Fast Forward's Help File

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, November 25, 2007

Q: I have a refurbished MacBook and have yet to back up any of my files. Can you recommend an external hard drive that is idiot-proof?

A: Get a hard drive that includes both FireWire and USB 2.0 ports, so you don't have to tie up one of the MacBook's two USB ports with the drive. The drive should also be "bus powered," meaning that it gets all of its electricity from a USB or FireWire port and doesn't need to be plugged into a wall outlet.

The second half of this advice applies to PC users as well, considering how many power strips are already maxed out under the average computer desk.

You also need to get into the habit of backing up regularly. Both Apple's new Mac OS X Leopard and Microsoft's Windows Vista Home Premium include backup software (though Leopard's Time Machine is far more capable than Vista's Backup Center), and most external hard drives include backup software of their own.

My dad has a lot of 5 1/4 -inch floppy disks that may have important data on them. What is the best way to recover those files?

Contact a local PC user group or a computer repair shop and see if either one has a computer with both 5 1/4 -inch and 3 1/2 -inch floppy-disk drives.

You could then copy the files from the old disks -- if they're still readable, which is not assured after so many years -- to more modern media in two steps. First, you'd move the data to a 3 1/4 -inch floppy, which you'd take to a not-so-old computer for a second transfer to a recordable CD or USB flash drive.

To find a user group, check the directory maintained by the Association of Personal Computer User Groups ( In the Washington area, try the Capital PC User Group (

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 Turn to Thursday's Business section or visithttp://washingtonpost.comanytime for his Fast Forward column.

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