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Back up your PC without installing any software

A pet hate of mine is software that loads with Windows. Some programs will add one, two, three or even four programs and services to Windows startup. They are loaded every time Windows starts and they run all the time whether you need them or not. After installing a few programs you could have an extra 10 or 15 startup items that slow down the time taken to get to the desktop and use resources like memory and processing power. Who wants to wait five minutes for a PC to start up? I'm always on the lookout for software that just runs and doesn't need to be installed. Here's my backup solution.

There are two types of backups that can be performed and either the whole hard disk drive can be copied or your personal files. I use both. I have a dual-boot PC with a Windows partition, a Linux partition (Linux distros actually create several partitions for various purposes), and an NTFS partition used for storing various files.

Not all Windows backup programs can cope with a mixture of Windows and Linux partitions, but Paragon Software's Backup and Recovery can. You can download the free 2012 version here and there are more powerful versions that are reasonably priced if you need more features.

If you install the software you'll find that it adds several items to Windows startup. Don't worry about this, we'll deal with it later. Use it to create a recovery CD or USB flash memory drive. I created both and used a CD-R and a 512Mb USB flash memory drive. The software can now be uninstalled from the hard disk drive because the CD-R or USB memory stick is all you need. Switch on the PC and look for a message about startup options. On my PC I press F12. I can then choose which device to boot from and can select the USB memory stick. This starts the Backup and Recovery software from the USB memory stick (or CD-R if you want). It needs no files on the hard disk drive.

The recovery CD/USB memory stick has both backup and restore options and it is easy to select the whole disk with all the partitions and then select a 1Gb external USB disk drive as the destination for the backup. Just set it going and go to bed. It'll be done by morning. (The time taken depends on how much data is being backed up of course, but an overnight run should be sufficient for even the biggest disk.)

You could use this as your only backup program, but it's a bit cumbersome and slow to use if you are working in Windows and realise you lost or have overwritten a file and want to pull it out of the backup. For this reason it is useful to also have a file backup. That is, a copy of important files, such as the contents of the Windows Documents, Pictures, Music and so on. There is a choice of Back4Sure and SyncBack, although my preference is for SyncBack.

There are Pro, SE and free versions of SyncBack and it's a great little tool. It can be used to synchronise two sets of folders, but it works as a backup tool too. You select the source, such as C:\Users\YourName and the destination, such as a USB disk drive. Copying your account folder copies all the files you need. A nice feature is the way the options are described in plain English and you can choose what actions to take, such as 'copy file to destination', 'source overwrites destination' and so on.

There are a lot of backup tools, so why choose Back4Sure or SyncBack. The reason is that they require no installation and they don't run anything on startup. They therefore don't slow down your PC. There are better backup tools than these two programs, but they do the job OK and combined with a whole disk backup using Backup and Recovery you are pretty much covered.