BY NATHAN BIRD
Nathan Bird is a technical consultant at Lucidius, LLC.
Like you, I have a lot of valuable data such as pictures, home movies, and documents all in one place… on my computer. And like you, I have experienced technical difficulties with computers and files. Having that much important data in a single location is asking for trouble. Recently, a couple friends and a family member all experienced computer crashes in the same week. All called me for help recovering precious memories and files.
I have concluded there are three sure things in life… death, taxes, and computer hard drives crashing. However, you can avoid the negative consequences of a hard drive crash. You just have to be prepared. There are three main ways of storing your priceless data: 1) computer hard drive, 2) external hard drive, and 3) an off-site backup.
Risks and dangers of a computer hard drive
Your computer hard drive has an average lifespan of approximately 5 years. With hard drive wear and tear over the years, I don’t trust it with anything critical if it is over 3 years old. Hard drives are affordable and easily replaced – especially if you have a backup system in place. The wise saying of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” applies here. Not having an automatic backup is placing fate at your door and I can guarantee you will lose some if not all of your data at some point in the future.
Benefits of an external backup
Having an external backup is the technological way of putting all your eggs in two baskets. An external hard drive coupled with some automatic backup software and you can reduce the risk of losing all your data by about 90 percent. The major risks left with an external backup are losing both your computer hard drive and the external drive in instances such as a house fire or natural disasters. That said, this is the easiest and quickest way to backup your data – and give you some peace of mind.
Benefits of an off-site backup
An off-site backup can be a couple of things. It could be your external drive which is backed up regularly and stored in a safe deposit box or at a place other than your home or office. More commonly however is an internet backup – a backup of your data sitting on a remote server on the internet. Having a remote backup offsets the risk of both your computer hard drive failing and your external drive being destroyed in a house fire or flood. And your files are encrypted for privacy and security purposes. The downside of a remote back is the slow backup and restore speed and a small monthly fee for using an internet backup service.
How to get started
First, you’ll need an external hard drive. Simply Modern Mom has good deals in the SMM Store (Amazon) for hard drives that I recommended. The typical computer user can pick up a 500 GB or 1 TB (1,000 GB) drive for around $100.
Second, you need software to perform the backup from your computer to the external drive. If you are on a Mac then you are good to go. Time Machine is what I recommend to Mac users and is as easy as connecting your drive and flipping the ON switch in the system preferences. Apple provides a video that shows you all you need to know.
If you are on a PC then your best option is to upgrade to Windows 7 (available October 22) and use the built-in backup tool. A guide can be found here. If you are using Windows XP or Vista then the cost of buying 3rd party backup software is about the same price as upgrading to Windows 7 so it makes sense to buy the new system and get reliable backup software with it.
Finally, for off-site backup solutions I recommend Mozy ($5/month) or Carbonite ($55/year). Both work well for Macs and PCs, are simple to setup, provide unlimited storage, and are roughly the same price.
My recommended backup system
I recommend using at least an external backup with software to automatically keep things backed up. I also recommend an off-site backup of everything you would consider essential. For me that includes pictures, home movies, and some documents. This system allows you the speed of an immediate restore from the external drive if your computer hard drive crashes and peace of mind.