Computing for Beginners: Creating a back up CD

by Colin Cartmell-Browne

Colin talks us through how to back up your photos using a CD/DVD. Email your computer queries to Colin at

SOMETIMES copying (burning) a CD/DVD might be a better back up option than using an external hard drive. To do this you are going to need:

  • A CD/DVD drive capable of burning CDs. Most computers should have this function although older machines might have a CD drive which can ‘read’ files but not burn them. If you need to you can buy an external hard drive from PC World which connects to your computer via the USB port.
  • Specialist software. Unlike copying files to a hard drive or US memory stick you can’t just copy the files to a CD. There are many options of which software to use, some free, some you buy and some are trial versions. The computer magazine PC Adviser has a list here: For this tutorial I’m going to use a trial version of ‘Ashampoo Burning Studio Elements’ but most programs work in the same way, it’s just the wording of the options which will be different.
  • The final thing you’re going to need is a blank CD/DVD, available from some super markets or shops like Wilkos.

A DVD can hold more data than a CD however you need to make sure your CD drive is capable or reading/writing a DVD. How many files you can save will depend on the type of file, e.g. you can save more word documents than photos. Also the number of photos you can save will depend on how big each file is.

CD/DVDs are usually a one use only. Once you have burnt the contents onto the CD/DVD you can’t change it or add to it. It is possible to get re-writable CD/DVDs but these usually cost more and hold slightly less information.

To create a back up:

  1. Insert a blank CD/DVD into your computers’ CD Drive
  2. Load up your chosen software.
  3. Click ‘Burn Files and Folders’ then ‘Create a new CD/DVD’ (See figure 1)
    You will now be presented with the main work area. (See figure 2).
  4. Clicking on ‘Add’ opens a new window similar to most PC applications. From here you can select a file or folder to add to the CD/DVD (see figure 3) Just click the file name and then click ‘add’At the bottom of the main screen there is a bar which shows how much space is left on your CD/DVD. Its worth keeping an eye on this to ensure that you don’t go over the limit of the CD but also don’t leave lots of empty space which can’t be reused if the CD is not rewritable.

Once you have selected your files click ‘Next’

You will now be presented with a summary screen similar to figure 4. If you are happy with your options click ‘Write CD’ (or ‘Burn CD’ depending on the software being used)

The software will now burn the information to the CD. How long this takes will depend on how much information is being burned.

Once done the computer will eject your CD/DVD.

Some software gives you options such as printing a label, burning another CD or verifying the disc.

I always check the contents have burnt properly by opening up Windows Explorer and clicking on my CD/DVD drive and trying to open some of the files. If they open without problems then it’s safe to assume the process worked.

Once you’ve burnt your CD/DVD you need to store it in a safe place. CD/DVDs are not unbreakable and any scratches can mean the loss of precious data.



Figure One: The software to burn your new CD is launched


Figure Two: The main work area you are presented with


Figure Three: Select the folders and files that you want to back-up


Figure Four: A Summary of everything that you are storing on the CD












So how long do CDs last?

YOU’VE back up your life’s work on a CD, put it in a top drawer and now quietly forget about it, happy in the knowledge that future generations will be able to read of your triumphs while on earth.

Not so fast.

Manufacturers will tell you that CDs last for 200 years but they were only invented 35 years ago so who’s to know for sure? In the practical world, it seems CDs will last at best about five years unless stored in air-tight conditions. That’s fine for backing up data in a temporary fashion but what if you want them to last longer. You will find gold archival CDs to buy on the web which seem to offer a longer lifespan – again they promise 200 to 300 years but no-one will know until 2316. Still the best way to keep data stored for hundreds of years is to write it down on paper; archivists know that last hundreds and even thousands of years. But more practically you should store your data in two or three places: the cloud, a hard drive and CD-ROM for example. That will help it last but will future generations be able to read CDs? We thought video would last for ever but future generations will first need to find an antique video player.

And oh, if you were thinking of printing out your life story to keep it safe think again: Printer ink is not designed to last like the ink you used at school. Try handwriting it using permanent ink.