The general idea behind backups is to create usable retrievable copies of data onto media that is then kept isolated from the computer system until such time as there is a necessity to retrieve any of them. The term ‘backup’ is also synonymous with ‘compression’ which leads to problems all of its own.
Each backup program/utility has its own modus operandi, that is to say, it will convert data into a compressed form that only it can read. The same backup program which created the backup has to be used to retrieve the backup.
For instance, a backup created by XP Backup will not be of any use to a Vista system because Vista Backup is not the same as XP Backup. So before upgrading to Vista, it is imperative that all XP backup files are retrieved. Failure to do this will see the user having to re-install XP if the backed up XP files are ever required. Backup applications like Acronis TrueImage should be able to work across differing operating systems, but one should check with Acronis or whoever first.
OEMs and Full System Backup
OEMs like HP or Dell will either supply CD/DVD media from which the system can be recovered, or will at least provide the means for the user to create a recovery set.
There are three methods used.
- A full recovery set comprising multiple CD/DVD’s which will, more often than not, carry out a destructive recovery after which the system will be just as supplied from new. There will be nothing left to show any user activity prior to the recovery.
- A CD/DVD will be supplied which starts a recovery process using files in a manufacturer created recovery partition which may or may not do either a partial recovery or destructive recovery.
- The manufacturer ‘Flash’ screen will show ‘F’ keys which will give access to BIOS setup, boot order and also the manufacturer recovery process, again using files stored in the manufacturer created recovery partition.
OK.. Now back to the title
The manufacturers recovery partition is sized such that it holds all of the data necessary to carry out whatever recovery functions the manufacturer wants the user to have. This may be just one mega file which allows only for a destructive recovery, or it may be a collection of folders and files which allow for OS repair, device driver or application retrieval.
Windows tells the user when free space on a hard drive or partition falls below what is required for optimum drive performance, so the manufacturer will leave a free space such that Windows will not pop up a ‘low disk space’ warning.
The problem arises when the user attempts to use a backup program. A backup on the same drive or partition as the original data is about as much use as a chocolate teapot and backup programs know this.
Consequently, they look for another drive or partition and in the case of most computers bought for home use, there is only ever one drive and two partitions. One of the partitions will be home to the operating system and ‘documents, pictures, music’ folders, and the other will be the recovery partition. In this way, the backup program sees the recovery partition as fair game, but there is never enough free space as discussed further back.
If you have a ‘low disk space warning’
you will have to access the recovery partition and very carefully examine the contents. You will need to pay particular attention to the file creation dates, because the recovery files will have earlier dates than any backups you may have created. I would like to be able to advise that you contact the manufacturer, but the chances of the idiot on the other end of the line knowing how to tell you what to remove safely is zero to nil. It would not hurt to give the manufacturer a try, but please do not hold your breath.
Purchasing a dedicated backup device complete with software is the best option. They are available in a number of sizes, and are good to go with any or even multiple laptop or desktop computers. The software is generally very easy to use, and the backup device can be isolated from the computer, thereby lessening the chance of anything untoward happening to the backed up folders/files.
If you are thinking about purchasing a larger hard drive for use in your computer, the old one can be installed into an external USB housing. Used with a Backup application like Acronis TrueImage, you can have the same thing going for you as with a dedicated device above.
Note that it is also possible to use the Windows ‘copy’ and ‘move’ functions and also ‘drag n drop’ with these devices. The advantage of doing any of these is that the files remain in their original format, and can be read by any computer without the need to install backup software.
CD/DVD burning software from authors like Nero, Roxio, CyberLink and Ashampoo have a function that enables backup directly to CD/DVD. This is great if you have only a small amount of files to back up and if you don’t mind searching through a mass of discs. As per tapes, it is important to store them safely away somewhere.