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June 2013

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What SSDs Can Do!

Solid state drives (SSDs) represent a promising new technology in data storage with potential for higher density, faster speeds, and increased reliability. Traditional hard drives utilize one or more spinning metal platters with data stored magnetically on the metal surface(s). Data is read via magnet(s) at the end of a support arm, similar to the arm and needle of a record player. Whereas a traditional hard drive includes moving parts (i.e. the platters spin, the arm traces back and forth), a solid state hard drive more closely resembles one or more integrated circuit chips. The only things that move are the electrons - within a solid medium. Moving parts represent a real liability in electronics design. They break when the parts don’t move as well (or at all) anymore. They add latency, limiting speeds because we need to wait until the right parts get to where they need to go. They require power – to physically move the parts around. This work then generates heat – which must be dissipated somehow.
SSDs carry their own limitations; however, these can be addressed with complex algorithms for data storage and retrieval. SSDs are also more costly - currently. They can run 7-8 times the price compared to that of traditional hard drives.  Data recovery can also be more difficult since the technology is so radically different in nature. On the positive side, SSDs are significantly faster: 5 to 20 times faster. (Think of a boot time of 60 seconds reduced to 3 seconds.) SSDs are also more resistant to motion, orientation, heat, magnetic fields, etc.  There also exist hybrid-type drives which combine an SSD with a traditional hard drive in an attempt to gain higher capacities, faster speeds, and lower cost, all at once. SSDs have received very popular response from consumers. Some computer manufacturers are offering SSDs in their higher-end offerings.  Sales are expected to go from 39 million sold in 2012 to 83 million for 2013.

What to Backup?

Naturally, everybody wants to back up all their important files. Which files are important? Like paper documents, files become most important at the precise time that they’re needed most. When they’re needed and missing too, then they become really important. The easy answer is to back up everything that’s stored in “My Documents”. This may not be adequate. You may then be tempted to back up the whole hard drive. This may be overkill, especially when you consider how often you’d like to perform your backups.
(1) Documents folder
Microsoft would like you to keep all your documents in the folder “C:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents” (XP) or in “C:\Users\username\Documents” (Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8).  However, many people also keep documents on their desktop. “Desktop” files and folders are not stored inside the regular “documents” folders. For people who keep documents in a partition separate from the system partition, or on a different hard drive, or on a flash memory stick (not a good idea), you’ll need to grab them from there. Also, if you intend to back up for all users of the computer, you’ll need to hunt down all their files as well.
(2) Music folder
Windows XP stores music, pictures, etc. inside the regular documents folder; but, Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 store music in a distinct folder “C:\Users\username\Music”.
(3) Pictures folder
So too with pictures. See (2) above. Also, your camera software may have its own ideas on where to store your pictures.
(4) Videos folder
So too with videos. See (2) above. Also, your video-camera software may have its own ideas.
(5) Desktop
You may have files here that you’d rather not lose. You also may want to save the arrangement of the icons on your desktop. I use the Print-Screen key and save a picture of what my Desktop looks like.
(6) Email
Email is often stored in Application Data folders – which the system makes invisible (for your protection). Depending on your email application, you’ll need to root around to find the files related to your email. Note for Outlooks users: your calendar and contacts information may be stored here as well.
(7) Quickbooks
Intuit, maker of Quickbooks, likes to hide your accounting data down in “C:\Program Files”. Why they do this is a mystery to me; but, it’s a bad idea. Please, when you back up your computer, find your QBW files and make sure that they’re backed up too. Beware of other applications that may also store your data in –unorthodox- locations.
(8) Downloads
How many people download important information from the web – which goes directly into their Downloads folder, wherever that is (depending on your browser & version of browser). The best idea is to relocate any downloaded files to better locations on your computer.
(9) Favorites  / Bookmarks
Each different browser stores bookmarks in a different place. You may want to save these as well.
(10) Websites, blogs, other web content
It also makes sense to keep a copy of any content you’re written for the web or downloaded from the web.

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