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Backing Up Your Files

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Published: 4 Jun 2013      

With the capacity of hard drives increasing our computers are full of information that matters to us. Information like photos and videos of family holidays, not forgetting the hundreds of music tracks and friends’ contact details.

But how do we store this information securely? And when we want to keep a copy of it how can we keep the things we want kept private safe from prying eyes. Other items, such as your music collection, may have cost hundreds of pounds in music downloads. All of these things are valuable in their own right and some of them are irreplaceable.

With so much important information stored on your computer, it’s crucial that you keep a copy, or backup, of it. Then, if the worst happens and your hard drive fails, or you accidentally click ‘ok’ to delete, you can restore everything from your backup copy. Saving files and folders to an external hard drive, a DVD or a USB key (known as local backup), should be an important part of everyone’s backup regime.

But it needn’t be the only option. Online, or ‘cloud’ based backup services provide you with a way of keeping a copy of your information away from home, which is a good way to protect it against fire, flood and theft. Typically, these services also provide you with a way to access your data from any computer anywhere in the world. This makes it easier to update, access and share. While an online backup service should never be seen as a replacement for a local backup, it is a great way to make doubly sure that your precious data is kept safe.

Supported media

Rather than use CDs, it is often quicker to back up onto a memory stick. Not every backup program will support every storage medium. Commonly supported types are network (or Internet) drives, hard disks, USB memory stick, or CDs in various formats that include CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R/W, DVD+R/W. It’s important to know which ones your computer can recognise and be able to copy information to.

USB Drives

usb.jpgOne of the main storage mediums that can be used is the USB memory stick. These can vary in storage capacity. So what is a USB memory stick and how can it be used? A USB drive, also known as a flash drive or keychain drive, is a plug-and-play portable storage device that uses flash memory and is lightweight enough to attach to a key chain. A USB drive can be used in place of a floppy disk, Zip drive disk, or CD. When the user plugs the device into the USB port, the computer's operating system recognises the device as a removable drive and assigns it a drive letter. This just makes it easier to find when it comes time to copy information to it.

Unlike most removable drives, a USB drive does not require rebooting after it's attached, does not require batteries or an external power supply, and is not platform dependent. That means in will work with either a Windows device or an Apple iOS operating system. Several manufacturers offer additional features such as password protection, and downloadable drivers that allow the device to be compatible with older systems that do not have USB ports. USB drives are available in capacities ranging up to about 65 gigabytes (GB), depending on manufacturer, in a corresponding range of prices.

With a USB drive, data can be retained for long periods when the device is unplugged from the computer, or when the computer is powered-down with the drive left in. This makes the USB drive convenient for transferring data between a desktop computer and a notebook computer, or for personal backup needs.

External Hard Drives

hard_drives.jpgThe next type of storage or back-up device commonly used is an external hard drive. These can be more bulky and can’t be added to your key ring very easily!  An external hard drive has three main purposes, which are, to expand your computer's storage capacity, to back up your data, and to share data between computers. It's also easy to use. Most of the time, you just need to plug it into the computer and use it as an internal hard drive. Desktop external hard drives are based on the 3.5-inch internal hard drives, and laptop (or portable) external hard drives are based on the 2.5-inch internal hard drives.

Maximum file sizes for USB/External Hard Drive

Whereas most software will back up the vast majority of files, some might choke on multi Megabyte or even Gigabyte files. Before you buy, make sure you know the maximum size (and then some) of the files that you intend to back up (such as videos) and ensure that the software supports it. A safe way to determine the size of back-up drive you will need is to buy one that is the same or nearly the same size as your computer’s internal hard disk. That way you can be sure that all your personal files can be backed up.

Support options for USB/External Hard Drive

Typically, software will offer Help files, online FAQ , forums and web forms. Of course, if you have just seen your life's work disappear from your desktop computer or laptop, you may not feel inclined to wait for a return email if your back up software refuses to play ball.  Telephone support and a calm voice is often much more preferable.

Verification for USB/External Hard Drive

The software can double check that it is saving the data accurately as it goes along. It's no good finding out after the event that the data files were corrupted.

Encryption for USB/External Hard Drive

Encryption may be important to you if you are backing up sensitive data. By backing up unencrypted data onto a handy CD, you are making it much easier for a thief to steal your secrets.

Online backup services

There is a large selection of Online backup or storage services available. The popular ones are Drop Box,Google Drive,available with a Google Account, and SkyDrive, available with a Microsoft account.  All of these offer between 2Gb and 7Gb of free storage.  You can purchase more if you have large amounts of data that you want to back up and protect. They’re remote from your computer and you access them via the internet.


When you sign up to an online backup or storage service, you’re given a user icloud_logo.jpgname and password so that only you can access your data. You select which files and folders you want to save and then upload them via your internet connection to your chosen online storage provider.

With some services, this is less about backup and more about accessing and sharing data. Other services incorporate automated backup features which save a copy of your files and folders to your online store whenever you make changes.

In all cases, the aim is to free your information from your computer, whether it’s to keep it safe, to access it away from home or to share it with others. Just always remember, when you save your information no matter what devise keep it safe.