Best backup hardware and software
If you want to keep your data safe, you should make regular physical backups.
Even if you like the idea of storing all your files in the cloud, it’s good practice to combine cloud backup with a physical fallback in the shape of hard drives or DVDs. After all, in the event of a data disaster, copying hundreds of gigabytes directly from a disk will be much quicker than downloading them via your internet connection.
For small backup jobs, backing up to DVD is a cheap, sensible option. A single-layer DVD holds up to 4.7GB of data, and most backup software will split large backups across multiple disks if you need more storage space. Make sure to use write-once rather than rewritable disks, since these last longer and remove the possibility of copying over existing backups.
When it comes to safeguarding huge collections of music, movies and photographs, opt for an external hard disk or a NAS device. For basic backup purposes, a USB hard disk is the cheapest, most convenient option: a fast USB 3 model such as our current A-List favourite, the 2TB Western Digital My Passport, costs £95.
You can save some cash by repurposing old laptop or desktop disks – a USB 2 or USB 3 disk caddy can turn old drives into useful backup storage. Some caddies are particularly suitable for backup purposes, such as StarTech’s USB 3 docking station, which allows you to hot-swap two 2.5in or 3.5in drives as you please: simply slot the bare drives into the base and they will appear as external storage.
If you’re backing up several computers, a NAS device connected to your wireless router is an elegant option: every computer connected to your network will be able to use it to store backups. We’d recommend opting for a two-bay device as a minimum, since this makes it possible to add a layer of data redundancy by configuring the installed drives as a mirrored RAID array. If one of the drives should fail, you can simply replace it with another of the same type, so no data is lost.
Whichever method you choose, make sure your most precious data is backed up in at least two places – we’d recommend storing a backup at a friend or relative’s house, just in case.
If you’re really worried, you can combine on-site and off-site physical backups with any of the cloud services we look at on the opposite page. It sounds like overkill, but even in the event of a flood or house fire, and even if your internet connection goes up the spout, you can be sure you’ll have at least one working backup.
If you decide to adopt hard disks or optical discs, make sure you store them in a cool, dry, dark place. Optical discs are susceptible to light and extremes of temperature, and hard drives need to be treated carefully if you want to use them as a long-term backup medium.
It’s best to hook up backup drives every couple of months – this stops the drive mechanism seizing up, and gives you a chance to check the drive’s data integrity.
There’s no need to spend money on dedicated backup software. Windows 7 has a built-in backup client, and while it isn’t as nippy or feature-packed as some of the free tools out there, it works fine. The major limitation is that Windows 7 Home Premium doesn’t allow backups to be made to a network location, such as a NAS device.
Windows 8 goes one step further. You can still schedule full backups on a daily basis, but the new File History feature keeps track of all the files in your media libraries, allowing you to roll back to previous versions of existing files and recover deleted files.
If you want more control over your backups, there’s a raft of good-quality free packages. These provide additional features, such as the ability to back up to network locations – regardless of the OS you’re running – and the ability to restore individual files or folders, rather than a complete backup.
Other options include the ability to create bootable rescue disks in the event of a complete OS meltdown. And if you have Ubuntu or Linux systems running alongside Windows PCs, Redo Backup & Recovery runs directly from a live CD or USB thumbdrive, which allows it to back up both Windows and Linux machines.
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