Put it all on a tape backup drive

"Back up your data" is probably second only to "eat your vegetables" as good advice that's often ignored. But you ignore it at your peril. Hard drives have grown vastly more reliable, but they can still fail. And everyone occasionally erases crucial files -- a problem that becomes particularly common if a coworker or family member shares your PC.

Tape drives remain an excellent choice to back up all your data and applications. They're not as fast as removable-cartridge drives, but they can accommodate the contents of today's big hard drives, letting you back up everything in one fell swoop. Also, tape cartridges are much less expensive than removable cartridges. And the latest tape drives come with emergency recovery software that allows you to restore data from your backup tape without having to reinstall Windows 95 first -- a major hassle in the past.

When picking a drive, your first consideration should be cartridge capacity. Note that capacity is measured in terms of compressed data. The backup software that comes with the drives compresses the data as it backs it up, with an average compression ratio of 2 to 1. (Compressed files such as .zip files or DriveSpace files won't be further compressed.) So a drive rated at 8GB physically holds only 4GB. You can choose not to compress data, but that slows down the backup process.

Plan for expansion when you choose your drive. You may have a 2GB hard drive now, but if you're considering upgrading it in the future, buy a tape drive that will handle the bigger capacity. (Yes, you can use multiple tapes to back up a big hard drive, but it's a pain.)Tape drives for desktop PCs come in external parallel-port and internal EIDE versions. (SCSI tape drives offer greater speed and storage capacity, but they cost much more and are designed primarily for network servers.) External drives are the simplest to install and can be moved easily between PCs, but they're slower -- about one-half to one-quarter the speed of internal drives. Performance varies by product model, but you can figure on 20MB to 40MB per minute for parallel-port drives, and 40MB to 60MB per minute for EIDE drives.

Installing tape drives is straightforward. Here are steps for installing both parallel-port and internal drives. Once you're done, be sure to perform those regular backups -- and eat your vegetables!

1. Hook up a parallel-port tape drive. Enter your PC's system setup (details vary by manufacturer). Make sure your PC's parallel port is set for Enhanced Parallel Port mode. Some setups, like the one shown here, offer a combined ECP/EPP mode. That's fine, too.

Shut down your PC. If you have a printer attached, disconnect the printer cable from the parallel port.

Connect one end of the cable that came with your tape drive to your PC's parallel port, the other to the appropriate connector on the rear of the drive.

If you have a printer, connect your printer cable to the printer port on the tape drive.

Hook up the power connections on the rear of the tape drive and plug the power supply into an AC socket.

Now skip to Step 3.

2. Hook up an internal EIDE tape drive. Some internal drives require that you install their software before you install the drive. Read the instructions that come with your drive carefully before you start.

Turn off your PC and remove the cover.

Figure how you'll connect the data cable. Don't use the extra connector on the data cable that's connected to your PC's hard drive (the primary EIDE channel), since that might slow down your PC. Instead, use the secondary EIDE channel.If a CD-ROM drive or other device is already attached to the secondary EIDE connector on the motherboard, set the tape drive jumpers to "slave". Otherwise, set the jumpers to "master".

Mount the drive in your PC. If there's no front-accessible 3.5in drive bay available, look for mounting adapters for 5.25in drive bays, which come with most drives.

If another device is attached to the secondary EIDE connector, attach the tape drive to that data cable's extra connector. If not, connect the cable that came with the drive to the secondary EIDE connector. Either way, make sure the coloured side of the cable is aligned with the drive's Pin 1 (usually next to the power connector).

Find a free power connector and plug it into the drive.

3. Install the software. Turn on your computer and install the software that came with your tape drive. Installation procedures vary by manufacturer and drive type. Carefully follow the software's on-screen directions.

If you installed an internal EIDE tape drive, Windows 95 should automatically detect it at start-up and install the required software. (You may be asked to insert your original Windows 95 CD-ROM.)For parallel-port drives, the software should automatically install all required drivers. You may be asked to restart your PC after the installation process is finished.

If the installation software can't find the tape drive, select Start--Settings--Control Panel, double-click the System icon, and click the Device Manager tab. If an exclamation mark appears next to your new drive, go to Start--Help, search for "hardware troubleshooter", and follow the directions. If you still can't get the drive to work, it's time to call your friendly tech support representative.

If you're using Windows NT, you will need to manually install a driver for the tape drive. The Windows NT installation CD-ROM comes with drivers for most tape drives, but you may need to use a custom driver. Check to see whether a Windows NT driver came with the tape drive. If this is not the case, don't worry -- you should be able to download the driver from the vendor's web site.

When you have the driver, select Start--Settings, open the Control Panel and double-click the Tape Devices icon. Follow the resulting directions.

4. Start backing up. Use your backup software to create emergency restore disks and perform a complete backup. And stick to a schedule -- a backup is effective only if it's up-to-date. For even greater peace of mind, keep a copy off-site.

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