Whilst taking regular backups of your device is very important, it is equally important that these backups run smoothly, are reliable and crucially, are available for restoring from at such times as they might be needed. With this in mind it is very important, amongst other things, that such backups run at a reasonable speed and complete in a reasonable time frame to afford the maximum convenience and data protection for any given device.
In this guide I will be looking at several easy to apply methods which can help in speeding up the time it takes for your computer backups to complete. Such methods are often relatively simple to apply and in many cases can help form a deeper understanding of how your backup software is working and how best to optimise it for the intended tasks it is completing.
This starts off in the next section where I will be looking at one of the most important aspects of an optimised backup, this being making sure that only relevant files are selected and included within the backup set, something which can be easily missed and lead to considerably longer backup times (especially so when relying on default settings during the initial configuration of backup software).
Confirm Only Relevant Data is Selected
One of the biggest issues relating to slow backup times can often come from the inclusion of data in the backup set which doesn’t need to be backed-up in the first place! To elaborate further on this, many people making use of backup software will simply be backing up files which don’t need to be backed-up, often due to the result of automated file selection wizards or simply not carefully evaluating which files are included in the first place!
Thankfully, the solution to this issue is fairly straightforward, this involves opening up you backup software and double checking what is actually being backed-up. You might find that numerous large and unimportant files are included within your backup set in addition to files which might (for whatever reason) be unworthy of being backed-up or even files which are already backed-up else ware and can be safely removed from the set.
NB – Whilst having many unnecessary files can really slow down the speed in which a backup job completes, this slowdown can be many times worse when making use of cloud backup! This effect is mainly due to the slower data transfer speeds which are seen when sending large files over the internet (especially so when using a sower internet connection).
Other large files which can really slow down the speed at which a backup runs are large files such as Windows EXE application installers, ISO files, large photos and video files and much more alike. Thankfully, most modern backup applications have available “filters” which makes exciting a certain type of file (e.g. all EXE or ISO files) as simple as entering the file type (or name) to exclude during the configuration phase.
NB – It can sometimes be safe to exclude, for example, software installers from a backup set providing the manufacturer of the software makes them easily available for re-downloading when required. Although you will need to be careful before excluding all installers as some software developers might not be so generous with re-downloading software or even out of business themselves (so check first).
Finally, another thing to check is that you are not unnecessarily backing-up any system or application files which, whilst they almost certainly wont be useful as a part of a file backup set, will still take up valuable space and time during the backup process.
Whilst such files might be useful when taking image-level backups (which allow for recovery of an entire PC plus any installed applications to an earlier point in time) they are often of little relevance to file-level backups and should really be removed – this means that (unless you have specific reasons otherwise) you should only really be backing-up your Windows profile folder (or specific folders within) when performing a file-level backup on a Windows device (e.g. a profile folder path on Windows might look like this: “c:\users\James”).
Make use of Incremental and Synthetic Methods
One of the safest and most reliable methods of backing-up a computer is to make a full backup of all data on the device, this could be all user documents as a part of the Windows user profile or an image-based backup of the entire system including all associated hard disks which are in use (with the operating system and all applications included in such an approach).
Whilst this full backup approach is undoubtedly very reliable and guaranteed to include all important data, the process of making a full backup of all data each and every time can be very time consuming as well as a very inefficient way to make use of any backup storage devices (for example, an external hard drive might fill up very quickly when making multiple full image backups). Thankfully, most modern backup software will allow us to make full backups followed by multiple incremental, differential and synthetic backup types, all of which will help in reducing the total time required for a backup to complete and, in turn, reducing the amount of storage which might be needed.
One of the most common backup methodologies available with modern backup software is that of the “incremental backup”, a method whereby an initial full backup is made (containing all data to be backed-up) and then followed up with only the changes to that initial backup been processed and stored. For example, if an initial full backup contained 100 files, all 100 files would be backed-up on the initial run of the backup set (the full backup). If only a single file was altered between the initial full backup been taken and the second (incremental) backup been run, only this single altered file would then be backed-up when the second backup run – this would therefore result in a much quicker backup time!
NB – Following on from the above example, some backup software is actually clever enough to backup only the parts of a file which have changed in such a scenario! This is referred to as “block level” backup and, when available, can help to significantly speed up the backup process even further!
Another process which can help speed up the time it takes for a backup to complete is the use of synthetic backup technology. Synthetic backup is essentially the keeping of an initial full version of a file and then only keeping a backup of changes to said file thereafter. When such a synthetic file is recovered, the backup software will (essentially) make up a new file base upon the original full backup copy plus any changes which might have been made up to the point in time as specified during the recovery (i.e. the correct “version” of the file). Since this technology works by recording and re-calculating any changes made to the file as opposed to keeping multiple new (fully changed) copies of it, it has the net result of providing a much faster backup in the first place.
NB – Many cloud providers now make use of synthetic backup technology, not only is this method very disk space efficient but also allows the limitation of slow internet speeds to have minimal detrimental effect whilst using cloud backups!
Whilst both incremental and synthetic backup methods are much quicker and more disk space efficient than full backup methodologies, it must be stated they are usually (a little) less reliable by nature of how they work. For example, if you regularly made full backups and lost one of the backup files for whatever reason (e.g. from a malware attack or a corrupt file), the previous and following versions of this backup set will still be fully usable and the data within them safe. If this same scenario happened whilst using an incremental or synthetic backup methodology (i.e. loosing a single file within the entire chain of backups) then the whole backup set would become unusable (and you would be, in effect, no longer backed-up until the next full backup is made).
Whilst there are ways to mitigate the potential issues which come form incremental and similar backup methodologies (for example, taking a full backup after every 10 incremental backups to reduce the incremental chain length) these are never 100% foolproof. As such, whilst speeding up a backup is very useful, it should not be too detrimental to the reliability of the backup as per the scenario above (ideally, make regular full backups as a part of any incremental backup strategy).
Make use of Quiet Times for Backing-up
This one might seem fairly self-explanatory, but there could be better times of the day to back-up your data which could result in a faster backup times thanks to just a couple of quick changes in your schedule!
One of the most obvious examples here would apply to anyone making use of cloud based backups whilst using a slow or unreliable internet connection. If this is the case then you might notice that your internet speeds are usually very slow during the data and early evening, but much quicker in the later evening and into the small hours of the next day. With this in mind (and when reasonable to do so), scheduling your backup to run at such quiet times of the day, when the internet is less congested, could result in the backup set itself completing much faster!
Moving on and it could be the PC itself which is causing a problems with a slow backup, especially so if you are using an older (or less powerful) PC and / or performing regular CPU intensive tasks during the time in which the backup software is usually running (e.g. playing video games). If this is the case then it could be useful to think about how you use your PC and how it could be beneficial to have backup-software set to run only outside of these core “heavy usage” hours to help it perform better. Thanks to many backup titles now having automated scheduling this can easily be achieved or excluded times set-up which correlate to your own busy times and then added to an existing backup schedule.
Regardless of what device you have or how you use it, scheduling backup software (as well as similar software such as system cleaning utilities) to run at times when the PC is not been heavily used can be one of the easiest ways of achieving faster backups whilst reducing the performance limiting effect that backup software could have on the PC as well!
Optimise Compression and Encryption Settings
Compression and encryption are two settings which are often found within backup software, both of which can have a direct impact upon the performance of the tool and how quickly any backup sets can complete!
Starting off with encryption which, when applied to any backed-up data, forms a strong layer of privacy and data protection meaning if your backed-up data storage is ever compromised or stolen, you files will still remain very secure and unreadable. Whilst encryption is 100% recommended for any backed-up data (especially so when making use of cloud backups), it can have a negative hit on the time and computer resources required to complete a full backup!
Whilst turning off backup encryption might be an acceptable way of increasing backup performance in certain circumstances, it is generally acknowledged that encryption should be left turned on whenever possible! One solution which, in certain circumstances, could prove a good compromise here is the use of a lower strength of encryption. For example, some backup software providers will offer their users the choice of either AES 256-bit encryption as well as a AES 128-bit option, whilst the AES 256-bit version will offer more security (stronger encryption) it will also work at a slower speed than the 128-bit version. With this in mind, if you are prepared to accept use of a slightly less secure encryption algorithm, this can be a good way of increasing the performance of your backup software.
NB – In most cases AES 128-bit encryption will still be sufficiently good enough for securing any backed-up data, unless you have very specific requirements for AES-256 encryption then this might be a good way of speeding up your backup without forgoing encryption altogether!
Compression is another setting which is often linked to encryption settings and one which is usually available as an option when configuring backup software. Compression, in relation to computer backups, is the act of making smaller the resulting files after a backup has run, these are which are stored on the target storage media such as an external hard drive or a cloud drive.
Whilst turning on compression will usually have a negative effect on the performance of the backup (i.e. it will slow things down), it might also have some advantages when making use of cloud storage, mainly thanks to the smaller amounts of data which will need to be sent over the internet (probably the biggest bottleneck for many PC users using cloud backup). When backing-up to locally attached media (such as external hard drives) turning off compression will almost certainly result in quicker backup times (although this will also mean less efficient use of storage space thanks to more data being stored).
Other Optimisations for Faster Backup
So far in this guide I have discussed several points to consider when trying to squeeze the most performance out of your backup software. Despite the points discussed so far all being fairly sizeable entities, all of which having a measurable effect on many types of backup operation, there are still many smaller settings across both your backup software and the operating system itself which can be tuned-up for an even quicker backup overall!
NB – Some of the settings mentioned below will only be applicable to certain backup software titles which support them, some titles might also have the same or similar features as mentioned below albeit under a different name!
Background Operation Priority:
Many backup software titles will allow backups to run automatically (in the background) whenever the PC in question is in use, this means even if the backup software is not opened up, the service will continue to operate. In some instances it will be possible to set the priority that these background operations run at, for example, setting their priority to “High” will mean the backups will have access to more computer resources (and should run faster) whereas setting this to a lower value will mean they take longer to complete (and will have less effect on any other processes running on the device as a result).
Use Faster Hardware:
If you are backing up to an external hard drive then you will most likely be backing up to a mechanical style disk, this is especially likely to be the case if your external drive is more than a few years old!
Whilst mechanical hard drives are usually very effective and reliable for the purposes of backing-up data, the newer iteration of solid state disk drives (SSDs) work much faster than the mechanical drives and allow for data to be transferred at a much higher rate. Without changing any other settings, this higher transfer rate could make a big difference to the time in which it takes a locally stored backup job to complete!
Some backup software will allow setting a limit on the amount of CPU resources a piece of backup software can make use of (as well as other system resources such as memory and network bandwidth). Whilst in the majority of cases the software’s default settings will work just fine, if you are looking to speed up your backups even further then it might be worth seeking out such a setting (if supported by your backup software) and increasing the amount of PC resources the software can make use of.
Check Error & Log Files:
Most backup software will (unless told otherwise) keep a log of any backup operations as they happen, this log will also include any errors or issues which might have appeared during the running of the job. Checking these log files for any errors or issues could be helpful both in diagnosing slow backup performance as well as potentially highlighting any other issues which could be causing the backup job not to operate at its full performance for whatever reason.
Whilst it would not be possible to list all of the potential issues which could be found in such log files in this post, if you are suffering from slow backups it is always worth checking these log files and if something is showing up as an error then getting in touch with the support team from the developers of your particular brand of backup software.
So far in this guide to achieving faster backups we have discussed several important concepts which, when configured correctly, can help decrease the time required to make a full PC backup. Some of the key points to take away form this guide include:
- Making sure only relevant files are included within your backup set
- Making use of incremental or synthetic backup methods when possible to do so
- Taking advantage of quieter times (for example, when you PC might be idle) to schedule backups
- Optimising encryption and compression settings (when applicable)
- Increasing CPU limits and background operation priorities (when applicable)
- Other considerations such as replacing older mechanical drives with faster SSD drives
In reality, when you find your backups are slowing down over a longer period of time then some or maybe all of these aforementioned points might be helpful in restoring it back to its original speed. Alternatively, if you experience a sudden and extreme drop in backup performance, then this might indicate a more serious issue and would most likely involve contacting the support team at the manufacturer behind you own backup software title in order to diagnose what has gone wrong!