Backing up your computer means to copy your files so they are saved in two or more separate locations in the event of a failure, accident, or loss of data, there is another copy of your important information elsewhere. Your OSX or Windows-based devices can hold a considerable amount of important information ranging from precious family photos to important tax documents and resumes. As a result, ensuring your important and priceless data is backed up and secure is critical.
Many people only think about their hard drive failing, or their computer being damaged when considering their backup. What is often overlooked is the ever-present possibility of data loss due to Malware, Viruses, and RansomWare. Because these types of attacks can affect not only your computer but your backup drive connected to it, it is best to consider multiple backups to ensure your data’s safety. You can learn more about how to these risks in our Tips for Avoiding Viruses, Malware, and Spyware article.
In this article, you will learn about the different options you have for storing and backing up your important data, as well as basic instructions for setting up an automatic backup on your computer.
The ultraportable USB flash drive is a convenient method of taking files on the go, transferring data between computers and other devices or copying key files for safe storage. Also dubbed thumb drives (due to the size and shape of early designs), they connect quickly to any USB port and require no other power source. Typical capacities range from 8GB to 64GB, but larger sizes are available.
Due to their small size, a common method for using USB Drives to backup data is to save a copy of your important but rarely used data like Tax and Medical records, or your Resume and Job history. Once copied, store your drive in a home fireproof safe or lockbox where it not connected to your systems and more protected from disaster, but still easily accessible if needed.
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Handy external hard drives are the traditional internal hard disk drive (HDD) in a convenient external format, so you can easily expand your storage capacity without touching the inner workings of your computer. These drives also let you quickly create a file back-up solution or offload batches of files for simple transfer to another computer. Hard drives, in general, are relatively inexpensive and can give you a lot of storage space for your money.
External hard drives can be grouped into two physical classes: Desktop and portable.
Desktop external hard drives are built using a 3.5" drive and require both an interface cable and a separate AC adapter plugged into a power outlet. They are bulkier and heavier than portable drives and may include a fan that reduces heat but also adds to the size. As such, these drives tend to live a stationary life as a permanent archive at your desk, supplementing a desktop computer or plugged into a laptop's home base.
Portable drives consist of a 2.5" hard drive in a compact, protective enclosure that packs easily and travels light. In addition, the lower energy requirements allow many portable drives to be bus-powered, which means they draw power from the host computer using the same cable as data transfer. You won't need to depend on a power outlet, and you'll have one less cord to pack and untangle.
Both desktop and portable external hard drives are available in a variety of capacities, but the truly massive drives are almost always in the desktop form factor.
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A network attached storage solution (NAS) — also known as a personal cloud — is essentially an external hard drive with built-in wired or wireless networking and remote access technology. This way, the NAS can be installed as part of your network instead of connected to one computer, and files are always accessible to multiple computers and devices, over your network or over the Internet.
These drives offer a great solution for files you want to share — for instance, a media library of digital movies and music for the entire family to enjoy, or a central location for project documents in a small business. In addition, many NAS drives feature data sync and backup technologies to help safeguard against data loss. Transfer rates, however, are limited to the speed of your network.
The majority of NAS devices provide multiple terabytes of centralized storage capacity in a desktop-style form factor. Some models, however, prioritize a compact size and wireless capabilities over capacity. These portable NAS are designed for streaming to mobile devices on the go, ideal for bringing favorite movies and music on vacations and work trips
See our article on Choosing the Right Hard Drive for more information.
Cloud storage with a digital data storage service lets you store, sync and share your files in a central location and then access them from anywhere on the Internet. It is similar to NAS, except your files live on secure servers owned by the service host, instead of on your own physical drive. Another advantage of Cloud storage compared to external or NAS drives is that your data is not physically stored in your home or on your network, offering an extra level of security and redundancy.
Popular Cloud backup services like Carbonite, Mozy, or CrashPlan offer secure and automatic backups but often have an associated fee. You can also look to other free Cloud Storage services like iCloud, OneDrive, or Dropbox to save your data, though be aware these services often only offer a certain amount of storage for free before a fee is required to store more data. To ensure the best security and safety of your important data, using a combination of backups to external drives and the cloud is the best option.
Both Windows 8 and 10 come with a program called File History, which is used to automatically backup your active directories like Documents, Photos, etc. to an External Hard Drive or NAS. Once set up, any new file added to your common directories will automatically be copied to your backup drive, seamlessly in the background.
To set up File History first connect and setup your External Hard Drive or NAS. Once connected and setup, open the Charms Menu by swiping in from the right edge of your screen, or point your mouse to the lower-right hand corner of the screen and move your mouse up. Now select Search, and enter File History Settings. Choose Select a drive, and choose your External Hard Drive or NAS from the list. Now, every hour your computer will automatically check for any new files and back them up as needed.
To set up File History first connect and setup your External Hard Drive or NAS, then select the Start Button > Settings > Update & Security > Backup. Now click on Add a drive, and choose your external hard drive or NAS from the list. Now, every hour your computer will automatically check for any new files and back them up as needed.
For the past few years, all Mac OSX computers from Apple have had a program called Time Machine included for automatically backing up your Mac to either an External Hard Drive or an Apple Time Capsule. To set up Time Machine, first connect your External Hard Drive to your Mac, or set up your Time Capsule. Choose the Apple Menu > System Preferences > Time Machine. Click on Select Backup Disk, then select your External Hard Drive or Time Capsule from the list and click Use Disk.
Once setup, Time Machine will automatically make hourly, daily, and weekly backups of your system, deleting the oldest backups as needed when your Drive or Time Capsule is full. Be aware that your initial backup may take a long time depending on how much data you have stored on your Mac, though you will be able to continue using your Mac while it performs a backup.
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