It’s all too easy to lose data these days.
A faulty hard drive could suddenly crash. Ransomware could take charge of your device. Or buggy software could erase files, lost into the ether — never to return.
That is; unless you know how to backup your computer. And computer backups are easier than you might think.
In fact, there are several ways you can backup a device.
- But what files do you need to save?
- Which method is best?
- And how often should you do it?
These are the questions we’re here to answer.
So, let’s get stuck in.
Focus On Personal Data
Let’s start with the most important — what files need backing up?
In no uncertain terms, you must backup your personal data. It’s easy enough to reinstall a malfunctioning operating system or download a program should your hard drive crash.
But lose personal data, and you will struggle to get it back. Think crucial documents, cherished photos, key business contacts: anything that plays a valuable role in your life and whatever’s not easily replaced.
Do you spend time editing videos? Or producing music on your computer? Back these up too. As if you protect anything you devote hours to, you won’t have to go back and do it all again — and back them up regularly, weekly if you can.
But what about your operating system, computer programs, and other basic settings? Sure, you can back these up as well. And doing so will make your life easier should systems fail. But these kinds of data are easy enough to replace; or, reconfigure.
That said: if you like to tinker with your system setup, tweak the registry, and upgrade hardware often — a full systems backup will save you time should things awry.
3 Simple Ways To Backup Your Computer
There are countless ways to backup a computer. Here, we’ll present three of the most straightforward options — including the strengths and weaknesses of each one to help you make an informed decision:
1. External hard drive backup
A USB or external hard drive is an easy way to backup files using your computer’s in-built features. If you have a Windows 8 or 10 device, go to ‘File History’ (Windows 7 offers ‘Windows Backup’). If you have a Mac, use ‘Time Machine.’
Then connect your hard drive to your computer, run the backup tool and voilà, job-done — or leave your device plugged in for auto-backups if you can.
Pros: External hard drives are cheap, and backing up is fast.
Cons: If you lose your computer through fire or theft, you may well lose your backup devices as well.
2. Internet backup
An alternative to external hardware is an internet service such as Backblaze or Carbonite. For as little as $5-a-month, these programs run in the background (on both PCs and Macs) and auto-backup your computer using the service’s storage — and if you lose any files, you can retrieve them immediately.
Pros: Internet backups are belt-and-braces against all types of data loss: whether your hard drive crashes, someone steals your device, your house burns down — or any other conceivable catastrophe.
Cons: You pay for the privilege of this level of protection, while the first backup can take a lot longer than with an external hard drive.
3. Cloud storage services as a backup
Your final option is to use a service that isn’t strictly speaking a backup, but that’s just as good as any other method.
Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive: each offers cloud storage for all your files, and you can sync your devices with online accounts. That means if your hard drive fails, you’ll still have copies of your data in cloud storage — as well as on any synced device.
Pros: Cloud storage is easy, near-instant, and most often free depending on how much data you store. And as it’s online, it offers equal protection to an internet backup (though services like Backblaze save versions of a file, meaning you can restore a document ‘as-was’ from different points in its history).
Cons: If you store more than a few gigabytes of data, it will cost you extra (whereas internet services like Backblaze charge a set fee for unlimited storage). Plus, cloud services can be harder to use if you’re backing up media files or similar.
Always Double-down On Backups
But which backup is best?
Well, two methods are better than one. And a combination of onsite and offsite is the sweet spot.
Onsite means a backup you store in the same physical location as you — say, a USB you keep at home. We recommend an onsite backup as it’s a quick and easy way to protect against data loss.
Plus, it takes a second to restore information from an external hard drive.
Offsite means a backup stored in a separate place to you — here’s where internet backups or cloud storage services come in. Even hard drives stored at a friend’s house, or in a secure location, count in our books.
In fact, an offsite backup could be anything that offers a second line of defense. Provided it casts your safety net far-and-wide against data loss.
Make Life Easy With Automation
While managing multiple backups sounds like hard work; if you use a tool to automate the process, computer backups can be ‘set-and-forget.’
And that’s another plus-point for internet backup services over external hard drives: you set them once, they backup every day — no manual effort required.
Ultimately, the best way to back up your data boils down to the same three points:
- Create multiple copies of your key personal files
- Store the copies in more than one location
- Make the copies easy to reach should your computer meltdown
There you have it — now, all that’s left to do is pick your preferred two methods.
…and get your personal data backed up!