How to backup your computer
There are many ways you can lose data, including theft, power outages, storms, floods, fires and the greatest threat of all: you. That's right, human error is the number one cause of data loss. Think coffee spills, accidental deletions or simply forgetting to backup a file. The method you choose to backup your computer will determine how secure files are from being lost, and how simply you can recover them if you do lose them, for any reason.
Computer backup is designed to protect all of your important files and pictures, even the ones you save to an external hard drive. And, whether you're already using Windows backup software on your PC or Apple Time Machine on your Mac, you still need additional cloud backup to make sure all your important files and pictures are secure from the major causes of data loss. Learn how to backup files on your PC or Mac — and how to backup external hard drives — on this quick computer backup guide.
So how do you backup your computer?
There are many options for computer backup, but not all provide the same level of protection or ease of use. Some are good for security but make recovering files a hassle, while others are easy to use but not secure enough. The best computer backup is one that protects your files from all of the major risk factors, is easy to use and helps you recover exactly what you want with minimal hassle.
External Hard Drive (EHD)
One of the most commonly used forms of backup has been around for many years. External hard drives are popular for computer backup because they're portable, easy to connect to your laptop or PC, and relatively inexpensive. And since they've been around for a long time, people are comfortable using them.
To backup your files using an external hard drive, you typically connect the drive to your computer or laptop with a USB cable. Once connected, you can choose individual files or folders to copy onto the external hard drive. In the event you lose a file or a folder, you can retrieve copies from the external hard drive.
As popular as external hard drives are for computer backup, they will only protect you in a few of the scenarios where you're likely to lose files. The first challenge to using external hard drives as backup is that they will only protect the files or folders you choose to upload. Any large-scale file loss caused by things like a computer crash or disk failure could make you lose more files than just the ones you remember to upload. You should also know that when you backup manually, you could lose anything that's changed between backups.
Some external hard drives come with backup software, which automates the process and reduces the risk of human error. An external hard drive with backup software gets you partway to a sound backup strategy. But your files are not completely safe from some of the other major causes of data loss.
Most people keep their external hard drives close to their computers, either right next to it or somewhere else in the home or office. That means the original files and any backup copies are vulnerable to theft, fires, floods and other proximate dangers. If you're using an external hard drive for backup, the best way to make sure your files are protected from all major risks is to backup both your computer and your EHD with cloud backup.
RISK FACTORS: Not automatic, subject to loss and damage
Thumb or USB Drive
A thumb or USB drive has a lot of the same benefits, and weaknesses, as an external hard drive. It's relatively easy to drag and drop files or folders for safekeeping. And because of their extreme portability, they're even easier to connect to a computer. But that same portability also makes them easy to lose and unreliable for backup. With USB or thumb drives, backup is a manual process that could easily lead to accidental deletions or file overwriting. And like external hard drives, thumb drives are subject to the same local catastrophes such as fires, floods and theft. They're also more limited than external hard drives in terms of space, so there's a good chance you won't be able to fit all the files from your computer onto a thumb or USB drive.
RISK FACTORS: Not automatic, subject to loss and damage, limited space
Cloud storage or file sync and share
Cloud storage and file sync and share are two similar, often identical, options for backing up computer files. Examples include Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Box and Sugar Sync. These services mainly offer two features: cloud space to backup files and the ability to access or share them from a connected device. To backup files using a cloud storage or file sync and share service, you log in to your account from your computer and choose the files you want to upload. Then, on your mobile phone or tablet, launch the app to view the files you uploaded.
The good things about these services is that the files you upload are stored in a remote or offsite location (the cloud, which protects them from local disasters like fires, floods and power outages). But much like backup or external hard drives, thumb drives and USB drives, cloud storage and file sync and share are manual forms of backup. You must choose the files and you want to upload, and only those files are backed up. Cloud storage and file sync and share services will not protect against deletion or file overwriting.
RISK FACTORS: Not automatic, subject to accidental deletion and file overwriting
It's easy to confuse cloud storage with cloud backup, but the differences are significant. Both services store your files at an offsite location, protecting them from local outages, fires, floods and other disasters. But unlike cloud storage, cloud backup is a software-based solution that automates the backup process for you. So, even though your files are backed up to the cloud, the software lives on your computer, working silently in the background and backing up files, even while you’re working on them.
To backup pictures and other files using cloud backup, you start by installing the software on your computer or laptop. The first time you launch the application, you choose which files and folders you want to backup. Your initial backup, depending on how many pictures and files you have on your computer, may take anywhere from a few hours to several days. Once completed, the software continuously scans your computer or laptop and uploads only the changes. It also saves previous versions of files for a period of time, usually up to 90 days. This offers protection against computer viruses and ransomware, because if your system ever becomes infected, you can revert to prior versions of files as they existed before you were attacked.
Automating the backup of important pictures and files reduces your risk for human error. People accidentally delete or overwrite files all the time. Or they simply forget to upload them to an external hard drive, thumb drive or cloud storage service. With cloud backup, once your initial backup is completed, every file and folder you’ve selected stays protected continuously and automatically. And, if you ever accidentally delete or overwrite a file, you can recover it from backup easily.
RISK FACTORS: None
Computer backup best practices
When businesses get serious about preventing data loss, they formulate a disaster recovery strategy that includes one or more of the backup options above. Personal users should do the same. The best solution, and the one that relieves you from having to worry about losing your files, is cloud backup. It offers the most reliable protection from local disasters like storms, floods, fires and outages. And it automates the backup process for you, so you never have to worry about backing up individual files or folders. It also saves previous versions of your files so you can recover from a virus or ransomware attack without having to pay the bad guys to get your stuff back.
Carbonite is a powerful tool to backup pictures and files because it’s designed specifically for file recovery. You can restore a single file or folder just as easily as you can restore all of them. For large-scale file recovery, such as a computer crash or hardware replacement, a cloud backup solution like Carbonite will save you hours of time and frustration with the click of a button.