We’ve probably all been there at some point. Something’s gone majorly wrong with your PC, and you’re left with no choice but to reinstall Windows. If you’ve not backed up your files, you’ll weep for a while at their loss, before summoning the strength to slam that installation disk into the drive and watch as the progress bar crawls across. However, an issue you’re likely to encounter, especially if you’re still using XP, is missing drivers. I know from experience that XP never seems to find all the drivers I need, resulting in hardware not working, and the display only accepting a tiny resolution until I hunt down the disks or download the necessary drivers using another PC. With XP approaching its ninth birthday, it’s likely to become harder and harder to find the drivers you need next time you have to reinstall, so keeping a backup of them would be a rather smashing idea. Luckily there are a few smashing bits of software that will do just that for you. I’ve been testing out one such utility, called DriverBackup 2, and it’s rather jazzy.
The first thing to note is that it doesn’t need to be installed, which is a nice timesaver, though I would rather just be able to run an installer and be done with it. Instead, you just need to grab the files, and run the .exe called ‘DrvBK’ once they’ve downloaded. If you’d rather have it installed like all other software, just make a new folder in your C:\Program Files\ directory, and then copy or move all the files over. You can then make a shortcut in your Start Menu or desktop to the .exe file and access it like any other bit of software. Dull bits out the way, let’s delve into the thrilling world of backing up drivers.
If you’re using XP, you’ll just need to start the software like any other, but Vista and Windows 7 will likely want you to right-click and choose ‘Run as administrator’. DriverBackup will then scour your installed drivers, before presenting a lengthy list of them under their relevant categories: ‘Processors’, ‘Keyboards’, etc. A small but nice touch is that the software will display the default Windows icon for each item, making it easy to visually distinguish between the multitude of different types. Little ‘+’ icons appear to the left of each category and device, allowing you to expand and hide devices and individual drivers for each device.
There is also a checkbox by each entry, allowing you to pick and choose which drivers you want to backup. Whilst Windows will find a good number of the drivers by itself at install – particularly for important devices like the processor, hard-disk, and graphics card - I’d rather have them all backed up so I know I’ve got them all safe and ready to use if something should go horribly wrong. In addition, clicking on a device or individual driver file will give you more information about it, such as manufacturer and release date, which may help you decide whether you need to include it in your backup.
Once you’re ready to begin, click the ‘Start Backup’ button near the bottom right of the software. You’ll then be confronted with a window that looks a bit daunting. You can just ignore most of it, except ‘Path’, which instructs the software where to save the backup. I prefer to create a folder on my PC for the backup, and then copy it manually to an external disk, USB, or hard-disk, but if you’d prefer, you can just make the backup directly to an external device like the ones listed above. Wherever you’re sticking the files, click the ‘Browse’ button, and navigate to that location. The second and final thing that you need to alter on this screen is the checkbox down at the bottom left: ‘Generate files for automatic driver restoration’. Ticking this will ensure that the software creates an additional file that allows you to restore the drivers using DriverBackup 2, which means you won’t have to use Windows’ built-in Device Manager to install them all manually. In addition, it might be a good idea to keep the DriverBackup 2 files around on a disk, since you might not be able to connect to the Internet to download the software again until you’ve got your drivers sorted. Irony, eh?
Finally, let’s venture into the dangerous, disturbing hypothetical world of doom. Your hard-disk had just exploded in a small ball of flames, or a less disastrous but equally disturbing error has befallen your beloved PC. You’ve gotten it fixed or replaced the faulty part, and now you’ve reinstalled Windows. However, some of your devices aren’t working correctly. So long as you can find the dust-covered disk you stored the drivers on, you can restore them in one of two ways. The first is the slower, more nerdy way – manually using Windows device manager. The second is the faster method, which involves using DriverBackup. Since you won’t have it on your cleanly installed PC, if you copied it to your driver backup disk, you can just copy it back onto your PC, or if you didn’t, you’ll need download it on another PC if you can’t access the Internet, and then transfer it over. You can then run the software as before, but this time change to ‘Restore mode’ using the second button at the top of the software, and select the backup file (provided you opted to create one when you backed up your drivers.) Click the ‘Open backup file’ button, navigate to and select the relevant file. As with the process of backing up, you can then tick and untick those that you want to restore, before finally clicking the ‘Restore’ button at the bottom right to pop the drivers back onto your PC. DriverBackup will then beaver about, restoring your drivers to their rightful place. You’ll probably need to restart before you can check that everything’s working okay.
Since the download available on SourceForge is, by default, in Italian, and it take a bit of hunting to find the multi-language version, I’ve uploaded the English-only version to MediaFire, which can be accessed here: http://www.mediafire.com/?rwawglidj1z. I’ve zipped up the file to make it smaller, but Windows should be able to extract it using its built-in tools. In summary, DriverBackup is a smashing little bit of kit that could help save you a great deal of time next time you need to reinstall Windows or something goes wrong with your drivers. It just falls short of a 5-star rating due to the kerfuffle of having to look through the folder for the right file to run the software, and the lack of automatic method of installation for the software.
Hardware reviews are pretty rare here – we tend to focus on software and websites, but since I’ve recently bought a dandy new bit of hardware, I’ve decided to pen a review of this rather smashing bit of kit.
I’m not very good with backing up files. I tend to copy my important work to a USB, and then to my laptop, but other than that, I’ve never run a full back-up of any of my PCs. Part of the reason for that is I’ve never had anywhere to store the files, other than dozens of disks, which would have been incredibly awkward.. I could have bought an external hard-drive, but I didn’t want to have to remember to copy files over when I change them or create new ones. Luckily I’ve found a bit of kit that does it all for me – the Clickfree C2 Automatic Backup.
It set me back about £80 200GB of storage space. That might sound overpriced, but bear with me – this bit of kit differs from normal off-board hard drives in that it detects the files on your computer, and copies them to itself. Not only that, but it also detects when a file is changed, and updates the copy. The hardest bit about using this product was getting it out of the package – it’s in one of those awful clamshell cases that can only be opened with pair of scissors or other such attacking implement. Having eventually managed to remove it, it was then just a case of slotting the hard drive into the dock, and plugging it into a USB port.
The dock comes with two USB connectors, but you only need to plug one in unless your PC doesn’t have USB 2.0 ports, which it most likely does. If nothing starts happening once you’ve plugged it in, sticking the second connector in another socket should give it enough power to get it whirring.
After Windows had found the device and was happy with it, a Clickfree window popped up and started counting down to the backup. I didn’t need to install any software to do this – it’s stored on the portable hard drive and runs automagically when you plug it in. Having sifted through all my files, it then set about making backups of them. After this first backup, all future backups will only copy new or changed files, which means you don’t have to worry about duplicates or not having the latest version of the file safely stored. If you wish to, a small bit of software can be installed that sets the backups on a timer – anything from every two hours to every two weeks.
The hard drive can also be detached from the dock and carried with you wherever you need it. It’s very small, light, and portable, so packing it when you go on holiday or on a business trip should be no trouble. You could even carry all your files on this device rather than taking your laptop with you, provided you have access to another computer when you arrive at your destination.
Something at particularly impressed me was the way in which the device makes it simple to backup multiple PCs – plug it into any other PC or Mac and it will begin backing up the files after 30 seconds unless you tell it not to. It also creates a separate area on the drive for each PC that you’re backing up – so there’s a different section for your desktop, laptop, spare PC, etc, which makes it easy to browse your relevant files.
The files stored can also be browsed and opened directly from the drive, and the software also contains search features to prevent you having to sift through the files. There’s also a special photo section, which groups all your images and allows you to print or email them. Such features could come in handy if you take your hard drive to another PC and want to edit or print your documents or photos without having to copy them to the computer.
My only complaint with the product is that the ability to browse the files on the drive is limited to the software that came with Clickfree; which means that I can’t look through the files using Windows Explorer. This seems to be because the files are encrypted when they are copied to the drive, but it’s just a bit of a hassle not being able to browse through the files and folders using Explorer, and instead having to use a somewhat clumsy and outdated Clickfree alternative.
Despite this, the device itself is absolutely fantastic, and it works brilliantly. It takes the pain out of having to manually copy new files and update when they’re changed. It’s just slightly below a five star rating – the only thing that needs changing is the file browsing software. The device can be purchased from a few different retailers, I got mine from QVC whilst it was on on offer, but the price has since increased, so it may be a good idea to pay £10 extra and get the 500GB version.
We do an ever-increasing amount online; there’s a good chance that your web-browser is one of your most used pieces of software. However, if something goes wrong you’re at risk of losing your bookmarks, settings, and extensions. It could take quite some time to get the browser back just the way you wanted it. The other option is to back-up your browser settings occasionally, so you’ll always be safe if something goes kaput. In addition, having a backup will allow you to transfer your settings and addons to another computer, allowing you to keep your user experience consistent.
FEBE – Firefox Environment Backup Extension – is an addon which will allows you to perform backups of your profile, history, settings, addons, and other such jazz. Once installed a new item will appear in Firefox’s tools menu which allows you to fiddle with FEBE settings, run backups, or restore files if something has imploded and gone wrong.
I thought setting the options seemed to be the best place to start, turned out it was. Doing so allowed me to choose what I wanted to be backed up; I selected just about everything. After creating a folder for the purpose of storing the backups, I also changed the location that FEBE saves them to. In addition, I was able to instruct it to create a time-labelled folder for each backup. This means that I can keep older backups, and have each new one in a separate folder. Therefore, if I decide to revert back to the settings earlier than the most recent backup, I can easily do so.
After I’d finished tweaking I ran the backup manually from the tools menu. The process was quite fast; it only took about 20 seconds or so, but this time will vary depending upon your computer and how much data FEBE is backing up. However, Firefox tends to feel a bit dejected during the backup, and will usually not let you browse whilst FEBE does its thing. You can also schedule backups to run automatically at specified times if you’d rather not have to remember to do it.
Restoring items is done through the same menu. The restore section lists the various areas which you can copy back into Firefox – you can choose as many or as few as you wish to depending on just how badly things have gone wrong. You could also use this feature to transfer your settings from one computer to another, making it simpler to use Firefox elsewhere.
Jolly good stuff. I suggest installing it, performing a backup, and then disabling it again until you want to run another backup or restore something. You can download it from www.addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2109. If you get confuzzled, instructions are also available.
Part two, which focuses upon Internet Explorer, is still to come.