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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How to Back Up Your Computer Files

How to Backup Your Computer Files

There are many options for saving your documents, photos and videos. Just make sure they are saved to at least one of them.

Gone are the days when we stored documents in file cabinets and our photos in (real) scrapbooks or shoeboxes. Now our lives revolve around our computers, which means you could lose everything, including family photos and tax documents, if your computer crashes, either due to malware or some other cause beyond your control. Fortunately, there are many ways to back up your computer.

External Hard Drives

The most obvious backup option is external hard drives—hardware that is separate from your computer. These include external hard disks, most of which come with their own backup software, and more portable options such as DVDs, CDs, Blu-ray discs, flash, or thumb, drives. You simply copy files from your computer to the external drive. Two advantages of a local archive are that there is no monthly or annual fee, and you have immediate access to all of your files in case your computer dies.

While external hard drives are often inexpensive and easy to use, you have to remember to back up your files. Windows provides numerous backup and recovery programs, such as Backup and Restore, that you can set up to save files to your external drives. Because these drives usually reside near your computer at home, in the case of a fire or other home damage, you could lose both your computer and external backup. One problem with flash drives is that you can easily lose them because they are so small. Also, because hard drives are hardware, they are subject to wear and tear and may eventually fail.

Cloud Storage

Online programs such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, were designed to sync your files between computers and devices, backing up your data online in the process. These services are free for a limited amount of data space, and you pay a monthly or annual fee to exceed this storage amount. Google Drive, for example, offers 15 gigabytes (GB) for free; 100 GB is $1.99 a month; and the price increases incrementally from there. If you think you really need 30 terabytes (TB), you’ll pay almost $300 a month.

To use cloud storage, you upload files, such as photos, to the website, which stores them for safekeeping and syncs them with your other electronic devices. So, for example, from your smartphone, you can access a file you created on your laptop. It’s easy to share files, especially those that are too large to send over email. If you make a change to a file, the service automatically updates the file on all computers and devices using the account. Likewise, if you delete a file, it disappears from your online storage as well.

Backup Services

Similar to cloud storage services, internet backup sites such as CrashPlan, Carbonite and BackBlaze back up your files. Unlike Dropbox and the rest, however, they do it automatically. When you initially set up an account, the service backs up all specified files. After that, when you create a new file or change an existing file, the technology detects the update and automatically backs up the new or revised file. Like cloud storage services, you can access your files from any computer or device, as long as you have internet access.

Unlike cloud storage services, these backup sites are not free. They often start at a low monthly or yearly rate and then charge more for a higher storage amount. For example, CrashPlan offers unlimited online storage for $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year, which includes backup on other computers as well as on your external hard drive. Carbonite has three different plans for the amount of data you use, starting also at $59.99. Some services, such as Carbonite, offer “versioning,” in which the service will save different versions of your files, so you can restore the version you want.

If you’re worried about safety, your files are encrypted, so no one else can read them. Still, experts recommend that you back up your computer files on external hard drives as well as in the cloud or on the internet. Your data is too precious to lose.


How to back up your PC, laptop, phone and tablet for free,” March 9, 2016, PC Advisor.

The Beginner's Guide to PC Backup,” March 24, 2016, PC Mag.

The Best Way to Back Up Your Computer,” March 4, 2015, Wall Street Journal.

What’s the Best Way to Back Up My Computer?,” How-to Geek.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors