When choosing a backup solution, consider the amount of data you have, whether you have multiple computers on your home network, the amount of hands-on involvement required, backup speed, the sensitivity of your data, your level of computer expertise, and the physical size of the drive (if you need portability).
You could spend a few hundred dollars on a 2 terabyte drive, but do you really need that much space? A 250GB to 300GB drive might accommodate your needs well into the future. You'll save relatively little by buying less capacity than that. At the minimum, get a drive with at least as much capacity as the one that's inside your computer. Physical size is another consideration. If you need to take your backup with you, you'll want a drive that's small enough to carry around.
Online storage services sound great until you realize how slow they are. After the first full backup, which could take two or more days to complete, things go faster, but if you create a lot of music, video, or image files each day, you should consider a faster solution. An extra internal hard drive would be the fastest solution, but installation requires some technical know-how. A network or external drive is a reasonable alternative.
How many computers?
If you have several computers running on a home network, consider a network drive, which you can share. Installation takes a little more computer knowledge than using an external drive. If your computer is near the router, consider connecting it via Ethernet cable to improve speed. A wired connection is 5 to 50 times faster than a typical wireless connection.
How computer savvy are you?
Setting up a backup is relatively easy, but if you're not tech savvy, you might want to choose a simpler solution. Just keep in mind that the handiest options—a thumb drive or optical disc—might require multiple discs or devices for a complete backup. An external hard drive that runs without software installation, or performs a backup with the push of a button, is a good alternative.
Supplement your software
Some low-priced drives come with no software or backup software that's short on features and flexibility. Even software bundled with some drives can have limitations, such as the inability to back up onto CDs, DVDs, or networked drives.
Third-party backup software can cost $20 to $60, but could be well worth it, if only for peace of mind. Another option is to use the backup software included with your operating system. Max OS X 10.5 (Leopard) or later includes Time Machine, which automatically backs up everything on your hard drive and lets you restore anything from a single file to the entire drive. You can restore the most recent version of a file that has been modified over time. Time Machine's slick interface makes it easy to use.
Windows XP and Vista have built-in backup capability. There's an option to let Windows select the files to back up, or you can select them yourself. The interface is simple, though it might take some effort to learn how to set backup time and frequency.
Double your protection
If your backup hard drive and your computers live side by side, your data is vulnerable to burglary, fire, flood, or other calamities. For irreplaceable content, consider supplementary backup at a second location. See Offsite data storage for some possibilities.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.