How to back up all your devices

The speed of uploads will remain a constant consideration if you work with large files, such as raw video footage. And of course if disaster does strike then recovering your files will be slow too: even with a fast 20Mbit/sec connection it will still take more than a day to download 100GB of data.

You should also consider the impact of uploading and downloading large amounts of data on any fair usage policy or transfer cap that may apply to your broadband subscription. If your backup software burns through your monthly data allowance in a matter of days, you could face a surcharge – or be left hobbling on a throttled line for the remainder of the month.

Local backups

For all of these reasons you may be tempted to handle your own local backups, as an alternative or complement to an online system. This may entail a certain up-front investment in hardware, since you’ll need enough space to store your backed up files, but in time you’ll probably end up saving money compared to using a monthly service: a half-terabyte USB hard disk can be had for as little as £40 if you shop around.

Setting up local backups needn’t be a complicated business. In fact, in Windows 7 (and some editions of Vista) you get some protection automatically. If you need to recover a file that you’ve accidentally overwritten or deleted, you can often do so using the built-in Previous Versions feature. To view older versions of a file, right-click on its icon and select Previous Versions: from here you can view, open and optionally restore old edits. To restore a deleted file, view the Previous Version of the containing folder.

Previous Versions isn’t a complete backup solution. It doesn’t track every change you make to a file – by default it updates only once a day, or when a System Restore point is created, so important changes may be missed. What’s more, the old version data always resides on the same drive as the current copy, so it provides no protection at all against disk failure, loss or theft.

Back up all your devices

Windows 7 and Vista users should therefore also consider using the built-in Backup and Restore agent to perform regular backups of your files – and indeed the whole system – to an external drive or network location. Or, if this doesn’t quite suit your needs, there are plenty of alternatives out there. Backup software is a regular feature on our cover disc, and external hard disks often come with their own backup clients, many of which promise constant, automatic backup of your personal files.

For the ultimate in effortless backup, Windows 8 brings a new feature called File Restore. In principle this works very similarly to Previous Versions, allowing you to rescue older versions of local files and folders. However, it uses an external or network drive, for greater data security. And it makes copies much more frequently: by default, updated files are archived every hour, but you can increase frequency all the way up to every ten minutes. Accessing the old contents of a folder is as simple as clicking the History button in the Home section of the Explorer ribbon.

Backing up multiple systems

So far we’ve focused on keeping local backups for a single PC. If you have multiple PCs to protect it probably doesn’t make sense to invest in a separate external drive for each of your computers. It’s more efficient to set up a central backup location.

The simplest way to set this up is by sharing a drive across your network. Home editions of Windows 7 don’t let you back up to a network location, but there are plenty of third-party packages that will. And if you’re moving up to Windows 8, its File Restore feature makes it easy to set a shared drive as a backup location for your entire Homegroup.

The downside to backing up to a shared drive is that the computer hosting it must be kept switched on all the time, or backups won’t be made. This isn’t exactly energy-efficient, and it creates extra problems should something go wrong with the host computer. A safer approach is to invest in a dedicated low-power network storage device. Until recently we might have recommended an appliance based on the Windows Home Server operating system; but Microsoft confirmed in July 2012 that its home-oriented server OS is no longer under development, so we’d be hesitant to invest in it at this point.

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