Why You Should Buy A Backup Harddrive

Waffling about whether to invest in a backup harddrive? Maybe this story will help convince you:

I am crawling under my desk in my work clothes before I have to take children to school and then run for the train. There is a phone wedged under my ear and a bowl of cereal in one hand. With the other, I am trying to pull a cable from behind my computer while a customer service rep for Treo (like a Blackberry, but worse) attempts to diagnose why the computer just wiped out every article I have ever written and my appointments through next year. She is in Bombay. My children are in my kitchen. They are yelling for me.

Hard drives WILL fail. It’s just a question of when. Protect your sanity, and your work clothes from getting wrinkled, and get a backup harddrive.

Your call is important to us [Larchmont Loop]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. matto says:

    I have just one thing to say: Time Capsule.

  2. dragonfire81 says:

    I used to work at a computer store, it’s amazing how many people do NOT back up even very important files.

    I actually have TWO hard drives in my computer so it’s easy to keep copies of everything.

    However when it’s so easy to get a 2GB or 4GB flash drive that you can effortlessly transfer files to, there’s really no excuse for not backing up.

  3. Buran says:

    @matto: Well, or just an extra drive set up in Time Machine. But that’s only for Macs. While I love my Mac and Time Machine is pretty spiffy, it’s a Mac-only thing.

    I hope that competition means that Windows will gain an equally-easy-to-use backup system soon so that Windows users, too, can easily back up their files.

    Is there anything similar for Linux? I haven’t heard of any such thing yet, but a robust backup system like Time Machine could help drive desktop Linux adoption, too.

  4. evenkevin says:

    How long before the inevitable:
    “I have no sympathy for people who don’t backup their data on three different hard drives, and keep disc copies both in a safe deposit box and buried in the back yard.”

  5. ladycrumpet says:

    Actually, I’m in the process of shopping around for one that I can use for a PC. Any recommendations?

  6. Buran says:

    @dragonfire81: Works well enough but 2/4GB isn’t enough to do a more complete backup. I’m not dissing your idea at all; I just think that while backing up the most important files is a good idea, it’s an even better idea to have a way to back up EVERYTHING so that if some little prefs file turns out to be the one containing the data you need, you’re still safe.

  7. Mr. Gunn says:

    The easiest option is to just get an external USB drive, and use a free program like syncback, which I believe lifehacker did a post on a while ago.

    There are online backup programs, which come in handy if your town gets hit by a hurricane, but those are more time consuming to get started with, compared to an external drive.

    Try to get one that simply mounts like any regular disk, as opposed to one that comes bundled with special software.

  8. gamabunta says:

    @ladycrumpet: Look into Seagate. They have 5 year warranties on their drives (doesn’t mean they will recover your data for you) but if something bad ever happened it’s nice to know you will at least get a replacement. If I’m not mistaken, most drives have a one button push backup option where you can manually schedule the drive to copy your entire computer’s contents.

  9. Mr. Gunn says:

    Buran: Um, buran, you need to wipe the fanboi outta yer eyes…

    There’s tons of easy to use online backup services for PC, if you don’t want to go the external drive way.

  10. mac-phisto says:

    in the end, the hard drive wasn’t the problem, so i don’t think it’s really a good example of why you should buy a backup drive.

    don’t get me wrong, you should be backing up. but polly’s problem wasn’t with the (physical) hard drive – it was with her o/s. & it was exasperated by her lack of knowledge related to computers (which is understandable).

    i would say that this story is more a lesson of learning to maintain/troubleshoot your computer or find someone who can (we’re all over the place & often work for beer, food & pocket change).

    & don’t ever do what tech 1 in bangalore tells you to do. just say that you did it, it didn’t work & press to get transferred to tech 2.

  11. coan_net says:

    1. Organize your data. I simply have a folder on C: drive called DATA – and EVERYTHING that I do and save, I save into this directory. School papers I did back in 2002, can be found at C:dataschool2002…..

    2. Have a device to back data up to. I purchased a 250gig USB drive awhile back. I hook this up to my PC every few months, and do a complete backup of the c:data drive. (simple drag copy over to portable drive – leave it overnight – come back next day with all data over on portable drive)

    3. Have a small fireproof safe. NOTE: Make sure you get a safe that is rated for electronics like hard drives and such. Many “cheaper” ones are only rated for paper – which will make sure the paper does not burn…. but might get hot enough to melt the drives!

    So I simply pull the drive out every few months, just do a full copy. (I have around 50 gigs of data in the data folder…. have over a terabyte of data when you start to include other things that I don’t need backed up)

    I also keep a small 8 gig USB stick with me at all times which have some of my more recent data… which I also make a copy of every week or so – that way if the USB stick dies, the data can be found at c:datausbstick….

  12. syntheticlogic says:

    Except when you have multiple terabytes of important data. Show me an economical home backup solution for that.

    I would take advantage of Carbonite’s unlimited backup for $50 a year but even an initial backup of that amount of data would take months at the speed they provide.

    My next computer is going to be RAID 5 all the way. No need for backups when you have redundant hard drives :-)

  13. IphtashuFitz says:

    @Buran: While I haven’t seen any commercial products like Time Machine for linux, it’s not that difficult for you to set up something similar yourself. Do a quick google search for “rsnapshot”. It’s a perl script that uses rsync to basically do what Time Machine does, but without all the fancy graphics. I use rsnapshot on a number of linux systems and it’s really nice. Since it’s based entirely on F/OSS and is released under the GPL, all it needs is a good UI designer to create a nice GUI and you’d have a good Time Machine-like utility for linux.

  14. mac-phisto says:

    @ladycrumpet: [www.seagate.com]

    the one-touch series comes with relatively easy-to-use backup/recovery software & they use seagate drives (which many consider the best in the industry).

  15. IphtashuFitz says:

    @Mr. Gunn: I’ve yet to see a backup program for Windows that provides the ease of setup & use as Time Machine. If you can name one or two I’d love to know what they are.

  16. Mr. B says:

    Even with a backup drive it’s good to have something outside your house in the event fo a fire, or even a power surge. I have a RAID1 array in my desktop and I still didn’t feel confident until I added a third backup drive at work. I can even sync the files between home and the office online.

    If you don’t want to do the offsite thing yourself there are services you can use that charge by the month.

  17. Sideonecincy says:

    Windows comes with Shadow Copy…it is easy to use, if your not a moron.

  18. Justin42 says:

    Actually for most people a 4gb flash drive would likely cover most of their “data”– i.e., emails, tax documents, scans of important things, etc. It’d definitely be a good idea to get one to put in a safe deposit box and update once in a while.

    And watch out about Seagate’s 5 year warranty– they make you pay $20 extra to get a drive advance shipped (i.e., to ship you a drive before you send the old one back– so if your drive is failing but readable you have to pay $20 just to be able to have both drives to copy data– they won’t just secure the new drive with a credit card) and years 4 and 5 are actually just going to give you a discount on buying a new drive from them at full price. (i.e., you could probably find it cheaper online)

    After living through a bit of a mess with a Seagate warranty replacement (including the $20 fee and “2 day” shipping that took a week) I’m not too high on their warranty service.

  19. startertan says:

    I just bought a 1TB HD and swapped out my old backup external 400G drive with it. I backed up everything…in fact I’m over due. External HD and Cobian Backup 8 is a winning combo for me!

  20. improfound says:

    backup hard drives are good for quick backups, but they are NOT the complete answer. if lighting strikes, or you get a nasty power surge, it can fry both hard drives.

    so everyone needs to back up to cd/dvd at some point. (or make sure to disconnect your backup drive from the power outlet.)

  21. OsoGrande says:

    Small External Drives and USB keys are a really good investment, given the price. Just ask yourself, what would I do, if I came home and my computer was gone? Not even a computer with a RAID 5 drive array can do anything for you if it’s been nicked, burned up or gets zapped by lightning. What files are most valuable to you? Worst case copy your important files to CDs or DVDs and store them somewhere else (a friend, parent, safe deposit box, etc). Otherwise copy them to a USB key or external hard drive, or if prefer use one of the online offsite backup services like Mozy, Carbonite, Xdrive, etc. If you have extensive video libraries or other large types of files (DVDs, Music, etc), chances are you might have them backed up already in the form of the original media they came on, otherwise if you want to protect your invaluable collection of pirated goods, well you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.

    The point is do something rather than just rely on your stand alone computer and or continue to think “It won’t happen to me”.

  22. GearheadGeek says:

    @syntheticlogic: “…No need for backups when you have redundant hard drives :-)” FAIL. While RAID5 offers WAY more protection than a single hard drive, controller issues or OS issues or a fire can still wreck your data. Backups are still useful. I’d venture to say that if you have “multiple terabytes of important data” then you’re running some sort of business or consultancy. Even though you’re doing it at home, you should consider business-class backup solutions.

  23. Steve518 says:

    Anyone that is on Vista especially should get an external backup. I’ve already had factory image reinstall on my two-month old laptop because of an OS corruption. I had to completely start over like I just got the damn thing out of the box. Without the external backup, I would have lost all new files I would have had since I got the new machine.

    Seagate has worked for me. So far.

  24. ladycrumpet says:

    @gamabunta: @mac-phisto: Thank you!

  25. meb says:


  26. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    For smaller files, you can always archive them into a ZIP or RAR file, password protect the archive, and email them to yourself at your gmail or yahoo address.

    Of course, you’re limited to the size limit of attachments of each email provider. But Yahoo offers “unlimited” storage and gmail offers 6GB (and counting). So all you gotta do is split up your backups into smaller chunks.

    And I have to agree, RAID is not a substitute for back-ups. It’s way to buy time in the event of a serious hardware or software error.

    Last time I checked, 4GB USB flash drives were under $30, and 500GB hard drives were under $100. DVD burners were under $40, and 100 disc blank DVD spindles were about $35. So there are lots of options available. It’s just a matter of getting over the laziness factor, which I’m guilty of sometimes. :-)

  27. syntheticlogic says:

    @GearheadGeek: Yeah, they can and I should have said “I have no need for backups when I have redundant hard drives”. In general my data, although important, are not “mission critical” and if I had a fire or other natural disaster I would have more immediate concerns. The data are replaceable, it would just be incredibly inconvenient to do so. I DO have a versioned, remote file store that I use for critical documents.

    Your point also applies to any of the other common home backup solutions. USB hard drives can die or be corrupted by viruses too. What I was trying to point out (however clumsily) is that there is a huge gap in price and feasibility between “home” backup solutions like USB Hard Drives and Carbonite and business class solutions like tape robots and SANs. I don’t have $10k to drop on a business class solution, Carbonite, although they claim unlimited storage, couldn’t handle the amount of data I would need to backup, and USB hard drives aren’t feasible. I realize that I’m an extreme case, but I’m sure others with needs like mine exist (in fact I know several personally).

    RAID provides enough protection for the right cost. It’s not perfect, but the chances that a properly setup & maintained RAID 5 array has a double drive failure is acceptable to me. And it’s far better than my current solution of purchasing replacement hard drives when I suspect a problem in one of my active ones and praying that I can transfer all the data before the old drive crashes.

  28. Chongo says:

    For MAC people… once you get a drive (if pre INTEL get a firewire drive) you can use a nifty CHEAP program called SUPER DUPER!

    Its better then TimeMachine and it allows you to clone your computer every night and you can boot off of the HD!

  29. Geekybiker says:

    Hmmm the lead story is a more convincing narrative on why not to have children than why to back up your hard drive.

  30. Moosehawk says:

    I recommend using two easy and cheap devices to back up anything important:

    1.) A flash drive. You can get a 2 gig for about $10 on newegg. This is plenty of storage to hold documents you need to bring with you, such as: School work, articles, media you want to carry around.

    2.) An external hard drive. On black friday, I bought a 500 gig for $80. 500 gigs can hold ANYTHING that’s deemed important for school or work, and leave plenty of extra room for music, movies, games. Make a folder on your external hard drive that matches everything on your flash drive at the time.

    With one computer, this gives you three different backups for storage for your most important data.

  31. Pro-Pain says:

    Common. Sense.

  32. SacraBos says:

    I predominately use Linux. All my important stuff is rsync’d or tar’d to backup disks and/or other computers on a daily basis.

    And for those removable drives with your critical information (Quicken, etc) – TrueCrypt is your friend. Get it. Install it. Use it. It’s free. You have no excuse.

  33. DeliBoy says:

    I dunno, purchase two of something like this or this and rotate offsite? I personally use a Buffalo NAS, but I need the network capabilities. If these don’t work, consider a LTO-3 or LTO-4 tape system.

  34. Zombilina says:

    I use SuperDuper! and an external hard drive. Lifehacker had an excellent article about how to clone your hard drive, so if your internal hard drive crashes, not only do you have your documents backed up, but you also have a bootable backup. I don’t have an off-site backup, though, so when the next big Bay Area earthquake demolishes my house, all my backups will be for naught.

    I’m interested in online backups, but still a little nervous about it.

  35. theblackdog says:

    These ideas are great, until your external hard drive that you were using for backup of “important files” dies.

    *goes to painstakingly re-create an old document*

  36. Nighthawke says:

    There are two forms of storage: Working and backup. How we geeks do it is set up a Mirror RAID for the boot drive. If one blows its mind, the other will keep things working until you get a replacement. Then for the data, a RAID3 or 5 will do the trick, depending on how fast you want your data. Never, EVER use SoftRAID like what Microsoft has, it’s useless.
    That’s geek working storage, plenty of redundancy and room to spare.
    Backup storage needs to be dependable for long term preservation of your data. DAT’s, TRAVAN tape storage is the smart way to go with overlapping backups and a secure spot like a firesafe or off-site storage for the tapes. The consumer can get away with a RAID 1 backup drive like WD’s dual drive NAS. Never use cheap SANs, they rely on the computer for it’s processor and might lose the whole smash if your system dies.

  37. nequam says:

    @Chongo: SuperDuper is great, but one would benefit from using it in conjunction with Time Machine or some other periodic backup system. That way, you’d have a complete bootable clone every evening (SD) but also hourly, daily, weekly backups (TM) in case you accidently delete a single file that wasn’t saved in your most recent clone.

  38. Ramses says:

    I came here to say that “I have no sympathy for people who don’t backup their data on three different hard drives, and keep disc copies both in a safe deposit box and buried in the back yard.”

    That is all.

  39. quagmire0 says:

    Flash drives probably lose data and fail more often than hard drives, so keep that in mind. The only true solution is to have multiple backup systems. Have duplicate files on other computers, go to an internet hosting company and get a cheap hosting package with ftp access. Download SyncBack and have it ftp your data to your hosted space.

  40. weakdome says:


    Windows comes with Shadow Copy…it is easy to use, if your not a moron.

    So is it difficult for you to use? Or are you saying “your” a moron?

    Not that I want to be the grammar police… but don’t make an accusation like that if you aren’t even going to say it correctly.

  41. Elijah-M says:

    @Chongo: @nequam: If I’m not mistaken, you can rebuild a hard drive from a Time Machine disc. You can’t boot from it, so having Super Duper would save you a minuscule amount of time in the event of a failure, but this doesn’t seem like a huge advantage to me at all. Am I missing something?

  42. hi says:

    I bought this program called “GetDataBack” for $75. If your Hard Drive becomes corrupt (doesn’t work if it’s a hardware failure) this program will read the drives contents and allow you to copy it to another drive. I’ve used it many time since I bought it. There’s two different versions one for NTFS and one for FAT32. Simple to use and cheaper than getting someone else to recovery your data. [www.runtime.org]

  43. hi says:

    @hi: They also allow you to download the demo to be sure it can read your drive before purchasing. I highly recoommend it.

  44. snowmentality says:

    @nequam: I’m in total agreement. I have both. Time Machine is great because it doesn’t rely on my remembering to make the backup — especially not now, with Time Capsule (I have a MBP, so I’d have to remember to plug it in for Time Machine). I know I should back up, but I’m lazy and distracted. I think I’m not alone. Time Machine makes the computer remember it for you.

    Super Duper is important for the bootability.

    I’m doing those two plus offsite backups for the data that my Ph.D will be based on. If I lose that, I’m really sunk. Which reminds me, I need to get some DVDs so I can burn all that stuff. Just in case….

    @Sideonecincy: Okay, I hate to even start this flamewar, but Shadow Copy is only available on Vista Business and Vista Ultimate, according to Microsoft’s website (see point D). Most people’s new computers come with Home Premium preinstalled. I’m not sanguine that they’ll want to pay for an upgrade just for Shadow Copy. Time Machine comes bog standard on any new Mac, and just having the backup program there and staring you in the face will get a lot more people to back up.

    It’s not about being a moron; it’s that running backups is tedious and takes time, which gets people to procrastinate no matter how much they know they should do it. Anything that automates it and takes it out of the user’s hands is a good thing. That’s why we have computers, right? To do tedious, boring stuff faster and better than we could do it?

  45. bvanpelt says:

    @syntheticlogic:”Except when you have multiple terabytes of important data. Show me an economical home backup solution for that.” This is NOT a home system!

    I have a /data directory, as others do, that contains HighPriority, MediumPriority, & LowPriority subdirs. The HighPriority goes to flash drives in my car and office at work, weekly. The High & Medium go to Amazon S3 via JungleDisk once a week. ~4K costs me less thana dollar a month. All three directories go to an external hard disk that is stored in my daughter’s closet 50 miles away.

    If I had terabytes it would be at my daughter’s place and on another drive at another family member’s place, within 10 miles.

    I always think of fires…

  46. eelmonger says:

    @theblackdog: If you’re backing up things properly you’ll always have 2 copies of important files. But I know plenty of people who delete stuff off their main drive because it’s “backed up” on their external. For some reason they don’t think that drive can fail too.

  47. Buran says:

    @Mr. Gunn: *sigh* when did I say ONLINE backup service for windows? I didn’t. And how the hell does saying I use a mac make me a “fangirl”?

  48. kretara says:

    RAID != Backup
    A bad drive in a RAID 0 (striped) setup = all your data gone.
    Corrupted data in a RAID 1 (mirrored) setup = bad data on all the RAID’ed disks.
    RAID 5, 6 or 10 is best for redundancy.
    But, 5 has issues: like 2 disks going bad at the same time will more than likely mean that you have lost your data unless you are very lucky and catch the error before the disks are out of synch.

    I have a multi-tiered approach for backups.

    This is for my personal computers and data. I’m backing up 3 laptops and 3 desktops.

    I have a central backup server that consists of 4 500GB hard drives (backup space) and 2 20GB HD (running Linux). The 2 20gb drives hold the OS and are synched every night and incremental backups are made to my NAS server nightly.

    All my *nix and OS X (~BSD) machines get rsynch’d nightly.
    2 of the 500gb drives are devoted to *nix and the other 2 are dedicated to OS X. The drives are not RAID’ed, I back up the data to each drive so I have 2 identical backup copies.

    I also have roughly 1.8TB of external firewire hard drive space that I use to backup and archive media I work on.

    I do monthly burn’s of data to DVD.

    I also have a 1.9TB (4 mirrored — RAID 1 in 2 groups of 2 — 500GB drives) NAS server (running freeNAS) that I use to back up data if needed. Again, split into 2 groups of 500GB drives that are mirrored.

    I used to backup the one windows machine that I allow in my house (used to play some educational games for my kids), but it is just not worth the effort since I have to rebuild the damn thing twice a year anyway.

  49. Two hard drives is a copy.

    Three hard drives is a backup.

  50. mac-phisto says:

    @syntheticlogic: it sounds to me like the majority of data you’re looking to backup is programs & such so that you wouldn’t have to reinstall everything from scratch in the event of a failure.

    if that’s the case, have you considered using imaging software for your non-essential data? that would reduce your backup load significantly.

  51. vision4bg says:

    External 2TB WD hard drive, switched to a 1TB mirror RAID array = redundant bliss for $450.

  52. heavylee-again says:

    If the point of the article is harddrives WILL fail, then why is another harddrive being suggested as a reliable backup method? I just set up my mom with an account with Mozy.

  53. Buran says:

    @IphtashuFitz: I’ll have to check that out for my windows box, although I only use that for gaming so it doesn’t really need backing up. However, I was trying to think of things that your average computer non-geek can set up. I can do it, you can do it, but can they?

  54. Buran says:

    @Elijah-M: You can… I don’t remember where the option is, but I think it’s somewhere on the Leopard install disk — allows you to rebuild a working drive from a Time Machine backup. Fortunately, I’ve never had to actually do it. Yet.

  55. Buran says:

    @IphtashuFitz: Thank you. That was my point. It looks like people are so quick to be the first to scream “FANBOY OMG!!!!” (and not even spell it right) no matter how well the poster they’re responding to was trying to be neutral that they don’t even bother to think about what they reply to.

  56. Android8675 says:

    @matto: I have one thing to say about Time Capsule, it has a HD in it.

    What happens when your Time Capsule HD fails. Of course I have no idea if the HD is user serviceable.

    I heard somewhere that if your data is your life you should keep at least 4 backups.

    1. Use RAID-5 (Redundant HDs, if 1/3 of the HDs fail you don’t loose any data. Totally doable with todays HD cost)
    2. External HD
    3. Online Backup (Internet)
    4. Offsite Backup (Make a backup, send it to another location in case you get hit by a tornado or something)


  57. Buran says:

    @Chongo: Or CarbonCopyCloner.

    I’d still recommend Firewire either way – it’s faster.

  58. SpaceCat85 says:

    My current setup on my main Mac: 2 internal drives set up as a mirrored RAID array, periodically backed up to an external OtherWorldComputing enclosure via SuperDuper & a FireWire 800 connection. Having a bootable copy of the OS has come in handy in the past, so I didn’t replace SuperDuper with Time Machine when I upgraded to Leopard.

    I really need to get something for my laptop, though.

  59. trujunglist says:

    Make sure you have a copy of Diskwarrior. Diskwarrior is your best fucking friend.

  60. Buran says:

    @Buran: Sorry, misread that… I don’t have a Linux box — currently — although it might be useful for backing my website up which DOES run on Linux.

    Sorry. I have a headache today that nothing is touching. ><

  61. EBounding says:

    Arcronis is probably the best Windows backup program.

    I got a 500GB WD external drive recently and it’s great to have that back up security.

  62. Rachacha says:

    I have 4 computers in my house, so I utilize a NAS, and every family member has been trained to save all of their data to that drive. To prevent against drive failure, I use a sync program that is set to automatically sync the data several times a day to a seperate “back-up” drive in my machine. When directories get larger than what will fit on a DVD (photos, music etc.), I make them “read-only”, and create a new directory called “Photos2” or similar for the storage of any new data. Keeping directories the size of DVDs allows me to easily create a 3rd backup for storage off site (at my office).

    As my storage increases, I am considering moving towards purchasing 2 external USB drives that I can move between home and work on a weekly basis and eliminate the DVD backup, but right now 2 DVDs captures all of the “Must have/can’t live without” data.

  63. samurailynn says:

    @syntheticlogic: Yes, RAID5 can fail. And not just in a fire. We had two drives go bad at the same time because of a heat wave that hit a couple summers ago. The central AC was on full blast and our apartment was still about 95F day and night. Luckily, the irreplaceable stuff (photos) were also stored on a computer at my husband’s dad’s house. Unfortunately, all the mp3s that we had legally purchased were gone, gone, gone. We learned our lesson, and will definitely be shutting off all computers if we have that kind of heat problem again. We also continue to store all of our photos on multiple computers.

  64. wellfleet says:

    Last week at our Geek Squad precinct, this poor lady was in tears because her kid restored her comp without knowing they would lose their files. I think only 10% of our customers back up their data and it just breaks my heart sometimes. It’s so Murohy’s Law, we had two people get their comps fried during the last round of storms and they had all their tax info in there.
    Cheapest way to back up data is to email the most important stuff to yourself so you can access it anywhere. Of course, for those of you with TBs of data…

  65. wellfleet says:

    Also RAIDs can fail too, and doing data recovery on those is way more difficult (and costly).
    I wish I had a terabyte of data, but even I can’t fathom that many photos of my dog.

  66. RandomHookup says:

    I’ve been using Carbonite for a couple of years now and it works fine (I got 3 free copies when they were free with rebate at Staples). The advantage is that my data is backed up off-site, helping me in case of a fire or other disaster. Heaven forbid I lose my primo pr0n and LOLcat macros.

  67. digitalgimpus says:

    I’ve got a weekly complete image (for easy backup and restores), routine file backups to a local file server as needed.

    Critical files are backed up no less than once a week to an offsite provider.

    Don’t want to risk loosing data… just to cheap and easy to take that chance.

  68. tspack says:

    Personally, I like mozy.com. It’s painless.

  69. DuncanBleak says:

    I use Acronis True Image and a 300GB usb external drive. You just have to remember to keep the backup current.

    I also backup important work files to Kingston usb 2GB drives.

  70. Buran says:

    @RandomHookup: Was Han Solo included?

  71. dugn says:

    Backups only work if they’re fully automatic. If there’s a manual step involved, they will eventually be forgotten.

    I have personally experienced too many horror stories of people losing years of unrecoverable data, pictures and files due to either no backup or a backup ‘process’ they stopped doing months earlier.

    USB thumbs drives (or even burning to DVD) recommended on this thread may work for people with less than 2, 4 or 8 GB of important documents, but it fails the ‘manual effort’ rule above.

    For those techies out there, get a Windows Home Server for $500-$700. The HP MediaSmart EX470 and EX475 are a great choice since they’re already built and allow you to drop in additional hard drives as needed. Backups done on up to 10 machines each night (even supports Mac TIme Machine) without any interruptions. A child could set it up.

    There’s a cheaper version made by HP based on UNIX for those who bristle at the mention of Microsoft. Less features, fewer drives – but you can get your anti-MSFT kicks.

    Even cheaper, get a Network Attached Storage (NAS) box ($150-$300) – basically a hard drive on the network you can write files to. No features, but you can run your own script or backup program to the NAS every day.

    For all of the above, pay for a service that allows you to offload your files offsite. Redundant drives or an in-house server would all be lost in a fire or theft.

    For grandma, load her up with a free service like Windows Live Sky Drive, HP Upline Remote Backup Service or Elephant Drive (there are lots of others too). Make sure it’s one that does the backup automatically – or you write a script that does the daily lifting.

  72. @ladycrumpet: I just got a fabrik simpletech signature mini, pretty happy. Also, it’s blue.

    I can back up all my data, excluding music, on a flash drive (the iPod serves as the music backup). So I’ve got the big external HD, the flash drive backup (in firesafe box), and then I also print off some documents 8 pages to a page, since digital data can degrade. If it’s super-important, I’m willing to squint at tiny little print to recreate it if necessary (and that way shrinks paper storage needed).

    I also e-mail things to myself on occasion and keep some archived in my e-mail. I’m experimenting with keeping some kinds of documents online at google docs as well as on my computer; nothing like bank documents, but many of my lectures, which are obviously recreatable, but would be an enormous pain my ass and would require quick access so I could keep teaching in the wake of a hard drive catastrophe.

  73. snowmentality says:

    @Buran: They’re using the keyword system. They hear the word “Mac” and immediately give the “smug Mac fanboy” script.

    My household has all backup and storage drives duplicated for redundancy (that’s also why SuperDuper is good). The duplicates are left unplugged and disconnected, so power surges can’t hit them. Belt and suspenders.

  74. Chongo says:

    @nequam: Good Call!

  75. ShariC says:

    I think part of the problem for people who don’t back up is that they haven’t conceptualized their computer as being something which requires maintenance. They see it like a T.V. or refrigerator which hums along and does its thing until it fails without considering what they’ll lose if it does. They need to see it more like the lint screen in the dryer – every time you use it, you have to take care of it or there’s a risk that something bad will happen.

    I back up data onto an external USB hard drive which is networked to 3 computers (2 PCs and a Mac). If that drive fails, the data is still on the computers’ internal drives. If the internal drives fail, the back-up drive has the data. For the PC, I use Norton Ghost. Unfortunately, I can’t use Time Machine on the Mac because it won’t recognize the networked drive (as it is physically connected to the PC, not the Mac) without some Terminal tweaking that I’m not prepared to do, so, the Mac system isn’t necessarily perfect.

  76. Keat says:

    @heavylee-again: “…harddrives WILL fail, then why is another harddrive being suggested as a reliable backup method? I just set up my mom with an account with Mozy.”

    The odds of two hard drives failing from the same manufacturing defect is small. What do you think Mozy is storing its stuff on?