Learn How to Back Up Your Computer

The more computers are able to do, the more we rely on them.  The more we rely on them, the more of our important information we store on them.  And the more important information we store on computers, the more disastrous it is when a computer fails, taking all our valuable work and information with it.  While there are plenty of ways to try to recover lost data after a hard drive failure, it’s a much, much better idea to be prepared for a computer crash by having all of your data securely backed up to multiple location.  As internet speeds get faster and storage solutions become more advanced, methods for backing up data improve constantly.

Use an external hard drive

External hard drives are a great way to get plenty of storage for relatively little money.  Usually they handle data via USB 3.0, FireWire or Thunderbolt connections, and even the lowest-end drives now have pretty impressive write speeds, making it easy and relatively quick to back up your most important data on the go.  External hard drives range in size from a few gigabytes up to around 8TB of storage, so it’s even possible to use one large drive to handle backups of multiple computers.  However, external hard drives can also be subject to unexpected failure: if you’re dealing with large amounts of very important data, it may be a better idea to use several smaller drives so that you don’t lose everything if your hard drive crashes.  If you’re just using your external hard drive to store copies of important data, consider using a drive with an external power source, as they can be more stable; if you need to take your drive with you from place to place, use a drive that draws power from your computer.

Use your computer’s built in backup system

If you’re using an external hard drive to back up your data, check whether your computer has a built in backup system to handle making copies of your data.  Apple computers come with the easy-to-use Time Machine; Windows computers have the slightly less intuitive backup and restore function.  Linux doesn’t have a built in backup function, but plenty of free programs are available to download for easy backups.  The advantage to a built in system like Time Machine is that it is designed not just to back up your files but to clone your computer’s hard drive, complete with preferences, user data and settings.  This acts as protection against forgetting to include an important file during a manual backup, since everything is copied over to the external drive.  Backup and restore functions also usually take regular snapshots of your computer’s system, allowing you to restore to versions from specific days, or even hours.  Automated backups can take a long time if you’re dealing with large amounts of data, but they’re worth it for the stress they save in the event of a computer crash.

Use online cloud storage

While it is possible to purchase enough online storage to back up your entire hard drive, cloud storage is much better suited to making sure that particularly important files and folders are securely backed up.  The big pro to cloud storage is that it is much less subject to hardware failure than most other backup systems, since your data is stored on a large professional server instead of on an individual drive.  The other advantage is that it makes your data available from anywhere with an internet connection, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting or losing a hard drive or USB flash drive.  Many cloud storage providers offer automatic sync to your computer, where you can set certain folders to sync with the cloud regularly.  Just like Time Machine backups, this takes the stress out of backing up your data, since at worst your backed up data will only be a few days or hours old (depending on how often you set your backups).  The only disadvantage to cloud storage is that you need a reliable internet connection both to back up and to retrieve your data, so if you find yourself in a place without internet, you could temporarily lose access to your backups.

Use an SD card or USB flash drive

While their storage capacities aren’t as high as external hard drives, both SD cards and USB flash drives offer extreme portability.  USB flash drives are very inexpensive, and are often designed to fit easily onto keychains, so you can have a copy of your data with you at all times as a safeguard against computer theft.  The design of a USB flash drive means that it can be subject to mechanical damage, so make sure you buy a reputable brand like SanDisk or Kingston that you know will be well-manufactured.  Opt for a design with a cap or retractable connector, to avoid damage or dirt that could cause a faulty connection and damage your data.  SD cards, especially at high storage capacities, are much more expensive than USB flash drives, but they have the advantage of an extremely fast write speed and high reliability.  Small and thin in design, they are very portable and several of them can easily be slipped into a wallet.  Because of how thin SD cards are, several models of tablet are equipped with SD card readers, giving you a wider range of devices from which you can access your data if your desktop or laptop fails.

Back up your data regularly

Whichever storage solution you chose, the most important thing is to back up regularly.  It’s a good idea to have two storage systems – one external hard drive to back up your entire computer, and one smaller storage device to carry an extra copy of your important files – but even multiple backup devices are useless if you don’t remember to back up frequently.  Set your computer’s automatic backup system to back up at least once a day, and set yourself a reminder to back up important files to a second storage device regularly.  Once you’ve formed the habit, it’s barely any extra work, and having multiple backups of your most important data can save you huge amounts of stress and expense if your computer fails and takes your data with it.

by David Molnar

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