How-To Geek

What You Said: How Do You Backup Your Data?


With an increasing amount of our lives stored in digital format—financial documents, family photos, work projects—it is increasingly important to backup. This week we take a look at your backup strategies.

Earlier this week we asked you to share your backup strategy. Hundreds of replies later we have a pretty solid spread of techniques and tricks.

Redundancy Is Key


We were pleased to see how many of you really had a lock on the core principles of backing up your data. If you don’t have redundant and offline/offsite backups then you don’t really have a solid backup plan in place. Redundancy and offline drives were the order of the day for most readers. Tony writes:

Redundancy is key! At home, I don’t change enough to warrant frequent backups, but I have an external that I copy files to. I will save local and use the external along with a 2nd 1tb disk internal. In essence there is always 3 copies of a given file. Every time I rebuild or upgrade my OS (once a year or so), I also burn DVD’s of my data.

Richard echoes this sentiment:

I am the King of Redundancy when it comes to backups. For the most part, I have multiple copies of backed up data (five copies at the minimum). Mostly done on a daily and/or weekly basis by automated synch programs. I have two drive image backups that are replaced every three months. Since I have the install disks for most all my applications and cloud based storage for the downloadable software I’ve purchased, the data is the more important. Most of it is irreplaceable, hence the redundancy. I use a lot of CDR & DVDR disks because of their cost effectiveness. For the image backups, I have them on their own dedicated 2-1/2″ USB External 500Gb drives.

Nancy mixes it up with a combination of external drives and server storage:

1. I have a separate hard drive (WD MyBook) connected to my computer. I save all my data to this drive.

2. I use Windows Home Server to back up all four of my computers. The Server is built of mostly older parts; however, the motherboard, RAM and hard drives are all used for the first time in this machine.

3. I have several (8 or 9 at last count) jump/flash/thumb drives. I keep particularly sensitive data on these, so it’s backed up three times.

Redundant, but it works for me.

The moral of the story is that if your data isn’t in separate locations it’s not truly backed up. If it’s important to you, it should exist in at least three places and two of those places should be offline in some form (like an external drive or DVD set that you keep in a fire safe).

Online Backup Is Good for Small Files; Sometimes Dicey


Cloud based storage wasn’t very popular among the HTG readership for a variety of reasons. Those who were happy with it generally were working with small amounts of files and were just using the cloud storage as yet another layer in their backup scheme. Chronno writes:

Automatic synchronizing software and two sets of hard drives. Won’t save me from something like my house burning down, but it’s already saved me from a hard drive crash.

The really important stuff in in my Dropbox (encrypted with Trucrypt) where it gets copied to four different locations.

His arrangement was a fairly common one; more than a quarter of the responding readers incorporated Dropbox into their backup plan. Many readers noted that they used Dropbox for small but important files and most of them encrypted it before uploading.

Although not as popular as Dropbox, when it came to backing up larger volumes of data many readers turned to services like Carbonite, CrashPlan, and Mozy. Although Carbonite and Mozy are widely popular online backup solutions, many readers had stories of being burned by them and transitioning to CrashPlan. AbbaDabba writes:

I back up all computers to a Windows Home Server machine. I then use a cloud service called CrashPlan. They’re cost effective and very reliable. I used to use Carbonite but they lost lots of my data because of a major bug in the program.

If the warnings we heard from various readers about the danger of cloud based storage are distilled down into a simple missive, it’s this: don’t trust the cloud as your only redundancy.

While many readers were happy with Carbonite and Mozy, it’s worth noting that CrashPlan has some pretty sweet features including local backup (you can use the software to backup to other machines on your network), remote backup (you and a friend/family member can remotely back up to each other’s machines), and then cloud-based backup on CrashPlan’s servers—all using the same application.

Hit up the comments section in the original post for additional insights on backup methods and tricks from your fellow readers.


Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/20/11

Comments (14)

  1. Burned

    I use an external drive with Fabs Autobackup, or UBCD4WIN if the system is not bootable to do my backups. I monitor the drive with CrystalDiskInfo, so I know when its time to replace the drive.

  2. Concerned

    What is the bug in carbonite. Still looking for an offsite backup solution.

  3. Coleton

    Paranoid might my method be called, but i have about 4TB of storage mirrored 2 times over and the other 8TB is all SAS while the first 4tb is just regular SCSI. i also use CrashPlan to a cloud of all my documents that are important along with a small 20 GB that is meant to be going for 5 years straight of something similar to DBANing a HDD over and over. the 20 gb i back up files manually because i usually pick and choose for that drive. The rest backups at the end of the week which is right know when i’m writing this.

    The only reason i spent this much money is i rent some space out to a friend for his 100gb of music he has from being a DJ. SO with hat rent i keep it running the only problem is that the thing cost me $20 a month in electric bills because it runs 24/7. he pay me $125 in rent for about 340 GBs

  4. mike anthony

    I need help bacing up anything on a disc. I am running winxp home on a 32 bit sys. Everytime i run a back up from windows i select all files, including sys. files ( in case my sys crashes again, its a 12 yr. old computer) and I get the message ” invalid file name, or path” when i select my cd or dvd drive as the file location for the backup….., what the ________ !!!

  5. Walter

    Carbonite and Western Digital 1TB 3.0 / 2.0 ultra portable external….hope all this works when needed..

  6. Steven Shaffer

    If you need a lot of online storage and have some to spare yourself check out Wuala.
    It’s run by Lacie. They allow you to trade space on your computer for online storage. Your machine “must” run at least 4hours every day to qualify. Other than that it’s pretty simple. Just go to the website and download the program, setup and go. They have a few short videos on the site as well if you need more info or convincing.

  7. Sundaye

    Hi, Just signed up here and I am finding how little I know about a computer..I do not have a clue of how, what or why you backup. Any help for someone who is totaly clueless and has does not know computer terms?
    Thank you

  8. IT Formaldehyde

    I created a VPN with TomatoUSB (see earlier article) with my Dad’s House. We each have a 1TB external drive that we back up to at the other location. I also copy everything to a local eSATA 1TB drive daily with SynchToy and every three months, or when I install new software or make major changes to the OS I clone the master drive and put the spare drive in my small but useful fireproof safe.

    In a worse case scenario, I know all my important data is safe at my Dad’s house and his at mine.

  9. Mike

    I mirror the second drive in my PC to a NAS drive on my network using FreeFileSync. Any additions, deletions, etc on my second drive are also made to my NAS drive each time I back up so I maintain two, exact copies at any given time. I do the same for my wife’s PC. It’s worked great for many years (knock on wood).

  10. Jade

    How safe is backing up online?

  11. Martin

    I’ve used CrashPlan for many years. Now I’m backing up about 600GB of data.

    And it does work. A drive failure caused all my photos to be lost. A new drive and a couple of hours later, it was all restored.

    CrashPlan gets highest score!

  12. AbbaDabba

    AGAIN… Watch out for the unresolved flaw in Carbonite where your data WILL NOT BE BACKED UP even though their desktop app shows 100% backed up. It is WRONG and there is a major flaw.

  13. Terence TJ

    I use Comodo backup with a small collection of SATA drives and a docking station. I am aining to get a NAS in the future to make the system simpler.

    Sundaye: The reason for a backup is simply to protect any information on your computer, to protect yourself if it was lost (for any reason – corrupt, stolen, overwritten by mistake etc). There have been more time than I would like to remember, where I have over-written a document (such as a manual I was writing) and lost a whole chapter – which took two days to write, but minutes to restore from the backup. Backups don’t need to be complicated, it is recommended you have at least two – to enable you to go back at least two versions ago. For speed, you backup software should have at least the ability to copy only those files that are (1) new or (2) updated since the last backup – this “basic” feature ensures your backups don’t always take hours. It also helps to defrag your drive(s) before a backup, to help in cutting down backup time.

  14. Cactus

    External RAID HD encloser, 2x 2TB in RAID 1, 2x 1TB in RAID 0(striped for speed).

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