PC Maintenance 5

Imagine your home goes up in flames and all those memories and important moments are suddenly gone. You may mourn the loss of your house’s actual physical structure, but it’s the stuff that was inside of it that really mattered.

Similarly, if your computer gets hosed or stolen, you will definitely feel the sting of not having your computer for a certain term, i.e. until you can replace it, but what’s really going to sting and continue to haunt you for long after will be all those personal files you lost.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are really simple ways to easily backup your data quickly and painlessly, often with little to zero interaction from you (once you set everything up). These solutions range from full system to incremental backups, using a variety of mediums.

We’re going to close out this series by detailing the things you can do to store and backup your data so that you never lose it. Out of all the things you put into your computer, no matter how expensive the components, peripherals, and accessories, you cannot put a price on your data. The time you put into your documents, photos, music collection, and everything else is invaluable and irreplaceable.

Mastering this final and very important step will ultimately make you a PC maintenance pro or, at the very least, you won’t need to ask your kids to fix your computer anymore!

Different backup mediums, pros and cons

The type of medium you back your stuff up to will depend largely upon your means, what you’re protecting, and how much you want to spend. Some storage mediums are clearly better than others so it’s important you spend a little time considering all your options.

Hard drive

Hard drives remain the cheapest and most generous backup option. Today you can easily buy a 1 terabyte external hard drive for under $100 and that is usually way more than enough to back up all your files and entire system. Of course, if you have even more data to protect, larger hard drive sizes are also very affordable.

The downside to hard drives is that they’re still doomed to fail at some point in the future. They’re also comparatively slow and consume more power than thumbdrives or SSDs.

Flash drives and SSDs

Flash drives and their hard drive brethren SSDs are the most efficient and fastest way to do backups. The ability of flash to provide very fast write and read speeds, means that you can use them to quickly archive your data.

That said, it’s hard to imagine flash technology as a good long-term storage medium. In most cases, such as with thumb drives and SD cards, the purpose is to simply carry files from one place to another, while SSDs are better intended as system or gaming drives owing to their performance rather than longevity.

And while the cost of SSDs has fallen greatly in recent years, they still pale in comparison to HDDs in terms of price and capacity.


Most readers should be intimately familiar with storing files on CD/DVD. Obviously, both are limited in size, a CD has a 700 MB capacity, while a DVD is usually 4.7 GB or 8.5 GB.

We should be completely blunt about this, CDs and DVDs are a dying medium. Most of the laptops, particularly ultrabooks, produced today are eschewing optical drives, and it’s just easier and cheaper at this point to leave an optical drive out of the mix when building a new computer.

Moreover, a lot of software is only distributed online, OS X, for example, and even Microsoft is moving more and more toward the Internet to distribute Windows.

Finally, recordable CDs and DVDs simply don’t last – think years not decades – so if you are going to use optical media to archive your files, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use high quality, “archival quality” discs
  • Use a jewel box instead of a paper sleeve to store them
  • Keep your discs clean, hold them by the edges and wipe fingerprints off with clean, soft cloth
  • Store them in a dark, dry, cool place
  • Mark your discs with a non-solvent based felt-tip marker
  • Write discs at a slow speeds to better ensure write integrity and minimize rewrites

If you really must use optical media for your backups, you should take precautions to preserve them.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage is such a new trend that a lot of people still don’t immediately consider it, but it is quickly becoming a de-facto place to back up stuff. The great thing about cloud storage is that as long as you have an Internet connection, it’s always on and present, so it’s especially good for incremental backups.

There are a few obvious drawbacks to cloud storage. For one, you have to have to be connected for it to work, otherwise you’re just saving everything locally. Also, meaningful cloud storage space (more than what is typically offered for free), is a recurring cost versus buying an external hard drive once. Finally, unless you’re connected to the Internet via a fat data pipe, like fiber, uploading is a pain, especially if you have gigabytes of stuff to back up, were talking days to upload everything.

Your best bet for backups is a combination of external hard drive(s) for archiving purposes, and cloud storage for incremental stuff.

That said, the single coolest feature of cloud storage is the fact that if you store your documents or pictures from one location, wherever you go, to whatever computer or device, if you have an Internet connection, your stuff is always there. This wonderfully eliminates the need to have copies of everything on all your devices.

Using the myriad cloud services out there is an effective way to keep your stuff constantly backed up, but if you have meaningful amounts of data then you will obviously need lots of space. That means paying for it since most of the freely allotted space is only a fraction of what you’d want.

Cloud Service Comparison

Here’s a quick comparison chart of some of the more popular cloud services out there. Keep in mind that today basically everyone has some kind of cloud storage service so there’s a lot more than appears here.

Service Free space Upgrade pricing Compatibility
Amazon Cloud Drive 5 GB Pricing starts at $10/year for 20 GB and tops out at 1000 GB for $500/year Kindle Fire, Android, iOS, Windows, Mac
Apple iCloud 5 GB 10 GB – $20/year, 20 GB – $40/year, 50 GB – $100/year iOS, Mac, Windows
Box 10 GB Pricing starts at $5 per user per month for up to 100 GB and can top out at $35 per user per month for unlimited storage. Android, iOS, Windows
Carbonite None Carbonite markets itself as a complete backup solution. Pricing starts at $59.99 per year per computer for unlimited storage. Windows and Mac
Dropbox 2 GB Dropbox offers incentives to gain more free space.Upgrade pricing starts at 100 GB – $8.25/month, 200 GB – $16.60/month, 500 GB – $41.60/month. All plans are billed annually. Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Kindle Fire
Google Drive 15 GB Drive’s space is shared with Gmail and Google +. Upgrade pricing starts at 100 GB – $1.99/month and 1 TB – $9.99/month Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
OneDrive 7 GB Pricing starts at 50 GB – $25/year, 100 GB – $50/year, 200 GB – $100/year Windows, Windows Phone, Mac, iOS, Android
Mozy 2 GB You can get more free space by referring friends.Upgrade pricing starts at 50 GB – $5.99/month and 125 GB – $9.99/month. You can add an additional 20 GB for $2/month and additional computers for $2 per month per computer. Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Sugarsync Plans are free to try for 30 days. Pricing begins at 60 GB – $7.49/month or $74.99/year, 100 GB – $9.99/month or $99.99/year, 250 GB – $24.99/month or $249.99/year, 1000 GB – $55/month or $550/year.Alternatively, Sugarsync will let you develop a custom tailored plan. Windows, Mac, iOS, Android

Using your back up to target specific data stores

In Windows, there’s a couple of data stores that you can safely focus on backing up, which will better ensure all your essential personal data is safe, namely “Libraries” and “Special Folders.” Libraries are basically collections of stores and you can add to them to consolidate your various data types: Documents, Music, Video, Pictures, and Downloads.


So, one way to quickly backup your music files, for instance, would be to add your music folders and/or drives to the “Music” library. Then all your music is one place. Rather than having to add your music location(s) in your backups, you can simply add the library such as with our “Documents” library in the screenshot.


Here then, if you have several folders that fall under the documents category, they’re all in one designated repository.

On the other hand, while you may have all your documents consolidated in the “Documents” library, you may only want to back up the designated system folder.