Backing Up Your Computer for Dummies

Not a month goes by that someone doesn’t tell me “…you don’t realize how much you depend on your computer until it breaks.” I tend to nod and agree. We live in an age where almost everything we do involves computers. Subsequently, all of our important information is stored on our computers. Whether it’s email, family photos, important documents, or videos, you probably have many files on your computer that can’t be measured in monetary value.

Working in IT, I’ve been the guy that’s had to tell people that their computer is dead and their files are irretrievable (unless they want to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for the possibility of *maybe* getting their files back). It happens in real life and it can happen to you. There are thousands of real life examples, but here’s a recent story about tech journalist Mat Honan who had a password hacked and lost all of his files. If you have a computer with important files on it and you don’t have them appropriately backed up, it is like living life without health/car insurance. You hope you never have to use it, but you’ll be glad you did. The best news is you don’t need a computer degree to set this all up. With a minimal financial investment and no more than 30 minutes of your time, you can ensure your files are safe forever. This truly is backing up your computer for dummies.

The rule of 3-2-1

This is really simple. For important files, to be 100% certain that your files are backed up, you need to have 3 copies of each file in at least 2 different locations. At least 1 location needs to be offsite.

Why is all of this important? Shouldn’t you just be able to store a backup on a USB drive connected to your computer? When thinking about backups, we need to think about worse case scenario. What would happen if you had a fire, a flood, or a thief in your house? If your main computer is destroyed or stolen, it’s likely that box sitting right next to it will be, too.

The 3-2-1 rule ensures that no matter what happens, your files are safe.

Backups on Hard Drives

There are many different ways to back things up. The simplest way is to run to a local local store or check online and grab an external USB hard drive. Make sure that you have enough space to store all of your files and be sure to leave a lot of room for growth. You can grab a 1-2 terabyte external hard drive for around $70-120. For the average consumer, that is going to be more than enough.

Once you purchase an external drive, we’ve got to schedule backups. If you own a Mac, Time Machine is very easy to setup. The first time you hook up an external hard drive, it will ask you if you want to setup Time Machine. Follow the simple instructions and you will be backing up files in less than five minutes. The process is a little clunkier on Windows XP, but ridiculously easy on Windows 7.

Online Backups

I highly suggest signing up for a reputable online backup service. There are hundreds of backup services out there, but it’s very important to pick the right one. I know of one backup service that doesn’t make backups of your backups. I know of other backup services that offer great deals, but if the company goes out of business or raises prices, you are stuck.

I can give you a real life example. Two or three years ago, I signed up for unlimited online backup at They were offing an unbelievable deal of unlimited backup for $3-4 dollars per month. Being someone who backs up approximately 250 GB online, I needed an unlimited solution. So, I signed up for Mozy and began backing up. Online backup services take a loooooong time for your first backup (depending on your internet upload speed, weeks/months). Once everything is backed up, daily backups take almost no time at all. So after almost a year of backing up at Mozy, they decided to drop their unlimited backup plan. Their new plan was going to cost me $24/month (and rising as I used more data). Not wanting to pay an 800% increase in fees, I switched to a different provider. The bad news, though, my year of backing up data was kind of for nothing.

The best thing about online backups is they are idiot proof. If you have absolutely no idea what you are doing, most of the online backups are going to automatically select all your files. If you are a little bit more of an advanced user, you can select which file types and/or folders you want to ensure are backed up. You can do you research on which online service you’d like to use, but I suggest either Carbonite or CrashPlan. Both of them are priced very competitively (less than $5/month) and both are very reputable companies. I currently use Carbonite, but if I were to purchase online backup today, I’d probably go with Minnesota-based Crash Plan. If you purchase 4-years of service, you can backup up to 10 computers for just $6/month. If you do your own computer, you can get it for less than $3/month.

Which brings us full circle. I understand people who fail to realize how important it is to backup your computer. But now that you’ve reached the end of this (hopefully) educational article, do you really think a one-time investment of $70 and as little as $3/month is too steep a price to pay to ensure your files are safe?