Backing up to an external hard drive

Hard drives should normally form the main part of your backup strategy, as it is easy to make backups every day, or every few days, onto your backup drive, and keep the backup up to date.

Many different backup programs are available, either commercial software for as little as £20 or £30, or some highly regarded free software. These programs can usually be set up to run scheduled backups so that no action is required to remember to back up. However, if using a laptop as your main computer, this does probably mean that you need either to remember to connect up your external drive in order to run the backup, or else you will need to set up your system to enable backups over your wireless network to a hard drive attached to a desktop PC or to a NAS (network attached storage device). In these cases, you do need to remember to ensure that the device you are backing up to is turned on.

If you do not have backup software, then you can still perform a backup simply by copying the files across manually, or by writing a script to do this. I will be discussing simple backup scripts in another article, but these are in many ways the simplest approach to backup.

Backups can be slow, taking anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Backing up over a wireless network may be fine when performing an incremental backup (i.e. only the changes since the previous backup), but for performing a full backup, it is likely to be painfully slow to back up over the network. In these cases, connecting a USB hard drive is often the simplest and fastest approach to performing the backup.

It is also worth mentioning online services such as google docs, which can be used to quickly upload important documents to a secure space online. As well as providing an additional backup method which has the advantage of being offsite, it can be invaluable to have access to your documents when away from your own computer.

Hard drive prices have continued to fall, for at least 5 decades. Currently it is possible to pick up portable 1Tb hard drives (only a USB connection required) for around £80, or 2TB desktop drives for as little as £85. And if you wish to add additional storage to your desktop PC, 2TB SATA drives can be obtained from £60. These prices are minimal compared with the cost of recovering data in the event of loss. Here are some links to current good deals.

Toshiba 1TB StorE Art portable drive

Seagate 2TB desktop drive

Western Digital Caviar 2TB SATAII Green drive

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