There is absolutely no excuse to not back up your data, even if it is only a few files that you would miss. If nothing more, you can use something as simple as a flash drive to save a copy of your data, and that $20 ounce of prevention now will save you easily a $1000 pound of cure down the line.
So what should you use to backup your data? That, ultimately, is up to you, but we do have some suggestions depending on your level of commitment.
External Hard Drive with Automated Software
The most basic solution for a single-computer backup is using an external hard drive with the automated backup software offered in either Windows 7 (Backup and Restore Center) or OS X (Time Machine). Both of these programs offer an automated solution that you only need to set up once, and they will continue to back up the data you set them up to back up until you tell them otherwise.
Pros: No fuss after initial setup; Automated; Very low setup cost
Cons: Can take up a large portion of your external hard drive if not set up properly; Computer must be on and external hard drive must be plugged in for backup to take place; Can be a headache if used for multiple computers
External Hard Drive, the Copy and Paste Method
If you don’t have Windows 7/OS X or don’t trust an automated backup, you can still use an external hard drive for your backup. Instead of using the automated software, you can manually copy and paste the files you want to back up to the external hard drive.
Pros: You choose exactly what gets backed up when; You can easily double check to make sure items were backed up; Little to no set up required
Cons: If you don’t remember to back files up, they won’t be backed up; If you’re not sure what to back up, you could miss important files; Can be a headache if used for multiple computers
Network Attached Storage
A network attached storage (NAS) device is basically a small, lower powered computer that has a lot of storage space. This computer connects to your network, usually through your router, and acts as a storage device for all computers connected to the network. Using a NAS device, you can easily use either an automated backup like those found in Windows 7/OS X or use the copy and paste method for multiple machines.
Pros: One device to back up multiple machines; Since the device is plugged into the network, no computer necessarily has to be powered on to do the backup; Usually has a very, very large amount of storage
Cons: If the network goes down, the device cannot be accessed; NAS devices can be a little slow when it comes to data transfer rates; Since multiple machines are backed up, you can accidentally overwrite possibly critical data
Blu-Ray and DVD Disks
Depending on the amount of data you want to back up, DVDs or Blu-Ray disks can be used to back up your important data. Depending on your burning program, you can create data disks using that, or copying and pasting using the Windows utility.
Pros: When the backup is done, you have a backup that usually cannot be overwritten; Very inexpensive if you don’t have a lot of data; Useful for backing up either single or multiple computers
Cons: If you backup your data frequently, you can quickly amass a large amount of disks; The more you back up, the more disks you need to use; Disks can easily be damaged, damaging the data on them
USB Flash Drives
USB flash drives are like miniature external hard drives. They have flash memory for storage, which means there are no moving parts inside the device at all. They come in sizes ranging from 2GB all the way up to 64GB.
Pros: Flash drives can be used to back up a small amount of files on multiple machines; They are easy to carry around with you if the files are needed elsewhere; They are pretty inexpensive
Cons: These items are easily lost or stolen; They can only hold a small amount of data, so if you need to back up large amounts, you will need multiple drives; Flash memory only has a finite number of writes – which is how many times data can be changed on the device – before they fail