Easy ways to
back up files
■ Clean your PC,
then donate it
By Marc Saltzman
Q: I’m storing more and more digital photos,
videos and music in my computer, but I’m
getting really nervous about accidentally
losing these precious files. What are smart
A: There’s no worse feeling for a computer user than
realizing something important was just deleted from
your computer—either accidentally or from a hard-drive crash, nasty virus, power surge or natural disaster. The only protection against losing critical
information on your computer is to proactively
back up your important files on a regular basis.
This can be handled automatically, thanks to the
many scheduled backup programs available today,
such as Symantec’s Norton 360 or Microsoft’s Live
OneCare, or manually, where it’s up to you to select
which files to back up and where and how to do so:
burned onto a recordable CD or DVD, USB flash
memory stick or external hard drive, or uploaded to
Be sure to keep a copy of your important work
files, say, archived on a recordable DVD, somewhere
away from your home or office in case of fire or
theft. This is why online backup services are a good
idea, too. Mozy ( www.mozy.com), for example, gives
you 2 GB of free online storage per month.
It doesn’t matter which choice you make as long
as you’re protecting yourself one way or another and
you back up your important files at least once a
month, if not more often.
Concerning videos, photos and music, a good
option is an external hard drive, which can store
hundreds of gigabytes’ worth of data. Unlike an
internal hard drive, which needs to be installed inside
your computer’s tower, an external hard drive can be
connected to a computer via a USB cable (even a lap-top) and doesn’t require software to get started.
Along with your favorite media files—
especially photos and camcorder footage, as they’re
irreplaceable—you should also consider backing up
your address book, calendar entries, documents,
music, archived e-mail messages and Web site
bookmarks. Basically, whatever is important to you,
personally or professionally, should be backed up.
A: Donating a computer helps others, feels great and
is good for the environment. But before you give
that PC away, remember there might be sensitive
data on the hard drive that could potentially hurt
you (or your business) if it fell into the wrong hands.
If you’re giving the PC to charity, you must first format the hard drive, which means wiping it clean,
instead of simply uninstalling your key programs
and manually deleting important files. Here’s how.
• Back up your important information. Usually
these are files such as documents (such as Word
files), address book, calendar appointments, important e-mail messages, Web site bookmarks and digital photos.
• Prep for the format. Unlike past versions of
Windows, which had you create a start-up floppy
disk to reformat your hard drive, Windows XP handles this in an easier fashion. But there’s one caveat:
You’ll need a Windows XP disc. Before you begin,
make sure your computer is set to “Boot to CD.” You
can do this by looking into the BIOS (basic
input/output system) settings when the computer
boots up. Usually this is the F10 key (if not, e-mail
or call your PC manufacturer to find out which key
it is); tap this key when your computer boots up and
you’ll see the BIOS settings. Under “Boot Order,”
make sure the CD-ROM is set to boot first. Save settings and exit.
• Format the hard drive. With the Windows XP
CD-ROM in your drive, restart the computer. You’ll
see “Press Any Key to Boot from CD.” During this
setup process, you may be asked to delete any partitions on your hard drive (if you have any). Follow
the instructions and eventually you will have just
one option: “Unpartitioned Space.” Press ENTER to
install Windows XP. When asked how to format the
partition, choose “Format Using the NTFS File
System.” After this partition is formatted, Windows
XP will begin to install and will reboot the computer
until the operating system is installed.
If you really want to make sure your data are
destroyed, some experts suggest you use a data-wip-ing utility. These programs will completely delete
the contents of any hard drive. C
Marc Saltzman, a leading high-tech reporter,
contributes to more than
three dozen prominent
publications, appears on
radio and TV, and is the
author of 13 books.
Questions about electronics
or computers you purchased
at Costco? Send them to:
The Costco Connection
P.O. Box 34088
Seattle, WA 98124-1088
Or fax to (425) 313-6718,
or e-mail to
Q: I’m upgrading to a new computer with
the Vista operating system and am donating my old PC to charity. How do I make
sure that my old PC doesn’t have any personal information left on it?
The Costco Connection
Costco offers a variety of storage devices, including external hard drives and flash drives, in the
warehouses and at costco.com.
in the subject line.
Marc will answer
selected questions in this
column. We regret that
cannot be answered