For most people, backing up the computer doesn’t rank high on your to do list, a bit like going for a check-up at the dentist or reviewing your pension. But like those tasks, if you put it off for too long, you could find yourself with a much bigger headache later on.
All computers are susceptible to viruses, damage, theft or simply old age – any of which could result in you losing your library of photos, movies, music and other precious files. So you need a backup. The question is how to back up and to where?
The answer to ‘how to back up’ is best answered by the type of computer you have.
If you’ve got a Mac bought after 2007, you’ll have ‘Time Machine’ as built-in software that lets you save a full copy of everything that’s on your computer to wherever you choose (see below). Time Machine then keeps on looking at your files to see if any have changed, and backs those up too. So if you accidentally delete a file, or you want to go back to an earlier version, you can retrieve it through the Time Machine.
If you’ve got a PC running Windows, you’ll also have built-in software – File History in Windows 8, or System Backup in Windows 7 or earlier. These work in a similar way to Apple’s Time Machine – you tell the computer which files you want to back up, where to copy them and how often, and the software will do the rest automatically.
The next question is ‘where’ to store your backup and this is where it can get a bit more complicated. There are 3 main options – CDs or DVDs, external hard drives or the ‘Cloud’.
1. You can use CDs or DVDs to make a single copy of your valuable files and then store them somewhere away from your computer. You’ll need to replace these every few months as you add to your computer library, to keep your backup up-to-date.
2. External hard drives come in many shapes and sizes. Choose one based on how much storage space you need and your budget. If you’re using Time Machine or Windows backup software, it’s a good idea to have an external hard drive that has at least twice as much space as the data you want to store on it, so that there is room for regular backups.
3. A ‘Cloud’ backup stores your data ‘offsite’, protecting your files against something like a fire, or theft of your computer. It’s essentially your own space on the Internet. Again, there are hundreds of options for a cloud backup: some are free and included with your computer software (iCloud, SkyDrive), whilst others are free for small amounts of storage and then you can buy more space if you need it (eg Dropbox, just cloud, CrashPlan).
There is another backup solution that combines an external hard drive and the cloud – it’s known as NAS or network attached storage. A NAS device links to your wi-fi so that it can back up more than one computer in the house, and it can act as a central library for your music, movies and photos to be accessed by any device connected to your home network. The great bonus with some NAS devices is that they also give you access to your files when you are away from home.
Once you’ve decided how and where to back up your files, you can relax, safe in the knowledge that your digital world is protected. We strongly recommend that you have at least one of these solutions in your home; to be doubly safe, use two.