Backing up a gaming computer

Yesterday I decided to do something different. My SWTOR is on hold for several weeks due to our tank being away with work. That also rules out the normal GW2 asura duo as well. So I thought I’d actually fire up Rift and have another look at some leveling.

The gods of gaming decided otherwise as when I came back to the computer expecting a fully patched client waiting I found it had crashed and closed. Bemused I reloaded it and set a recovery operation going from the launcher. That started ok but then crashed suddenly even more spectacularly, during which the computer warned me the internal hard drive had errors and the system promptly blue screened. That has never happened on this gaming laptop since I bought it in April 2011. Game clients have crashed sure, but never a full system blue screen crash.

So I booted back in and ran the hard disk diagnostic software that comes bundled with the machine and low and behold if failed the SMART test.

*Panic circuits engaged*

So it may not just be some bad sectors, it may well be that the drive is about to fail on me.

Backup, backup, backup, backup!

It’s easy in this era of online gaming to be lapse about backups. After all our characters live on well cared for servers in some data centre with backups, redundant power and all the lavish protections that our home systems lack. All my university work and RPG stuff is kept in “the cloud” so that’s safe anyway. But as a gaming blogger I have stuff that I can lose still were the hard drive to fail.

In brief:

  1. UI customisations – e.g. EQ2 stores these in the game folder, they’re not automatically transferred to a different computer via the server
  2. Screenshots, I have literally thousands of screenshots across nearly a dozen games to illustrate my gaming history – gotta save these!
  3. Saved games; I don’t play offline games anymore but I do have some folders of old game saves from Neverwinter 1 and 2 for instance and the custom modules I made in the first game.

Data management is big business out in the world of work. Even for a solo gamer this can be a headache. A full system backup of my laptop as is would require 477 GB of storage. An external hard disk would work nicely and be cost-effective – certainly I’ll use that to clone my system onto a new hard drive to recover the system from this problem.

However, this has me thinking about longer-term storage of my gaming screenshots (let alone my non-gaming photos!). I’m not as up-to-date with technology as I used to be but that size of storage usually only comes in tape form (at a reasonable price). Tape drives are slow and awkward to work with, but they are good at backing up everything without worrying about the details. I’ll have to look at how much space I’d need for a bare-bones backup of just the list above and not the actual game folders (executable, binaries, art assets and all). I suspect it’ll be a lot more than I can fit on a writable DVD, perhaps I should consider buying a Blueray writer drive…

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11 Responses to Backing up a gaming computer

  1. acbarberi says:

    My hard drive failed the SMART test over a year ago. I’m still chugging away here, no problems…

    • Telwyn says:

      Lucky you! I don’t have time to sort out rebuilding it at the moment so I’ll just take some backups and hope it holds together for another two weeks.

  2. Jonny 5iVe says:

    Why on earth would you sink all that money into a Blu-ray RW drive and a rewritable disk?

    All to get 25GB of storage, for about £100-120, when you can get a >>64GB<< USB memory stick for less than £9 on eBay?

    http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NEW-2013-64GB-YELLOW-SILVER-USB-STICK-FLASH-PEN-DRIVE-SWIVEL-USB-2-0-HIGH-SPEED-/290959778568?pt=UK_Computing_FlashDrives_SM&hash=item43be8de308

    Seems daft to me…

    Just buy the memory stick, and grab FreeFileSync (freeware) – http://sourceforge.net/projects/freefilesync/ – Set it up to Sync all the folders you're interested in from your HDD to the USB stick, and just never remove the USB stick.

    No more worries, continuous backup of over 60GB of your most precious data, all for less than £9. It'll take less than 10 mins to setup too.

    That's what I do anyways.

  3. Bolran says:

    I’ve recently being playing with a system called Crashplan. http://www.crashplan.com/

    They do offer standard backup space on their own system, but more interestingly if you and a friend have the program installed, then you can automatically backup to each others system in a sort of mutual disaster recovery pact for free. The data is fully encrypted on the friends machine, so no worries about having your precious files snooped on.

    Downside is that the initial backup would probably take an age, and the same goes if you ever needed to do a full restore. Still, once the initial backup is done, incrementals should take no time at all, and in a worst case scenario you know your files are safe. I really like the concept too.

    • Telwyn says:

      Sounds interesting I’ll admit. Now I have a half-decent upload speed it might even be plausible but the bandwidth limitations on our package could be an issue there…

  4. Kartoon Ben says:

    A great and really informative gaming blog

    Kartoon Games

  5. jhaus says:

    I replaced my screenshot folder, UI folder, and miscellaneous config files with shortcuts into dropbox. I first started doing this to keep multiple systems in sync, but it keeps your stuff safe too!

    Best of Luck.

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