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File Backup vs. System Image: Which Is Best?

A file backup and a system image are two very different procedures, but it’s not surprising that people get the two mixed up. The tasks they perform do overlap, which is where the confusion comes in, but it’s important that you know the difference between the two and when it’s suitable to use each. This article will take a look at what exactly a file backup and a system image is, the best approach to make optimal use of them, plus some pitfalls to avoid.

Let’s begin with some definitions. A system image is an exact replica of your drive. It includes absolutely everything that is on your hard drive, right down to the last bit of data. This means it includes not only your personal data like documents and images, but also your operating system’s settings and program files.

A file backup, on the other hand, is usually just a backup of files that are unique to you. This can include, but is not limited to, photos, music, documents and emails. It is essentially data that you have created or received; it can’t be found on a disc like an operating system’s files could be.

A system image can be created using programs like R-Drive Image. The best use of a system image is when your drive has completely failed and you want to revert it entirely back to a previous state. This is because you can’t pick and choose specific bits of data to restore with a system image. You either restore the whole thing or nothing at all.

System images can also come in handy for administrators who need to deploy multiple systems with an identical structure. An initial image could be taken and then replicated across different hard drives in order to create a unified network.

How regularly you take a system image will depend on your specific needs, but it’s important to note that the process may take a while if your system holds a lot of data. It’s probably suitable to do one every week, but even that might be too much for a lot of users. System files won’t change that often – it’s your personal data that’s constantly changing, which is where file backup comes in.

File backup is what the majority of people think of when it comes to backup. There are a whole host of tools available online to help with backup, but there’s even a utility built into Windows. A file backup should ideally be performed incrementally. That is, whenever data is added or adjusted the changes are reflected instantly on the backup.

Although the initial backup could take a long time, this incremental backup ensures that you always have a secondary copy of your data and that it doesn’t hog too much of your system’s resources. If incremental backup isn’t possible, backing up daily is the minimum that should be done.

This type of backup will mean that if some data is corrupted or removed, it can be restored on an individual basis without having to restore the whole system (as happens in a system image).

At the end of the day, the more important of the two is file backup. Your personal files need to be kept safe and secure, backed up in a quick and convenient manner. Although a system image has its uses, it need not be carried out as often as a standard backup.


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