I get asked a lot of questions more than once.
1 – Backups
To my mind, one backup is not much better than no backup at all. If you have a backup disk connected to your computer and it suffers a failure, if there’s a blackout, if a virus infection such as Cryptolocker finds its way onto your computer or someone simply bumps the plug out of the wall, you can lose the lot. For the same reason I do not recommend leaving a backup disk permanently connected.
Therefore what I suggest on a PC is that you have two backup disks, each at least double the size of the hard drive on your computer. From Control Panel go into Backup and Restore and create a recovery disk (this is a DVD which you’ll burn) and then do a full system image backup onto each of the external drives. You should refresh these backups every 6 months or so, or whenever you’ve installed any new programs of significance. These backups will help to ensure that we can recover your computer and all the installed programs with as little fuss as possible.
That simply leaves the day-to-day changes that you make to your documents, music, photos, MYOB, email and other files. For this I recommend using Microsoft’s Synctoy program, which is a free download from Microsoft. Unfortunately it’s not completely trivial to set up but that’s a task I can perform remotely. This program will keep a copy of your files, and when its run it will echo any updates, deletions and additions onto the backup. The reasons I suggest this program is that it stores your files in a usable format on the backup device in the same folder structure as on your computer, unlike many proprietary systems which bundle the files up into a form that can only be decoded by the backup program itself, and also because it works well with multiple drives.
Once the two drives are set up, I then suggest you keep one off site in a secure location. Every time a significant amount of work is done, which may mean daily, weekly or whatever amount of time you feel comfortable having to re-do work, then manually run the backup and rotate it with the offsite copy.
In a Mac environment this is much simpler as you can just use Time Machine. Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 have a File History program which functions similarly to Time Machine, but since it only supports a single drive I can’t recommend it.
For maximum paranoia I also suggest creating a cloud account such as Dropbox and storing your day-to-day working files in its folder structure. This will cause files to be backed up to the cloud every time you change them and also gives you the added benefit of storing old versions which can be recalled in the event of unwanted changes or errors being made.
2 – My new computer
I get asked about this a lot. I don’t sell computers but I can help you choose one, set it up for you, and install it. The first obvious question is whether you want a laptop or a desktop.
For a desktop I generally recommend purchasing one from Alfa Computers. This company builds computers to order and has been in business for well over 25 years. I recommend them because they only use quality components and good solid cases, they build to order so you can customise the best package to suit your needs, and they offer a 3 year warranty with the first year on site at your home or office. I can usually get you a firm price same-day and they generally take 4-5 business days to build your computer.
For a laptop I generally suggest buying a Dell. This is because it is easy to get spare parts and all the installers and device drivers are readily available on the internet – some brands charge up to $65 for this servicce. The failure rates of most of the major brands are fairly similar and really it comes down to what you want in the package that’s available at the time you want it. Be aware that the sleeker, sexier and slimmer the computer is, the more the spare parts are likely to cost and often the labour costs for performing repairs are higher due to longer repair times, but this is often a trade-off between robustness versus weight and portability.
The other usual question is around the specification. The typical modern computer will come with an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor, and I generally suggest that most people opt for the i5. In my experience the i3 is often a bit slow, and while the i7 is a faster processor it does come with a price premium and has processing power that most users won’t require. Typically 8GB of RAM is sufficient for most users. Except for SSD systems (see below), very few systems come with less than 500GB of hard drive capacity, and generally the extra cost to get a 1TB drive is minimal. The best guide is to look at how much disk space you’re using now, and unless you plan to start storing a lot more music, videos or photos simply double what you have now to be safe.
SSDs (solid state drives) are common in modern laptops. They are considerably smaller in capacity than a similarly-priced hard drive but are much faster, so the computer boots up and loads programs very quickly. They are also more prone to failure. It is important to take the size of an SSD into account as I have had customers who couldn’t fit all their stuff onto the new computer!