How to backup your computer

Updated: 06/05/2017 by Computer Hope

Computer backupBacking up your computer is an important step every computer user should take if they do not want to lose any of their valuable information. This page covers steps on how to backup your computer in case your computer fails, gets stolen, or gets destroyed in a fire.

Do I need to backup?

Yes. Everyone has information on their computer that they may not realize is important until its lost. Examples of important information include Internet bookmarks, documents, financial information, saved e-mail, music, pictures, and saved games. Also, your computer may appear to be working normally, but it or the hard drive in it could fail at any time and without warning.

What should I backup?

For almost all computer users, the most important information you should be backing up is anything that cannot be replaced. Typically that includes personal document files, letters, photos, finance information, pictures, and saved games. Microsoft Windows users will find most of this information in their My Documents folder.

Backup strategies

Backup to alternate medium - Backing up your information to an alternate medium, such as a blank CD-R, blank DVD-R, or USB flash drive, is one of the easiest methods to backup your personal information. Copying files to an alternative medium is the absolute bare minimum method of backing up your information.

Store backups online or at another location - If your home or office were to catch fire or someone were to steal your computer and backups everything would be lost. Making backups that you store at a friends house or storing backups online is the absolute best method of protecting your personal information.

Ongoing backup - Having a computer with RAID or running software that makes backups as data changes can help make sure data is protected as it is updated. An ongoing backup is the best solution for sensitive information that is updated frequently. For example, if you were writing a book, having a backup that was a week old could result in hours of lost work.

Backing up information to an alternate medium

USB thumb driveCopying data to an alternate medium, such as a CD-R, DVD-R, external hard drive, tape drive, or USB thumb drive, is one of the easiest ways to make a backup.

Before backing up your information, decide what medium is best for you. In the past, floppy diskettes, zip drives, and tape drives were popular. However, today these have all been replaced with CD-Rs, external drives, and USB thumb drives. Below is a chart that rates each of these mediums, with "3" being the best rating and "1" being the worst rating. Overall, backing up all your information to a USB thumb drive is the best solution.

  Cost Speed Ease Capacity Compatibility Portability Total
CD-R and DVD-R discs 3 1 1 1 3 2 11
External hard drive 1 3 3 3 2 1 13
USB thumb drive 2 2 2 2 3 3 14

Backing up to a CD-R or DVD-R

Backing up to a blank CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R or other writable disc is easy, but it requires CD/DVD writing software capable of writing data to the discs. These types of backups also require the disc be inserted into the computer each time you want to make a backup.

Backing up to an external hard drive

Backing up to an external hard drive is the best solution for anyone who needs to backup large amounts of data and need to backup frequently. If you work with media like videos, you may also consider a NAS or a product like a Drobo for backup or to store your media.

Backing up to a USB thumb drive

To backup to a USB thumb drive, copy and paste the files you want backed up to the thumb drive.

Store backups online or at another location

Backing up data to another medium is great for keeping your data safe. However, if your home or office got destroyed in a fire or flood, all of your information and backups could be lost, which is why backups should be stored at an alternate location or online. Today, there are dozens of places online you can store your files. Some of those online locations are listed below.

Tip: If you don't feel comfortable storing information online, consider storing a disc or thumb drive at a family or friends house, in a safety deposit box, or even in your car.

Automatic online backup services

  • BackBlaze - Automatic backup for unlimited data for $50 a year.
  • Carbonite - Automatically backup of all data with unlimited backup space for $59.00 a year.
  • CrashPlan - Automatic backups for unlimited backup space for $59.99 a year.
  • Mozy - Automatic backups for $5.99 a month for 50 GB of data or $9.99 for 125 GB.

Copy information into the cloud

There are also dozens of cloud services that can store your backups. See our cloud definition for a full listing of cloud services and other ideas of where you can copy your files. Also, many of these cloud services have free accounts, which can give you a few gigabytes of storage.

How do I restore backed up information?

If the time comes when you need to restore your information, you can copy the files back from the medium you used to backup the information. If you used an online backup service to backup your information, you need to re-install that program and then use the program to restore some or all of your data.