5 Ways to Back up Your Data

Play it safe and back up your data

Person backing up laptop to external hard drive

Halfdark / Getty Images

If you want to back up the data on your PC, here are five ways you can do so. Each method has its pros and cons. For the ultimate in safety, choose two and use them concurrently. For example, use an off-site cloud storage service with on-site network-attached storage (NAS). That way, if either fails, you still have a backup.

Keep It in the Cloud

cloud, nube
cloud, nube.
What We Like
  • Free space and affordable upgrades.

  • Data secured in a remote location.

  • You can access it anywhere you can reach the internet.

  • Secure transmission of data.

What We Don't Like
  • Capacity limitations for free storage.

  • The risk of a site closing.

  • Must reach the internet to access your backup files.

Cloud storage services are all the rage now and for good reasons. The best of them keep your data safe with end-to-end encryption. They also offer free storage space, plus reasonable fees for additional space. Since your data is secured in a remote location, you can access it from anywhere by both computer and mobile device as long as you have internet access.

Big players in the cloud storage field include:

  • iCloud: Apple's cloud solution offers users 5GB of free storage. Windows users can also sync their files with iCloud Drive.
  • Google Drive: Google's service is integrated with Android devices. Windows and Mac users can download a desktop application for drag-and-drop capability. The service includes 15GB of free storage.
  • OneDrive: It's accessible through Windows 10's file explorer. Android and iOS devices access the site through an app. Mac users can also download an app from the Mac App Store. OneDrive includes 5GB of free storage space.
  • Dropbox: It's been around for a while and offers personal and business subscriptions. The personal account includes 2GB of free data.

There are plenty of other cloud storage services—MegaBackup, Nextcloud, Box, Spideroak One, and iDrive, to name a few. It's probably best to stay away from newer services. You don't want to sign on one day and learn the startup you use to store your data has gone out of business.

Save It to an External Hard Drive

An external hard drive.
An external hard drive. adventtr/Getty Images
What We Like
  • Easy to use.

  • With software, you can schedule backups and never worry about them again.

What We Don't Like
  • Hard disk drives run the risk of failure.

  • Solid-state drives have less risk but can be expensive for large-capacity drives.

  • Should be stored off-site in case of fire or another catastrophe.

External and portable hard drives connect to one computer at a time. They're usually wired devices, although some have wireless capabilities. Many now come with USB 3.0 capabilities, but your computer must also have USB 3.0 to take advantage of this feature.

Burn It to a CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray Disc

A pile of CDs and DVDs
 The Real Tokyo Life/Getty Images
What We Like
  • Drive failure not an issue.

  • Can store safely in a second location (safety deposit box, for example).

What We Don't Like
  • Time-consuming to manage the backups.

  • Assumes future of CD-capable technology. Some equipment no longer includes a drive for this purpose.

  • Can get pricey for large amounts of data as you continue to buy additional discs.

Once the gold standard in data backup, burning data to CDs, DVDs, or Blu-ray discs is now a much less popular, albeit still reliable, method of data backup.

Put It on a USB Flash Drive

Photo of a Sandisk Cruzer Glide USB Flash Drive
Sandisk Cruzer Glide USB Flash Drive. © SanDisk Corporation
What We Like
  • Affordable.

  • Portable.

  • Available in USB 3.0.

What We Don't Like
  • Easy to misplace (not recommended for long-term storage of crucial information because of this risk).

  • Not always durable.

  • Capacity limitations.

USB flash drives are like tiny solid-state drives that you can carry in your pocket. While they were once expensive and available only in small capacities, their prices have dropped and size increased.

Save It to a NAS Device

NETGEAR ReadyNAS
NETGEAR ReadyNAS. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
What We Like
  • Can back up several computers at once.

  • Can be set for automatic backup.

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey.

  • Possibility of drive failure.

A NAS (network-attached storage) is a server that’s dedicated to saving data. It can operate either wired or wirelessly—depending on the drive and your computer—and once configured, it can display as simply another drive on your computer.