexity. Keep it simple; use full image backups. Weekly, or even monthly, image backups should be sufficient to recover your system in short order, if needed, IF your DATA is backed up separately, offsite.

    Offsite DATA backups are easy with online or “cloud” backup. I like; individuals can back up 5 GB for free. The 5 GB is calculated based on how much space your data takes up on *your* hard disk, and they store the most recent *30* versions of each file, which may use much more than 5GB on their servers.

    Another option is Microsoft Sky Drive ( which offers 25 GB of free online storage. You just drag your files to copy them to sky drive. (I don’t think there’s a synching utility.) It only stores one copy of each file, unless you put more copies in separate folders. Of course there are numerous other options for online backup and storage.

  6. My solution is simple …
    1] buy an external hard drive that you hook on to a USB port. Larger than your present hard drive.
    [I bought for less an $100 Canadian a huge terabyte Hard drive].
    2] format that offline hard drive.
    3] Make a separate folder for each backup using the date of backup as the folder name.
    4] You should have original software from dealer for Windows [XP or 7] and Anti Virus and other major programs. Go to Microsoft web site for latest service packs and any other websites for anything else.
    5] Download the latest versions of any other programs from sonme reliable web site [CNET is the one I use]
    5] Copy the data files from C: to your backup drive.
    6] if you need to get the files they are readily available using a copy from offline drive.
    7] If restoring you are covered only up to the point of you last backup.
    8]update your drivers as well

  7. For a nice free solution, I recommend Clonezilla for image backups. It is Linux based and more cumbersome to use, so it’s not right for everyone. Nonetheless, there are very good walkthroughs on the website that can help nearly anyone use the program successfully. The downside is that it is “offline” and has no incremental backup features so you’d have to manually create images whenever you want a fresh backup.

    For incremental backup of data, I use the free software Synkron. You can set up folders to sync and a time to sync and it handles the rest for you. For example, I keep my work folder (client data, tax docs, etc.) synced to a usb drive that I keep plugged in to my computer. Every day at noon, it looks for changes in the files in the folder and then syncs to the flash drive. That way, I know that if my hard drive fails, my work data is no older than one day.

    For complete data failproofing, you will want an offsite solution as well. This could be as simple as keeping an external hd with your data stored at a friend’s house, or you could opt for cloud services. For a relatively inexpensive cloud backup option, I recommend Carbonite. It’s $60/yr for unlimited data backup for one computer. For free solutions (and if you don’t have a ton of data), I would recommend Skydrive and Dropbox (both of which have mobile apps so you can access your data anywhere).

    Keith Clemmons
    Owner, ATL Computer Repair

  8. USB 3 is a good requirement. Of course, it is no use if you don’t USB 3 support in the computer. Only very new, ie built in 2012, computers have it.

    I like the “3-2-1” rule of backup:

    Remember 3-2-1 to have good backups —
    – at least 3 copies of any file,
    – in 2 different formats (say on a hard drive and DVD or the cloud),
    – at least 1 copy offsite — in case of fire!

    Steve Gibson

    I like Bob H’s suggestion. I’ve taken it one step farther. I have partitioned my HD to have use C: for OS and Apps, and D: for Data. That way I can have separate backup strategies for the drives.

  9. Although many hard drives do come with backup program trials and discs, they do not usually advertise it on the outer packaging. I often do not use the programs they offer. The last hard drive I bought was a Seagate 750gb external and it indeed came with a backup program that I decided not to use because I was not familiar with the company. I was very surprised because the packaging said nothing about including a disc. I am trying to remember the name of it…come to think of it, I think it was actually comodo and I did use it to partition my drive I just didn’t use the backup feature

  10. I find it odd that no one has mentioned the backup software that comes as part of Windows 7. There is a FILE BASED incremental backup that uses .zip files instead of some arcane format meaningful only to a restore program. You also can get back previous versions of backed up files directly from Windows Explorer. There is also an IMAGE BACKUP that can be restored to a “bare metal” new hard drive. I have even used this to clone a system to a new drive.
    The biggest limitation is that you can only easily schedule a single automatic backup – daily or weekly and you cannot separately schedule file and image backup. Also only one image backup is kept unless you play tricks to rename the location it uses. The HOME versions of Windows 7 can only backup to a drive attached to the computer – either a second internal drive or an external. The PRO and ULTIMATE versions can optionally backup across the network to a file server or another computer’s shared space.

  11. Another option is purchase a Western Digital external USB drive and you can download a free version of Acrnonis true image home Western Digital Edition. It has limitations but still a good backup option. As Leo says any backup is better than none. Every second you run your system with no backups you are at risk of losing your data.

  12. I’m surprised that my solution previously published is not here. Leo, please put my ‘karens replicator’ solution up again. It’s free, it’s fast, it works for any OS
    Karen has saved me days of pain in completely resoring everything in 1/10th the time; three times over already.

  13. Home users can obtain the well-regarded Paragon Backup & Recovery 2012 Free Edition for this purpose; the hard drive manufacturers also offer free software on their websites.

  14. Something to consider with any back-up software is the capacity of the drives the back-ups are saved to.

    I use a single full back-up scheme rather than incermental or differential. The back-up software I use failed on automatic back-up because it wouldn’t delete the previous back-up copy first and my external drive didn’t have the capacity to hold a full second back-up before the first was removed.

    The thinking for this is if something fails during a back-up and there is no previous back-up it can be disastrous so the software will not automatically delete a previous back-up first. I can agree to a degree but what’s the difference if I have to manually delete a back-up file to make room for my weekly back-up or if the program does it for me? What’s different between making my first back-up where ther is no previous one? If something happens in either case I’m basically in a mess anyway, right?

    I was happy to be able to have a single, full back-up feature and made the assumption the back-up software would have a feature that would auto delete the existing back-up or allow it to be overwritten with appropriate warnings for such situations where storage space is an issue. I don’t need more than a single back-up. I also don’t have the deep pockets to keep adding more drives for back-up storage to maintain multiple back-ups.

    All that aside, nothing in the advertising literature with the software I bought gave any recommendations about storage capacity for a back-up drive nor did it even suggest what size would be appropriate.

    In my case I use a 160 GB SSD as my primary drive for my OS and the essential drivers and other software that run my PC. Everything else is on a mostly full 1.5 TB secondary drive. I had been using a 2 TB external drive which was always adequate. Then this. I had a 500 GB external drive I wasn’t using so I put it in service for storing the back-ups for the SSD and my Outlook data.

    To safely have enough room to follow a single back-up scheme the 2 TB drive that once handled it all wasn’t big enough to do a single back-up scheme with the 1.5 TB drive. That needs to be about double that capacity or about 3 TB. I had to buy a new external drive to be paired with the 2 TB external drive to be able to split the second back-up across the two. To me, this needing 2 drives simply doubles the potential for something to die or go wrong and make any full back up saved that way useless.

    There are 3 TB external drives out there but they are still in the $200.00 and up range and I don’t know about long term reliability. That will eventually be my course of action, but it’s still irritating I wasn’t forewarned first. Had I known ahead of time that the back-up software I came with a couple of hundred dollar hidden hardware cost I would have looked into other options.

    My advice is to anyone planning any kind of back-up plan with any back-up software is to research and understand what back-up storage requirements will be and price them.

    As an aside, none of the online back-up services like Mozy or Carbonite allow storage of back-up files. They also have storage limitations now as well.The only solution I know of with online storage is renting space from a company that has no such restrictions. The ones I checked were very expensive to save more than a trifling amount of data. They were certainly more expensive than buying several external drives.

  15. Buy an expansion drive and download 2 pieces of software FREE from Seagate. DiscWizard to do an occasional Image. Seagate Manager to do incremental scheduled or on demand DATA backups. I have used both of these for years and they work. Not supported by Seagate if it did not come with the drive, but it is simple to use and again it just plain works.

  16. What about Acronis? Before you recommended many times, and really is an amazing Backup Software, also has pretty options to do many different things to help you keep your data safe. Thanks for you guidelines that make my digital life better :-)

  17. Another inexpensive backup & restore process:
    A) You can purchase a good Seagate or Western Digital external HD for around a hundred bucks.
    B) I do not need or want a backup program free or not. I am the backup program – and in the end the only reliable one. I had purchased Acronis long before Leo’s recommendation and had used it for years just to back up. However in April 2011 my PC crashed. So having an image backup done with Acronis – I thought no problem. I will just do a restore. Think again. The Acronis image backup restore failed. I had to reinstall Windows XP – no problem there but I lost a lot of data. So lesson learned. What follows is my simplified backup and restore instructions and they work 100% of the time barring an external HD failure.
    01. I connect my external HD to my PC
    02. I Copy all of “My Documents” to the external HD (Notice I stated “I” copy – not some program.
    03. I follow the instructions for backing up Outlook Express.
    04. I follow the instructions for backing up Firefox
    05. In my statement “B” above, I stated, “Barring an external HD failure,” that is why I also backup to Microsoft SkyDrive – you get 25GB free storage space but with one caveat: there is a 50MB cap per folder – now that is fine for all of my folders except one – “My Music” folder is 18GB. So I can back up all of “My Documents” except for “My Music”. Now there are problems with online storage aka “Cloud Storage” the websites could go out of business or be shut down by the Federal Government – however I don’t believe Microsoft is going anywhere anytime soon.
    C) Using the above 5 steps I have successfully restored all of ‘My Documents” by simply copying them from my external HD back to my PC after a compete reinstall of my OS. I also was successful in restoring Outlook Express and Firefox by coping them from the external HD back to my PC and following the restore instructions for those two programs. As I stated “I” am the backup program and in the end the only reliable one IMHO.

  18. @Mike
    That is a great way to back up your data. I use step 1, 2 & 5 in addition to a daily incremental backup. Instead of steps 3 & 4 I use IMAP for my email which leaves a copy of all my emails on the server and x-marks to back up my bookmarks. The incremental back up has saved me hours of work on a few occasions instead of having to reinstall and tweak all my programs.


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