How to Backup Your Computer: Know Your Options
There is nothing you can do about data loss, unless you have a backup in place. Here’s everything you need to know about how to backup your computer.
When it comes to computers, nothing is more important than your data. While components can be replaced and whole machines can be rebuilt, there is nothing you can do about data loss once it has happened—unless you have a backup in place. For this reason, it’s crucial to know how and when to back up your PC. There are many different options and services you can use to create a backup. However, the most important thing is that you have a plan ready before disaster strikes. Here’s everything you need to know about how to backup your computer.
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Why Should You Have a Backup?
The data on a computer is what makes it unique. Without your personal files, photos, and videos, your computer is just like any other. Losing data can feel like the end of the world, and attempting to recover or replace it can quickly get expensive and time-consuming. Having properly organized backups can save you massive amounts of time and inconvenience, allowing you to restore your data to the date of the last backup.
Figuring out what data is important to you is the first step in successfully creating and maintaining computer backups. Almost anything on your PC can be backed up with enough preparation and planning.
Types of Computer Backups
There are a few different types of computer backups out there. Each option has its pros and cons. There is never a wrong choice when backing up your data, but knowing the differences between your options will help you get the most out of your devices. Here’s what you need to know:
Specific Data Backups
The least complicated way to back up your computer is to manually move files such as photos or documents to a new location. This can be done by copying data so that it remains on multiple machines or by moving data to an entirely new device. When creating backups this way, you know precisely what you are backing up and where that data will be. Manual backups make it easier to recover data and navigate backup files should the need arise.
System Cloning and Full Backups
Some operating systems offer special tools that will take a snapshot of all the data on your computer. This is called a full system backup, and it can be used to restore your PC to a specific configuration of your choosing. These backup files can get tricky to navigate but can restore entire computer systems in the event of major data loss.
These types of backups can help businesses quickly set up new machines or ensure employees' computers always function the way they are supposed to. One problem with full system backups is that file sizes can rapidly grow when storing these kinds of backups. Storage space for full system backups can quickly get expensive or require multiple external devices to maintain.
Backup Locations and Devices
Now that you know the different ways you can back up your computer, you must find the best device for your backups. Depending on how valuable your data is, it may be worth using multiple backup locations. You can never have too many backup devices in place. It only takes one catastrophic data loss to lose years or even decades of time and work. Here are your device options for computer backups:
USB hard drives, or external drives as they can be called, are drives that can easily move data between devices using only a USB port. External hard drives essentially function like a large USB flash drive. You can manually move over items to the device or use a properly formatted drive to clone or duplicate a PC's entire configuration. One of the more significant benefits of using an external drive is that they can easily backup multiple computers.
Physical backups are the most secure way to back up your data because when the device is not plugged in, it does not exist to the outside world. Even the best hacker in the world cannot access an external hard drive when powered off and in a desk drawer. The one flaw with physical backups is that they are at the mercy of whatever location they are kept in. You can have the best backup procedures and the fastest external drives available, but if the whole office burns down, you will lose your computer along with your physical backups. That said, storing physical backups in multiple locations is a terrific practice that ensures you will always have at least one backup you can use to recover data.
While physical backups are subject to floods, fires, and any other kind of disaster, internet or cloud-based storage is not. You can schedule automated online backups via cloud storage to keep up to date backups available to users at all times. When using this type of backup solution, you are typically paying a service to store data in a secure data center or server maintained by said service. The primary concern with this type of backup is that storage size is much more expensive when compared to physical drives. Also, if something goes wrong, you are at the mercy of the company you are paying to host your data.
Services and Emails
Luckily, applications such as email and online word processors often store your data on their servers for free. When a drive fails or a system has a fatal crash, online software is the least of your worries. More often than not, this type of data is actively stored in the cloud and connected to some form of login credentials. Simply log in to the service you intend to use on another PC, and you should have access to the same documents and files you always do with that software.
How Often Should You Backup Data?
Backing up your computer is only useful when done frequently. If you only back up your data once a year, you could lose up to eleven months of work, depending on when you encounter system or storage failure. For this reason, it is considered good practice to perform regular or semi-regular backups of your data.
Manually copying data at the end of every day or week may be tedious, but it could be necessary if you work with sensitive information. For most standard home users, monthly or even bi-monthly backups are often enough.
Another good rule to follow is that if you work on a particularly important file or take sentimental photos, do not wait for a scheduled backup. Instead, manually create backups for all data you would consider invaluable. Remember, while it may seem tedious at times, there is no such thing as having too many data backups. You never know when an event may occur that could result in significant data loss.
Recovering Data From a Backup
When data loss does happen, recovering your files from backups can sometimes get confusing. Depending on how your backup is set up or if you have a full system backup, you may need specific software or knowledge to recover or restore your PC from a backup.
Ensure that when you make a full system backup, you also understand how to use that backup if the need to recover data ever should arise.
When using manual backups, recovering data is a bit more straightforward. Simply navigate the file explorer to the location where you chose to store your backups and move them back into their proper locations on your primary device. File structures can get confusing, so remember to take your time when naming backups or looking for specific files to restore.
Tips to Remember
Here are a few final computer backup tips to keep in mind:
- Safely Eject Devices. When using physical devices for backups, such as external hard drives, make sure to always eject the device safely in the operating system before physically removing it from the computer. You can do this by right-clicking the drive in the file explorer or taskbar and selecting "Eject Safely." This is important to remember, because even after a file transfer is complete, external storage devices continue to communicate with the PC. Removing them without ejecting can corrupt data on either device and defeat the purpose of having a backup entirely.
- Programs. When creating data backups, you never want to try and copy a program into another location. This is because programs work within a computer by using directories to navigate a machine's internal files. Suppose you copy a program's files to a new computer. In that case, the directories can be different, and the program will not function properly. When it comes to software stored on your device, it is best to reinstall the program on a new machine rather than transfer it.
- Automation. One of the best habits to have is creating regular backups of your sensitive data. The easiest way to do this is with automation. Some operating systems or online services can be set to automatically backup your data at predetermined intervals of your choosing. That way, you never have to worry about if you backed up that important document or not.
Computer parts can be replaced, but if you do not preemptively backup data, it could be lost forever. By practicing regular computer backups, you can protect your data from worst-case scenarios. Having multiple backups ensures that you will always have access to one form of your personal data, no matter the situation. The best thing you can do to be protected is to plan ahead and regularly back up your machine so that you are prepared when disaster strikes.