Best Ways to Back Up Your Data (2023)

Robert_Stark
edited August 2023 in PC Tech

Picture losing irreplaceable family photos or business documents in a split second. Imagine reconstructing your digital life from scratch on a new computer. A grim reality? Yes, but a plausible one if you fail to back up your data.

Computers don't last forever; they wear out, can be lost, stolen, or fall prey to natural disasters. Then there's the human factor—accidental file deletions or malware attacks that wipe or hold your data hostage. That's why regular backups should become as ingrained as brushing your teeth.

Regular backups are your best insurance policy for recovering digital assets when the inevitable tech hiccups occur. Think of a cloud backup or a cloned hard drive as your digital safety net. They'll catch your data when misfortunes strike your computer or hard drive.

Why should I back up? 

Web Tribunal's chilling statistics underline the importance of backup:

  • 140,000 hard drives crash in the US every week
  • 20% of small and medium-sized businesses lose data every five years. 
  • 60% of companies shutter within six months of losing their data. 
  • 93% of companies without data access for over 10 days file for bankruptcy within a year.

The figures speak volumes. Don't wait till disaster strikes; it's time to adopt a reliable backup strategy.

Where should I back up my data? 

Backing up your data demands strategic diversification, as disks of every kind can fail. The 3-2-1 backup rule safeguards your data in multiple ways:

  1. Three Copies: Don't rely on a single copy of your data. Keep three copies of your data - your original and two backups. This redundancy serves as your digital safety net. 
  2. Two Storage Media Types: Mix it up. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Store your data on two different media types, like an external or USB flash drive. This diversification increases the chances of data recovery if one drive fails. 
  3. One Off-site Location: Fires, flood, or theft? Keep one backup in a different location. Cloud or network storage works well for this. Still, it could be as simple as handing a USB stick full of family photos to a trusted person outside your home.

Now, about the other two copies. Keep them within your home - on a different partition, another hard drive on your PC, or a separate device. These local backups act as your first defense against minor mishaps, allowing for quicker restoration.

The 3-2-1 backup rule acts as a superhero for your data. It eliminates any single point of failure and provides a safety net against data corruption and physical threats like natural disasters or theft. Adopt this strategy, and your data will thank you.

Backing up data: the ABCs 

There are three styles of data backups: 

  1. Full Backup: This is the "take everything" approach. It's essentially cloning your entire hard drive, file by file, program by program, onto a separate disk. It's your digital counterpart, a mirror image of your data life. 
  2. Differential Backup: This is the "new stuff" method. Picture it as a mini-update to your backup, keeping track of what's new or modified. It zeroes in on your files that have been added or changed since your last full backup. 
  3. Incremental Backup: Now, this one's a bit more specific. Incremental backups only save the changes made to files already backed up. 

Each approach has pros and cons. Full backups offer total security but can be time and storage intensive. Differential backups are quicker, while incremental backups are the fastest but could potentially complicate data recovery. Choose the style that best suits your needs, and remember, the goal here is data security and peace of mind. 

What should I back up? 

The short answer to this question is: Back up everything important to you. But let's break it down:

  1. Hobbyists & home users:  If your computer is a digital playground, safeguard your personal files – photos, home movies, documents, and cherished emails. Google Drive offers free 15GB of cloud storage, ample for most casual users. A USB stick or external drive can complement your backup strategy, aligning it with the 3-2-1 rule. Give a copy to a trusted friend for off-site safekeeping for extra security. Pro-tip: Keep a duo of backup copies, switching between them. If one fails, its twin saves the day.
  2. Software users: Frequent free software users or those with readily available serial numbers can focus on safeguarding personal data alone. But if your software suite is hard to come by, roll them into your comprehensive backup plan.
  3. Digital nomads: You're looking for a paid cloud backup subscription if you're a globe-trotter or a work-from-home pro. Automated, regular backups ensure that your data stays protected, irrespective of your coordinates.
  4. Entrepreneurs & business owners: Minimize your risk with automatic cloud backup and off-site backups. A serious backup strategy is non-negotiable for those whose business data is critical. If you're yet to employ a risk management plan, consider this your clarion call.

Remember, backup strategies aren't one-size-fits-all. The best backup plans suit your digital lifestyle and ensure peace of mind.

How to back up your data 

Ready for backup? Remember to check the size of your files or folders beforehand. You don't want to kick-start the process only to discover that your designated disk or online service can't handle the load.

To check the size of a folder you plan to backup, right-click on it and select Properties.

Your backup strategy should hinge on two pivotal aspects: your data's significance and storage costs. Here are a couple of approaches you might adopt: 

1) Manual backup 

The DIY approach is where you select the files or folders you want to backup, then copy and paste or drag and drop them onto your chosen backup location. Here are some storage options:

  • External hard drives: High-capacity devices ideal for backing up large amounts of data 
  • Partitioned drives: Divide your computer's internal drive into distinct sections, one for your primary data, and the other for backups 
  • Secondary internal hard drives: A separate drive within your computer specifically for backups 
  • USB flash drives: Portable and convenient, but typically lower capacity

You control when and what gets backed up, but the responsibility falls on you to remember to do it regularly.

When considering plug-in devices, don't forget:

  1. Portable storage devices can degrade over time and 
  2. Storage device types become obsolete over time. For instance, everyone used to back up their stuff to floppy disks, and after that, it was Zip drives. Your backup strategy needs to keep pace with technological advancements.

2) Automatic backup 

With automatic backup, you use software or cloud service that schedules and carries out backups without your intervention. 

  • Windows File History: A built-in tool that automatically saves specified file folders to a backup storage device 
  • Third-party services: Options like iDrive or Backblaze offer automatic backups with large or unlimited storage capacities.

The "set-it-and-forget-it" convenience of automatic backups ensure your latest data is safe and sound.

3) Combination backup 

You might decide to use a mix of both methods. For example, you could use automatic backup for your most essential files that often change, like work documents or personal photos, and manual backup for files that change less frequently or are less critical, like downloaded music or movies. This strategy strikes a good balance between security and fine control over manual backups.

Can you retrieve your data? 

Another crucial aspect of backing up is retrieval: can you get your files back when needed? According to Web Tribunal, the statistics are unsettling: 60% of data backups are incomplete, and half of all restore attempts fail. This underscores the importance of verifying your backups. It's not enough to back up your files and forget about them. Immediately after the backup process, and periodically after that, test your backups – even the online ones – to ensure you can recover your data when necessary.

5 best ways to back up your data (2023) 

1) Use cloud storage 

Paid options can automate your backup process, storing your data until needed.  

These abound, with Microsoft's OneDrive (5 GB) and Google Drive (15 GB) offering free storage included with your account. With a Microsoft 365 subscription, you get 1 TB as standard.

Do your homework – ensure your chosen company has a solid reputation and positive reviews.

2) Network attached storage (NAS) 

NAS is a dedicated server that allows file-level storage and sharing for your home or small business network. Always on and connected, with NAS, you can access your data anytime, anywhere, making it perfect for small businesses handling many files.

NAS offers a safety net for your data. It's on a dedicated server, separate from your regular devices, so it's shielded from PC crashes or malware attacks. With NAS, you also get built-in security features like passwords and encryption. While NAS might have a higher price tag, it could be a solid move for your backup plan.

3) External hard drives 

Quick and portable, these devices offer significant storage. There are two main types:

  1. HDD: The classic. They're older and cheaper than SSDs, with maximum capacities reaching up to 20TB. 
  2. SSD: Speedy and modern. SSDs provide faster data transfer rates, though they have a higher price tag. They can store up to 32TB.

Both options typically offer at least 1TB of storage, making them suitable for most users. Before buying, double-check that the drive is compatible with your system and has enough room for a full OS backup.

4) USB Flash Drives 

Modern flash drives can stash up to 1TB of data. Their compact nature makes them perfect for both on-site and off-site storage.

5) Optical Discs 

You might burn data onto optical discs if you're feeling nostalgic or prefer the manual process. The storage capacities vary:

  1. CDs: Hold between 650 megabytes (MB) to 700 MB 
  2. DVDs: A standard single-sided, one-layer DVD can store up to 4.7 gigabytes (GB). If it's a double-layer disc, the capacity jumps to 8.5 GB. 
  3. Blu-Rays: These offer significantly more storage. A single-layer Blu-Ray disc can hold 25 GB, while a dual-layer doubles the capacity to 50 GB.

Investing in a portable reader/writer is a clever move for data retrieval, especially as optical drives become less common on modern devices.

When deciding your backup strategy, tap into the wisdom of friends and colleagues. Learn from their experiences and successes. Remember, the aim is to find a solution that fits your needs and is easy to maintain. Regular backups keep your data safe, minimizing the impact of technical glitches and crashes.

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.

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