In this decade computers have become such a mainstay, backup is no longer a 90s comic strip gaff. Even your grandma, who’s only using that “computerbox” for flooding your inbox with kittens in costume chain-emails, probably has a general understanding of what backing up a hard drive means. Yet, this continues to be a task even the most frequent computer users ignore. The most common reason people give for not backing up their data is that they do not know where to begin, what devices to use or how to go about the backup process.
So, sit down and listen up! There are many very simple methods and a variety of devices that can be used for backing up important files or your entire hard drive.
Network Attached Storage: The NAS is an autonomous storage device that is dedicated for backing up data. It sits on a network outside your PC, but is still connected to your Internet through a wireless or wired connection. Your computer will treat the NAS like any other hard drive and it will show up on your desktop or as a separate disk under ‘My Computer.’ Besides just serving as a device for data backup these devices can run in other server modes functioning as multimedia, Itunes, print, email or lightweight database servers.
▪ Pro: Access of several computers, automatic backup settings, remote access of files over the internet, built-in BitTorret clients, most versatile
▪ Cons: Pricey (basic 500 Gigabyte is around $130) and more difficult to set up than a simple USB drive
External Hard Drive: External hard drives are the most popular method of back up. You can plug them into your computer’s USB or Firewire port and use the built in software to automatically back up all imported files or folders. Most devices are also compatible with many of your computer’s backup software such as TimeMachine for Mac or Windows backup for WindowsXP/Windows Vista. These devices are easily portable, storable and some have wireless capabilities. Prices on external hard drives have significantly dropped and you can typically find a one terabyte for around $100. One terabyte is more space than the average user could really ever hope to fill. Popular brands include Seagate, Western Digital, and LaCie.
- Pros: easy to use, portable, automated backup
- Cons: as much of a risk of failure as your computers hard drive, cost
Online Options: The huge benefit of online data storage or “cloud storage” is most allow file sharing between several different computers. Some options work on the web, some install themselves to your computer and operate like another hard drive and some install apps that work in the background of your computer. Some popular providers are Mozy, Dropbox, SugarSync. Online options are great because they allow access from any location with internet. Online backup storage is typically better for smaller amounts of data or your most important files. The major benefit of online back up is that you data is not held in any physical location so in the case your entire house blows up with all your computers and backup drives in it your files will still be safe.
- Pros: file sharing between computers, access from any location with Internet access, low cost, non-physical storage
- Cons: most free or low cost options have limited storage capacity and typically not the best option for entire hard drive back up anyhow
Another Computer: If you have two or more computers that are linked through your home network you can use the hard drive of one to back up the contents of the other. Desktop based file back up programs like FBackup or GFI Backup are free for personal use and allow you to easily backup files to any other computer on the home network.
USB flash drives: USB drives can be utilized to back up files quickly and are great to take on the go. There is your average run of the mill USB drive that can be plugged into your computer port and the files you want simply drag and dropped or saved to that location. However, there are now USB drives specifically designed for backup that have software similar to that on the larger devices already installed. All you have to do with these is plug them into your computer and hit the backup button.
- Pro: low cost, simple and quick process, easily carried
- Cons: much more limited storage space than your larger solutions and not suitable for backing up your entire hard drive.
DVD/CD/BlueRay: DVDs and CDs are easy and quick backup options for a few important files. However, DVDs and CDs are a difficult storage to device for large amounts of data and maintaining up-to-date backups of your data. Backup of your whole system will likely require multiple disks, and most disks are not rewriteable meaning you will have to continually reburn disks to maintain up-to-date backup. This process will be very time consuming and frustrating.
Blue ray options have a larger storage capacity (25GB), and therefore make a better option than DVDs and CDs for audio, video and photo collections. This options also works well for storing large projects when your hard drive is running low on space.
- Pro: quick, cheap
- Cons: limited storage capacity, inefficient for large amounts of data
RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks): This option is the easiest automated method and ranges from levels 0 to 6. RAID 0 and RAID 1 are the most common and most supported by the average PC. With RAID 1 data is written identically on two drives producing a “mirrored” set so if one drive fails the other will continue to operate normally. RAID will not save your data in the case of extensive data infection because both drive save the exact same data. Also, unless RAID came installed on your system the instillation process is rather intensive and requires physically opening your computer and doing some cable connecting.
Some NSA drives come with RAID array disks installed essentially giving you back up of your back up.
- Pro: best set-and-forget method, very reliable, efficient with full drive storage capacity
- Con: more complex and difficult instillation, expensive
Windows Backup/Restore (hardware device recommended in conjunction): Windows XP has both a System Restore and System Backup program built into the computer. System Restore is an automated program intended to rescue your PC in the event of failure or infection. System Backup is a manual program found in the Start menu that will walk you through the process of saving all the data on your computer or just some files. Windows Vista has an improved version of these programs however it requires the Business or Ultimate editions
Both of these programs are better than nothing, but less adequate that almost all other back up options. These programs can be used to aid back up on NAS devices or external hard drives.
- Pro: easy and comes with the computer
- Con: not as reliable, extensive or safe of an option
Time Machine (hardware device needed in conjunction): This is a brilliant backup software available to all Mac users in their dock or applications settings. Not only does it allow for quick and easy backup to NAS and any standard USB or Firewire external hard drive it also facilitates the easiest restoration of files. You can recue all files from a single save point or just a single version of a file from any point at which you saved it. The interface is all fancy schmancy with fun graphics and animation to keep you fully stimulated throughout your backup process. The program is very easy and user friendly, meaning no manual reading required. (Because we all know how exhausting reading is)
- Pro: free, simple and easy to use, best file restoration process
- Con: TimeMachine is only the backup software so you must have a device to back up your content too.