Friday Four: A Four-Part Solution for Home Computer Backup

Posted by · March 30, 2012 9:51 am

Whether it’s pictures of your family, music or work documents, data with not backup can mean forfeiting precious memories, throwing away money and wasting hours of work.  Often, we equate losing data with hard drive failure, but the truth is that data can be lost for reasons like theft, fire damage or other events outside of our control.  Whatever the reason, it’s important to make sure your data is stored in multiple, safe locations on a regular basis.

Since Saturday is World Backup Day, we thought this might be a good time to remind you to back up your data and give our recommended four-step process to ensure your data is protected.  Heck, we’re even throwing in a little incentive–one free year of file storage on Just Documents–for you. Take a look at our ideas and then start backin’ it up!

1. Buy an external hard drive.

As home PCs have become multimedia machines, the need for more hard drive space has grown. Fortunately, the cost of storage has dropped dramatically in recent years. “But Jenn,” you say, “isn’t the future cloud storage?” Sure, cloud storage is a fantastic option (and we’re going to get to that), but call us old fashioned—we still like the idea of holding a complete backup of our system in our hot little hands.Backup Files with External Hard Drive

You’ll find a plethora of good external hard drive options on geek gadget shopping Mecca, or you can keep an eye on CNET’s Cheapskate for the latest hard drive bargain. Experts Exchange site director Andy Alsup personally recommends this 1TB portable hard drive, which retails for $109.99.

“Most people have less than 500Gb of data to back up,” Alsup says. “But even if you had more than 1TB, the cost for additional hard drives isn’t too much more than $100 per TB.”

In our opinion, that’s a small price to pay for saving precious data.

2. Get a reliable backup/restore software.

Now that you have the external hard drive, you need a way to consistently transfer information to the device, preferably at regularly scheduled intervals. There are a dizzying amount of choices when it comes to backup software.

“I’m a big proponent of ‘point in time’ backups, where you continually back up a system either daily or hourly,” says Experts Exchange Site Admin Glenn Beadle. “With point in time software you only save the changes, you don’t have to copy everything everyday and you can go back in time to see yesterday’s version.”

While you might consider a point-in-time solution like StorageCraft’s ShadowProtect for business, there are less expensive incremental backup options for home users: if you’re on a Windows machine, we recommend checking out SyncBack (if you’re on a Mac you’ve got Time Machine so why are you even reading this article?) For Windows Vista or Windows 7 users, the easiest option to get started may just be the built in Backup/Restore feature: while not incremental, it’s already on your system and can be set up without any additional installation.

3. Subscribe to an online backup service.

While a physical duplicate of your data is an excellent backup, chances are your external hard drive sits right next to your computer, so if computer is stolen or destroyed your backup may be gone as well. Adding an online service to your backup strategy provides additional piece of mind.Backup with Online Service

If you’re looking for a package deal, services like CrashPlan provide an excellent all-in-one solution for backing up to both a local drive and the cloud. Another option is to use cloud storage for backing up a subset of critical file folders, which is where a service like DropBox comes in handy.

“I use DropBox for all of my important stuff,” says EE user John Jennings. “Native apps on the most popular platforms plus web access from anywhere equal convenience and peace of mind.”

4. Grab a USB keychain flash drive.

If you’ve got DropBox on your iPhone you might not need portable storage, but we still like the added protection of a flash drive in our pocket. You never know when you’re going to need an important file and find yourself in a place with no Internet and no wireless coverage (yes, those places still exist). The  SanDisk Cruzer 16GB USB Flash Drive is a top seller, and if you’re going for a sleeker look, check out the iamakey.

Be ready for recovery

Once you’ve put a good backup plan in place, make sure you’ve got a disaster recovery roadmap to go with it. Check out our disaster recovery webinar for more information, and check out our upcoming CloudClass webinar on how to shape your own cloud.

So what did we miss? We want to hear from you. Share your backup strategies on yesterday’s backup post and you could win a free year of file storage from Just Documents!

  • Recovery is some thing that is often missed. People do need to test that their backup is reliable and working correctly so doing a test restore of data is important. Not to mention when a drive dies the last thing you want to do is be learning how to restore your data. Best to already know how.

  • Brandon

    I use Backblaze for my online backup service. I have massive amounts of data to keep safe and uploading it took a while but I enjoy the peace of mind. They also give back to the community by open-sourcing their storage pod hardware designs.

  • Jack Turner

    I use Carbonite on several of my home computers. it’s inexpensive and fully automatic. Unlimited storage space. If Carbonite hasn’t heard from your computer for a while, it emails an alert to you that something may be amiss. Restoration is a breeze.

  • David Morley

    I have a clone of my hard disks, which I keep somewhere else. (The shop which makes my PC’s also made the clone) Once a week I also back up my working files to a memory stick – also kept somewhere else. ( I have a check list to make sure I don’t forget anything). I actually have two sticks, one for this week and one for next week so to say, so that a failure actually occurring during backup is not also fatal.

    The last time I had a failure : Get the shop to repair the PC, which included putting the clone in the PC to replace the failed hard disk, run in the working files from the stick and finally make another clone. (I also have a check list for restoring the files, because sometimes I add applications which will not be on the clone)

    Up to now I’ve had to invoke this procedure three times. Worked perfectly every time.

    Of course, I can lose a few files (or updates to files) since the working files are only copied at week end, but I decided that I could live with this. Any big new files, I just copy on to another stick for the time being.

    I used to use a remote back up firm, but it took for ages to send the files. External hard disks don’t protect you against fire and theft.

  • Dear Jenn,
    I don’t like being a pedant but your article is littered with multiple examples of “bad English”. It almost feels as though your article was written by a computer, or at least someone whose first language is not English.


    • LGR

      Feel good about yourself now Peter? Have anything to say about backing up?

    • david mkinley

      I disagree. If I was, sorry, were, to be fussy, I could correct “there are a dizzying amount of…” to “there IS a…”, but.. are you SURE you don’t like being a pedant? 🙂

    • david mkinley

      Oh, and another thing Peter, “multiple examples” ??? I think you mean ‘many’ or ‘several’ 🙂

  • Tom Pott

    How about talking about drives (and the software)t hat you can connect to your home network and back up all machines to?

  • Jerry

    Well if anyone has had my recovery problem you will be glad to run chkdsk /f /r before consider that your backup drive and recovered drive are in good shape. My experience has taken me from USA, India, Russia. This all is a result of using Acronis 2012 Plus to do incremental backups. It started because the time it took to validate that their backups were good took hours to complete while 100+gig backup itself took less than an hour to be backed up. My 2nd backup is a backup of an external drive with 400+gig of data. Actual backup time less than 2 hours but validate time 6 hours so 8 hours total for 1 backup. Yes I use incremental daily backups. Now Acronis has been on my machine for over 300 hours and my cell phone has logged more than 1600 minutes. It has been over a month. The backups had my data and during my down time I could still open an incremental backup file to grab data because Acronis does their backups that way. Even though the backups were good the restores failed due to the hard drive issues because Acronis kept failing to recover. Even after reformatting the original drive before restore it would fail. Acronis finally wrote a WDHD alignment program to realign the sectors. End result they finally were able to recover my data to the original drive and would not quit until it was working. Since then I have had to recover that same drive 3 times last week due to an issue with installing Acronis 2012 Plus and it worked every time so I know that it is good but Acronis still has to look at issue of the inability to install 2012. You might say why use Acronis. Well seeing how much time they took to solve my problem gives me the feeling they offer no excuse why their software has failed but will not quit until they figure it out and get it fixed. Is this the same commitment that others would go through not sure but I am sure Acronis does.

  • It is not a question of “feeling good” about myself. Surely the first rule for a journalist is write clearly and correctly, isn’t it? Otherwise misunderstandings arise.

    As for backing up, I was taught to use the “rule of three”.
    Roughly that translates to: three different media in three different locations.

    One to lose, one to use, and one to corrupt.

    I do local and two online (with different providers).

    As a small example: All my mail goes to Zoho, to Gmail and to Yahoo. All outgoing is copied to Gmail which forwards to Yahoo. All my addresses reside at each location and are synced. My Yahoo account is a “pay for” and so is unlimited. 8 gb is plenty at Gmail.

    Best. PC.

  • JG Weston

    [quote]“But Jenn,” you say, “isn’t the future cloud storage?”[/quote]

    What price the cloud when thieves yank out your telephone trunk cable to sell for copper scrap and you are without internet connection for several weeks.