Backup 101

Backing up our computer data is something we all know that we need to do, but do you really have to? Generally speaking (and from personal experience): Yes, backing up your data is something that you need to do on a regular basis. There’s nothing worse than the feeling in the pit of your stomach when your hard drive suddenly fails—and all your precious data is trapped on it. By creating a backup of all your music, videos, pictures, and other files, you’ll no longer lose your head over an unexpected crash.

Just why do so many people avoid backing up their systems? Simply put, it can take a little bit of time and effort; in today’s fast-paced world, people just can’t seem to find the time. In the past, the act of backing up your computer was an extremely time-consuming and complex process. Nowadays– thanks to vast improvements in data backup services, software, hardware– the task is not as daunting as it used to be.

Destination: Backup

Before starting the backup, you’ll need another drive to back up all your data to. Check out our guides on both external and internal hard drives to see what kind is ideal for you. External hard drives definitely the most convenient way to back up your computer; just plug it in and you’re ready to go. Due to the convenience and storage space of external drives, you back up individual files or even your whole system onto these little powerhouses. There is a downside to using an external drive for backup, however: you’ll need to take a lot of time manually backing up the files. Luckily, faster connectors such as USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt can assist in making the process a little speedier.

Your next option for a backup destination is a compact disc, or multiple discs. Unlike external hard drives, CD Recordables (CD-Rs) and other writeable disc media do not possess the same capacity and speed. Additionally, you’ll need multiple discs to back up your whole system, as opposed to one device; your whole music collection probably won’t fit on a single CD-R, let alone your entire system. With a large amount of data spread across multiple discs, it can be easy to lose them or get annoyed with putting discs in and taking them out all the time to achieve a successful backup. The only upsides to using disc media as a means of backup is that it is extremely cheap and portable.

If ease of use and portability are important to you, there is a far better storage option for your backup: USB sticks. USB sticks are almost as cheap as disc media, and are dropping in price every day. Although the price of USB sticks is going down, their capacities are constantly increasing; the highest capacity USB stick on the market is 256 GB! USB sticks are also incredibly small, making them easy to store in a safe place. However, their small size can also be a disadvantage, making them incredibly easy to lose and prone to theft.

Another option for a backup destination that is swiftly growing in popularity is The Cloud. The Cloud is a fancy name for online storage; data stored in The Cloud can be accessed almost anywhere from any device. Many companies such as Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft offer free cloud storage options; you can also increase the capacity of any of these cloud services for a small monetary fee. External hard drive companies such as Western Digital and Seagate also provide cloud storage via an external drive that you can purchase. Cloud-based drives are incredibly fast and can be shared by multiple computers in one office or household. The only con to a cloud-based storage solution is that it is not accessible unless you are connected to the Internet.

How to Back Up Your System

There are a number of ways to back up your system, but some ways are easier than others. Most of the time, it’s a simple process of dragging and dropping the things you’d like to backup into your backup device. This method is great for individual important files, but what about backing up your entire system?

The easiest way to back up your entire system is by cloning your hard drive. Compared to other methods that require you to pay attention to its progress or difficult software, cloning your drive is relatively easy. A clone of your drive is an exact bit-for-bit copy of all your data, and is identical to the data that was on the original drive. Everything is identical: the OS, file structure, and even your desktop! Cloned drives also work in other PCs. The only downside to cloning your hard drive is the amount of space it will take on your backup drive; since it is an exact bit-for-bit clone of your original drive, it is likely that the clone will take up all the space.

In order to proceed with cloning your hard drive, you will need to download backup utility software onto your computer. There are a number of free options on the web, but some computers come with it pre-installed, such as Apple’s Time Machine. When you’re ready to start cloning your drive, connect the backup drive to your computer. Follow your backup utility software’s instructions, and the software will take on the job from there. Depending on your backup drive’s capacity and speed, cloning your drive can take a few minutes to several hours.

Cloning your hard drive is a great solution to achieve a complete backup; however, the clone of your drive will not change as you use your primary system, unless you backup your system often. Once you swap out your broken or failed hard drive and plug the cloned one in, the cloned drive will only retain the information from the day you cloned it. Despite this, cloning your hard drive is the smartest way to back up your system if you’re looking to save every single bit.