When you need to backup your computer (or at least some of the files on it) there are more than a few options available. Some of the most popular backup methods currently are RAID mirrors, external hard drives, network drives, USB flash drives, tape drives, cloud storage, and DVDs. Choosing the right medium for you is a matter of weighing the pros and cons:
- RAID mirroring requires a second hard disk drive (with closely matched specifications) for each drive you wish to have backed up. It can be an excellent solution as it keeps files perfectly in sync, even while they are running, and is thus an up-to-the-second backup. On the downside it is somewhat costly.
- External hard drives can be of any size you choose, and can serve as a solid backup option. Like the RAID setup the up front cost can be relatively high, but it does allow you to take your files with you.
- Network drives are a good option if you have multiple computers to backup files from. They’re more expensive than RAID or external drives because they require a housing which is bootable (usually running a linux distribution) but they can be very useful in multi-system households.
- USB flash drives are generally only a good backup solution for small jobs or when you need to have ultimate (physical) portability, as their maximum sizes are quite tiny unless you begin to spend an extreme amount of money.
- Tape drives are an old standard but are are often expensive as they have been phased out by other solutions. The tapes themselves can be a better deal than hard drives, and are portable.
- Cloud storage has become increasingly exciting in the last couple of years, but as a backup solution it remains very slow. For small projects where you want portability such as working directories and music libraries the cloud is a great solution, but leave the big jobs out until internet speeds improve dramatically.
- DVDs (generally the re-writable kind, though it’s also possible to use write-once discs) are a good, cheap solution for backing up your system if you are in a position to swap discs out as you go. DVDs offer the least expensive backup costs, and remain faster than cloud storage even with the need to swap discs in an out. Since backing up to DVD is a good, well-rounded and scalable solution that does not require a huge outlay of money, many people rely on it.
Choosing how much to backup is a very personal decision as well. Some people make whole system backups. Others may find that they are only concerned about things like photos, documents, and the like. In some cases a single DVD may be all a person needs to back their vital data up, but in others a great many gigabytes of data will be involved.
Once you know how much space you need you should make arrangements to secure adequate supplies. In the case of DVDs it is usually very cost effective to buy a spindle of discs and a storage case.
Your next step has to be to find a good piece of software. Fortunately you have a wide variety to choose from. Wikipedia has a list of free and paid backup solutions which, while not comprehensive, is a great start. Also be sure to check around on the search engines if you haven’t yet found something that suits your needs.
One good free program from the list is called Cobian Backup. Using this program it is possible to backup just part of your system or the whole thing, and store it on a variety of backups, including the cost-effective DVDs. It offers you a fairly easy to use interface so you can get started quickly. It can serve as a good first program while you are getting used to backups, and while you are looking around at other options.
Finally, when you make a backup the best storage place for it is away from your PC. If you happen to own a fire safe, placing your backups (such as DVDs) in that safe is a good way to ensure you can recover should anything unfortunate befall your computer.