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How to Backup your computer online for free

Good Backup Strategy


This is the most often overlooked concept of computer owners.  Most people in need of help have no backup and plead with me to save the precious documents.  In most cases, this is possible, but you must face the fact that at some point something catastrophic may happen and saving your personal files may be impossible.  The hard fact of the matter is that all hard drives eventually die.  It's just a matter of when.  Most hard drives today will last between 4-6 years.  Some a bit longer, some will go faster.  The best advice I ever heard was from one of Tech heroes, Leo Laporte.  It's called the 3-2-1 Strategy.

3-2-1 Strategy

Quite simply, you should have 3 copies of any file you deem important to you.  One on your hard drive and 2 backups.  Of the backups, they should be on 2 different forms of media.  Media is either another hard drive, CD's, DVD's, flash drives or external hard drives.  Finally, 1 should be offsite.  What is offsite?  Simply, anywhere other than the same physical place as the computer you are backing up from. 


Many have the philosophy that a file doesn't truly exist unless there are 3 copies of it secured somewhere.  Think about it, if you only have one copy of anything, you are at the mercy of many uncontrollable events that may destroy that one copy.  Make copies of important files.


You may ask why should it be on at least 2 different forms of media.  This is easy, not all forms of media will stick around.  If ten years ago, you made a backup of your files on a zip drive (pat yourself on the back if you know what that is), then you know why having different media is important.  You cannot find a zip drive anymore, they have gone the way of the dinosaur.  So you would have that data saved nice and secure on that zip drive, meanwhile no computer can read it.  When you save to different media, you increase the likelihood that you will be able to retrieve the data in the future.  Always back up to current media formats.  When you sense that a media format is being retired (ie. floppy disks), get your information off of them and onto a current storage media.


Offsite storage is critical.  It may be nice that you have your file on your hard drive, a flash drive and that nice external hard drive on your desk.  Great for you, you are following the first two principles of the strategy.  So ask yourself, what happens if God forbid, you have a fire or if you have burglar break in, take your computer and that nice shiny external drive and flash drive.  Everything is gone.  This happened to Martin Scorcese a couple of years ago.  He had a nice backup plan, but everything was in his home.  It got broken into and he lost original scripts and their backups.  15 years of work walked out of his home and no backup to go to.  Solution.  Always keep a backup somewhere else, Mom and Dad's house, boyfriend or girlfriends house, friends, anywhere but your home.  For approximately $60 a year (typically $5 a month), your best bet is to save that backup "in the cloud".  There are many online backup sites you can use.  The beauty of them is that most backup your information quietly in the background and allow you to retrieve your data at anytime.  Here are two good ones:



Both are great services that will give you offsite backup.  Note:  you can only back up data on your internal hard drive.  It will not backup data on your external hard drive or flash drives.  Check out this video tutorial to see how easy it is to use Carbonite.


For more information on Online Backup solutions, check out this PCWorld article.

Hard Drive Imaging


Quite simply, Disk Imaging involves taking a snapshot of your hard drive at a time when it is clean and running properly.  This is typically when it is a new computer or newly restored.  The image is simply a complete copy of your hard drive.  The image is put on an external drive or can rest on the existing drive.  If something happens to your Windows Installation (ie. virus infection, etc.), you simply restore your computer with the image of your hard drive that you made.  There are two programs that do an excellent job of this.  One is free, the other is a paid program.

Macrium Reflect - Free

Acronis Home Edition - Paid ($49.99)

Finally check out this article from PCWorld on how to prevent Data disasters on your computers.  The article details a variety of ways to back up your data.