Everyone loses data sometime in their lives. Your computer's hard drive may fail tomorrow, ransomware can keep your files hostage or a software bug can erase your important files. If you do not regularly back up your computer, you can lose these files forever.
Backups do not 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 really need to back up?
It's about your personal information
Let's start with the obvious: what do you need to back up? Well, first of all, you need to back up your personal files. You can always reinstall the operating system and download the programs if your hard drive fails, but your personal information is irreplaceable.
All personal documents, photos, home videos and other data on your computer should be backed up regularly. They can never be replaced. If you've spent hours with instant ripping audio CDs or video DVDs, you might want to back up those files so you don't have to do everything again.
Your operating systems, programs and others The settings can also be backed up. You do not have to back them up, necessarily, but it can make your life easier if the entire hard drive fails. If you are the type of person who likes to play with system files, the registry edits and regularly updates your hardware. If you have a complete system copy, you can save 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 device to backing up those files on a remote server over the Internet. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each:
- Back to an external device : If you have an external USB hard drive, you can only back up that device with the computer's built-in backup features. On Windows 10 and 8, use File History. In Windows 7, use Windows Backup. On Macs, use Time Machine. Sometimes connect the device to the computer and use the backup tool, or leave it connected when your home and it will automatically back up. Pros : Backup is cheap and fast. Cons : If your house is being robbed or burned, your backup can be lost along with the computer, which is very bad.
- Backing up over the Internet : If you want to make sure your files are secure, you can back them up to the Internet with a service like Backblaze. Backblaze is the well-known online backup service that we like and recommend because CrashPlan no longer works home users, but there are also competitors like Carbonite and MozyHome. For a low monthly fee (about $ 5 a month), these programs run in the background of your computer or Mac, and automatically back up your files to the service's web storage. If you ever lose these files and need them again, you can restore them. Pros : Online backup protects you from all types of data loss, hard drive errors, theft, natural disasters and everything in between. Disadvantages : These services usually cost money (see the next section for more information), and the original backup may take much longer than it was on an external device, especially if you have a lot of files.
- Use a Cloud Storage Service : Backup purists will say that this is not technically a backup method, but for most, it serves a sufficiently large purpose. Rather than just storing your files on your computer's hard drive, you can store them on a service like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or a similar cloud storage service. They will then automatically synchronize to your online account and to your other computers. If your hard drive dies, you still have copies of the files stored online and on your other computers. Pros : This method is simple, fast and in many cases free and because it is online, it protects you against all types of data loss. Disadvantages : Most cloud services offer only a few gigabytes of free space, so this only works if you have a small number of files you want to back up, or if you are willing to pay extra storage space. Depending on which files you want to back up, this method can either be simpler or more complicated than a straight up backup program.
While backup programs such as Backblaze and Cloud Storage services like Dropbox are both online backups, they function in fundamentally different ways. Dropbox is designed to synchronize your files between computers, while Backblaze and similar services are designed to back up large amounts of files. Backblaze will retain multiple copies of different versions of your files, so you can restore the file just as it was from many points in its history. And while services like Dropbox are free for small amounts of space, Backblaze's low price is as large a backup as you want. Depending on how much data you have, you can be cheaper than the other.
Backblaze and Carbonite have a great limitation that you should keep in mind. If you delete a file on your computer, it will be deleted from your online backups after 30 days. You cannot go back and restore a deleted file or the previous version of a file after this 30 day period. Be careful when deleting these files if you want them back!
A backup is not enough: Use multiple methods
RELATED: You do not back up properly if you do not have backups on the site
So what should you use ? Ideally, you should use at least two of them. Why? Because you want both offsite and onsite backups.
"Onsite" literally means backups stored in the same physical location as you. So if you are backing up an external hard drive and storing it at home with your home computer, it's a back-up backup.
Offsite backups are stored in another location. So, if you back up to an online server, such as Backblaze or Dropbox, it's an offsite backup.
Backup on site is faster and easier and should be your first defense code against data loss. If you lose files, you can quickly restore them from an external device. But you should not rely on on-site backup alone. If your home is burning down or all the hardware in it is stolen by thieves, you would lose all your files.
Outside backups do not have to be a server on the Internet either, and you do not have to pay a monthly subscription for one. You can back up your files to a hard drive and store it in your office, at a friend's house, or in a bank vault, for example. It would be a little more inconvenient, but it is technically an offsite backup.
Likewise, you can also store your files in Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive and perform regular backups to an external device. Or you can use Backblaze to back up online and Windows File history to create a local backup. There are many ways to use these services in tandem, and it is up to you how to do it. Just make sure you have a solid backup strategy, in place and offsite backups, so you have a wide-ranging security net to ever lose your files.
Everything that sounds complicated, but the more you automate your backup system, the more often you can back up and the greater the odds you will stick to it. That is why you should use an automatic tool instead of copying files to an external device by hand. You can only set it up once and forget it.
That's one reason we really like online services like Backblaze. If it supports the internet, it can do it automatically every day. If you need to connect an external device, you will need to put more effort, which means that you will back up less often and you may end up doing so. Keeping everything automatic is well worth the price.
If you don't want to pay anything and want to rely primarily on local backups, consider using a file synchronization service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive to sync your important files online. That way, if you ever lose your local backup, you have at least one online copy.
In the end you just need to think about where your files are and make sure you always have multiple copies. Ideally, these copies should be in more than one physical location. As long as you actually think about what to do if your computer dies, you should be way ahead of most.
Image Credit: Mario Goebbels on Flickr