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How to properly back up your computer
by Chaim Gartenberg
Tips, tricks, and hacks for the tech in your life.
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you don’t
regularly back up your computer. And why should you? After all, getting a
laptop stolen or having a hard
drive crash is the sort of thing that only happens to other people. Your
files are fine, right?
Accidents happen, and if they do, you’ll want to be ready
But accidents happen, and if they do, you’ll want to make sure that you’re
ready. That means routinely backing up your computer. After all, you really
don’t want to be the
person who loses their entire thesis a month before it’s due because their
computer got stolen in the library, or has to say goodbye to years of
family pictures that were
all stored on that old computer in the basement that got fried in a power
outage or flood.
Fortunately, backing up your computer is easier than ever with the advances
in cloud storage and local software. No backup system is ever going to be
perfect, and there’s
always the chance that something may go wrong, but you should still
consider it a critical necessity.
Whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, both major operating systems include pretty
robust backup systems built into your computer already, both for a couple
folders or your entire
But first, you’ll need an external hard drive. Generally, you want your
backup drive to be (at the bare minimum) as big as your internal hard
drive, and ideally around one
and a half to two times as large. Seagate’s Backup Plus or Western
Digital’s My Passport are pretty reliable options that won’t break your
budget. And remember, a $70
hard drive now could save priceless files and memories later.
Mac OS X: Time Machine
If you’re on a Mac, then you already have a great backup tool at your
fingertips called Time Machine. In fact, there’s probably an icon for it
that’s been waiting at the top
of your menu bar. Simply take an external drive (see above), plug it into
your computer, and open up Time Machine to configure it as a backup drive.
Time Machine will more
or less handle the rest, backing up individual files, folders, and apps.
And if you get a new machine or need to reset your computer completely, OS
X will prompt you to
provide a Time Machine backup to restore from. Just make sure to be good
about plugging in your drive regularly to actually do the backups; a backup
that’s three years old
is better than nothing, but the more often you back up, the better covered
you’ll be in case of an emergency.
Windows 10: File History / Backup and Restore
Microsoft has added integrated backups to Windows 10, and it works pretty
much the same way as on a Mac. Plug in your external drive, and navigate
over to File History .
(You can either search for this in the Start menu, or find it in the
Settings app in the “Backups” portion.) There, you’ll be able to select
specific folders to back up, and
how often you’d like Windows to back things up. Just like on a Mac, though,
you’ll need to actually plug in your drive for your files to actually get
Local backups are good, but much like your actual hard drive, they’re also
prone to getting lost, damaged, or stolen. So it’s probably worth investing
in some cloud storage
options as a backup backup, just in case.
For individual files — like, say, an important copy of a presentation, or
your big lab report that’s due next week — the simplest way to back up to
the cloud is with
providers like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or iCloud. All of them
allow you to install an app that scans a local folder and keeps everything
in it uploaded to the
cloud. That way, even if your whole computer gets hosed, you’ll still be
able to log in and access it from anywhere.
But if you want the extra level of protection, then it’s worth investing in
a subscription to a service like Backblaze , which costs $50 / year (or $5
/ month) for unlimited
storage of all your files online. It’s not quite as versatile as Dropbox
when it comes to just pulling a couple files down from the cloud, but if
you need a full-service
cloud backup service, it’s hard to beat.