BACKING UP COMPUTER files is a lot like exercising: Even though it’s important to do, people
don’t always carve out the time to do it.
But as everyone’s personal and professional life
becomes increasingly digital—irreplaceable photos
and videos, documents and music—it’s critical to
back it all up in case something happens to the original files. Of course, students also need to protect
their schoolwork, including essays, book reports,
study notes and more.
Importance of backing up
You might know that sinking feeling when you
realize important computer files have vanished into
thin air. This could happen in a number of ways: a
nasty computer virus, hardware malfunction, natural disaster (such as fire or flood) or power surge.
And keep in mind, countless laptops are lost or stolen on a regular basis.
In a flash, your entire digital life could be gone
forever—unless you proactively back up your important files on a regular basis. It doesn’t really matter
how you do so, as long as you do something and fairly
often—perhaps once a month or so for casual users.
So, what should you preserve? All of your documents should be archived. Digital photos and video
footage cannot be replaced, so frequently backing
up these memories is a good idea. Contact information for all your friends, family and work associates
should also be backed up—and may already be
synched with your smartphone—as well as calendar
appointments, notes and tasks. Your music collection, audiobooks, website bookmarks and/or anything else that is irreplaceable—or at least an
inconvenience—if lost, should also be on the list.
Ways to back up
You can back up your important files in a number of ways. Here are three popular choices.
External hard drive. As small as a pack
of playing cards, an external hard drive can
be plugged into an available USB port on a
laptop or desktop and it will show up as a new
drive. Capacity typically starts at 1 terabyte (about
1,000 gigabytes), which is enough to hold many
thousands of photos, videos, songs and documents.
Desktop hard drives are meant to be kept in one
place, such as a home office, and require
external power (that is, they need to be
plugged into an AC outlet). A smaller portable hard drive gets its power from the computer itself, and can be brought with you.
USB flash drive. Pinky-size “thumb drives” plug
into an available USB port on your computer, so you
can manually drag and drop files onto the drive.
While inexpensive, reliable and durable—they don’t
have moving parts like a spinning hard drive—flash
drives don’t store as many files as an external drive.
These flash drives can also be plugged into many
TVs, to play videos, photos or music.
You could also back up files onto an SD or
microSD memory card instead of a thumb drive—
it’s the same basic technology.
Cloud backup. These online services store your
files for you behind a password-protected website or
app. Popular providers include OneDrive, Dropbox,
Google Drive and iCloud. While you don’t get a lot
of free storage (they average around 10 GB), your
local files are stored off-site to protect your files
from local threats. With cloud services, you can
access all of your backed-up stuff from virtually any
internet-connected computer, tablet or smartphone
in the world.
A few other tips
If you back up files to a hard drive, you should
make a duplicate or triplicate onto additional
drives—just in case one drive fails in the future.
Also, keep them in different places, such as a safety
deposit box, a trusted relative’s house or a different
room in your home than your computer.
If you use a word processor like Microsoft Word,
be sure to have the program auto-save every minute
or so, just in case of a computer crash, and/or have it
synched with the OneDrive cloud service (which is
an option). Google Docs users won’t have to worry,
as it always saves work online to the cloud. C
Marc Saltzman, a leading
high-tech reporter, contributes
to more than three dozen
appears on radio and TV,
and is the author of
15 books. He’s on Twitter
Saltzman will answer selected
questions in this column.
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