What is the best way to back up my computer?

Everyone loses data at some point in their lives. Your computer’s hard drive could fail tomorrow, ransomware could hold your files hostage, or a software bug could delete your important files. If you don’t back up your computer regularly, you could lose those files forever.

However, backups don’t have to be difficult or confusing. You’ve probably heard of countless different backup methods, but which one is right for you? And what files do you have Really do you need to make a backup?

It’s all about your personal data

Let’s start with the obvious: what Do you need a backup? Well, first of all, you need to backup your personal files. You can always reinstall your operating system and download your programs again if your hard drive fails, but your own personal data is irreplaceable.

All personal documents, photos, home videos and any other data on your computer should be backed up regularly. Those can never be replaced. If you’ve spent hours painstakingly copying audio CDs or video DVDs, you may want to back up those files as well, so you don’t have to do all that work again.

Your operating system, programs, and other settings can also be backed up. You do not I have to back them up, necessarily, but it can make your life easier if your entire hard drive fails. If you’re the type of person who likes to fiddle with system files, edit the registry, and regularly update your hardware, having a full system backup can save you time when things go wrong.

The many ways to back up your files

There are many ways to back up your data, from using an external drive to backing up those files to a remote server over the internet. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each:

  • Backup to an external drive: If you have an external USB hard drive, you can back up to that drive using your computer’s built-in backup features. In Windows 10 and 8, use File History. In Windows 7, use Windows Backup. On Mac, use Time Machine. From time to time, plug the drive into the computer and use the backup tool, or leave it plugged in when you’re home and it will automatically back up. Pros: Making backups is cheap and fast. Cons: If your house is burglarized or burns down, your backup can be lost along with your computer, which is very bad.

  • Backup via the Internet: If you want to make sure your files are safe, you can back them up on the internet with a service like Backblaze. Backblaze is the well-known online backup service that we like and recommend from CrashPlan no longer serves home users (although you could pay for a CrashPlan small business account). There are also competitors like Carbonite“We used to mention MozyHome too, but now it’s part of Carbonite.” For a low monthly fee (around $ 5 a month), these programs run in the background on your PC or Mac, automatically backing up your files to the service’s web storage. If you ever lose those files and need them again, you can restore them. Pros: Online backup protects you against any kind of data loss: hard drive failure, theft, natural disasters, and everything in between. Cons: These services in general they cost money (see the next section for more details), and the initial backup can take much longer than to an external drive, especially if you have a lot of files.

  • Use a cloud storage service: Backup purists will say it’s not technically a backup method, but for most people, it serves a pretty similar purpose. Instead of just storing your files on your computer’s hard drive, you can store them in a service like Dropbox, Google drive, Microsoft OneDriveor a similar cloud storage service. Then they will automatically sync with your online account and with your other PCs. If your hard drive dies, you will still have the copies of the files stored online and on your other computers. Pros: This method is easy, fast, and in many cases free, and since it is online, it protects you against all kinds of data loss. Cons: Most cloud services only offer a few gigabytes of space for free, so this only works if you have a small number of files you want to back up or are willing to pay for storage additional. Depending on the files you want to back up, this method can be simpler or more complicated than a simple backup program.

While backup programs like Backblaze and cloud storage services like Dropbox are online backups, they work in fundamentally different ways. Dropbox is designed to sync your files between PCs, while Backblaze and similar services are designed to back up large amounts of files. Backblaze will keep multiple copies of different versions of your files, so you can restore the file exactly as it was from many points in your history. And, while services like Dropbox are free for small amounts of space, Backblaze’s low price is for as big a backup as you want. Depending on how much data you have, one might be cheaper than the other.

Backblaze and Carbonite have a big limitation that you must be aware of. If you delete a file on your computer, it will be deleted from your online backups after 30 days. You cannot go back and recover a deleted file or the previous version of a file after this 30-day period. So be careful when deleting those files if you might want to get them back!

One backup is not enough – use multiple methods

RELATED: You are not doing a proper backup unless you have external backups

So which one should you use? Ideally, you would use at least two of them. Why? Because you want both Off site Y in the place Backups.

“On site” literally means backups stored in the same physical location as you. So if you back up to external hard drive and store it at home with your home PC, it is an on-site backup.

External backups are stored in a different location. So if you are backing up to an online server, such as Backblaze or Dropbox, it is an external backup.

On-site backups are faster and easier, and should be your first line of defense against data loss. If you lose files, you can quickly restore them from an external drive. But you shouldn’t just rely on on-site backups. If your house catches fire or thieves steal all of the hardware in it, you will lose all of your files.

Off-site backups don’t have to be a server on the Internet either, and you don’t have to pay a monthly subscription for one. You can back up your files to a hard drive and store it in your office, a friend’s house, or a bank vault, for example. It would be a bit more inconvenient, but technically it is an external backup.

Similarly, you can also store your files on Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive and take regular backups to an external drive. Or you can use Backblaze to backup online and Windows File History to create a local backup. There are many ways to use these services together, and it is up to you how to do it. Just make sure you have a solid backup strategy, with Y off-site backups, so you have a comprehensive safety net against losing your files.

Automate it!

All of that may sound complicated, but the more you automate your backup system, the more often you’ll be able to backup and the more likely you are to follow through. This is why you should use an automated tool instead of copying files to an external drive by hand. You can set it once and forget about it.

That’s one of the reasons we really like online services like Backblaze. If you back up to the Internet, it can be done automatically every day. If you have to connect an external drive, you have to try harder, which means you’ll back up less often and may eventually stop. Keeping everything automatic is worth the price.

If you don’t want to pay anything and want to rely primarily on local backups, consider using a file syncing service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive to sync your important files online. That way, if you ever lose your local backup, you will at least have an online copy.

Ultimately, you just need to think about where your files are and make sure you have multiple copies at all times. Ideally, those copies should be in more than one physical location. Whenever you are thinking about what you will do if your computer dies, you should be well ahead of most people.

Image Credit: Mario Goebbels on Flickr

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