What if your computer crashes?
By Leslie Scanlon from September 2013 Issue
Credit: Penny Kephart
How to protect your digital world from disaster
We all have lists of things we think (hope!) will never happen to us - that leaning tree won't actually crash through the ceiling some stormy night. So let's be honest. Some of us are diligent about backing up our computers. And some optimists use the "cross our fingers and close our eyes" approach, hoping that a catastrophic data loss won't happen to us.
Instead of relying on wishful thinking, technology can provide you with easy-to-use options for backing up your computer. With a little effort, you can safeguard vital documents and precious photos even if your computer suddenly flips on its back and dies. Pick a backup option that matches your budget and degree of technical sophistication.
Have a schedule for backups
Whatever approach you select, make backing up your data a habit. Most systems come with the option of scheduling backups at regular intervals, such as once a day or once a week. Pick an option, build in redundancy, back up routinely - then breathe easier.
Making a copy of your computer
An external hard drive can provide significant duplicate storage at an affordable price, a good choice for home computer users. For laptop users who take their computers on the road, portable hard drives are light and designed for durability. For desktop users, bulkier external drives are often available with even more storage at less cost. Network drives can be used for those who have several computers linked via a home network.
Remember, however, that external hard drives don't last forever and have been known to fail as well (or get lost or stolen, if you're using a portable drive). Some tech experts recommend regularly making more than one backup, and keeping an offsite copy at a separate location (such as with a trusted friend or family member or in your safety deposit box) where you could retrieve it if, say, the copy at your home were damaged in a fire or flood.
Another choice is a cloud storage service. This allows users to back up their data (including documents, photographs, and music) in "the cloud," using remote servers accessed via the Internet. Some companies offer a small amount of data storage for free, then charge fees (often monthly or yearly) for increasing amounts. One advantage: you can back up data from anywhere, as long as you have Internet access. When selecting a cloud service, pay attention to the security measures (some cloud services offer encryption), particularly if you're storing sensitive documents or financial data.
Here's another option for extra peace of mind: use an external hard drive plus cloud storage for double protection. Experts say that in computer backups, redundancy trumps all, and using two different formats can be wise.