Backing Up Your Computer: The Basics

An At-a-Glance Guide to Safeguarding Your Data

Hard drives crash with or without a disaster. It’s not whether yours will crash someday, but when — and that’s virtually impossible to predict. A regular backup plan that includes getting copies to an SOL (Safe Off-site Location) will ensure that you are not out of luck when a crash or a disaster occurs.

Here, in brief, are your options:

Backup to a reliable online service

Pros: Automatic, completely offsite, server is backed-up frequently, files can be easily accessed from a remote location after a disaster, and it’s free or inexpensive if you have a limited amount of data.

Cons: Uploads of large files can be slow (run backups at night), and relatively costly if you have a lot of large files like videos.

Backup to portable hard drive

Pros: Fast, easy, large amount of storage space, relatively inexpensive.

Cons: Must be taken offsite; subject to physical damage; vulnerable to physical, electrical or magnetic damage.

Backup to thumb drive or memory card

Pros: Fast, light, easy to take offsite, less vulnerable to physical damage (dropping) than hard drive.

Cons: Storage constraints for very large files, more costly per GB than hard drives, and small size makes these devices easier to lose.

Backup to optical media (CD or DVD)

Pros: Cheap, easy to mail to another location, not subject to damage from magnetic sources, relatively durable, easy to store.

Cons: Relatively slow, limited storage space per disk.

Backup to another computer on a network or to a network hard drive

Pros: Fast, easy.

Cons: Other computer or drive is likely to be in the same location and vulnerable to the same disasters.

Backup Terms and Tips

Drive Image: A duplicate of all the files on a hard drive, including programs, drivers and settings. A drive image can be copied to a new drive, or even a new computer, with everything you need to get running again.
File-by-file backup: Makes copies of only the files you select. Generally used to save copies of your work, accounts and other critical files.
Incremental backup: Backs up only files that have been changed since the last backup.


  • Do incremental backups daily, or weekly if your work volume is not too high.

  • Make a drive image backup less frequently, and whenever you make major changes to your software or system.

  • Find out where critical files (such as email) reside on your computer, and be sure these files are included in your backup routine.  For instance, Microsoft Outlook stores email in a file usually called Outlook.pst located at C:\Documents and Settings\user name\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. To make matters worse, the file is normally hidden unless you set your folder options to show hidden files.

  • Be sure you have copies of backups in a Safe Off-site Location (SOL) that is unlikely to be affected by a disaster that might affect your studio.

  • Files that do not change over time — such as archives, photos, music and videos — can be backed up (preferably to more than one disk or medium) and stored off-site. This eliminates the need to back up these files frequently.

The ideal backup strategy will probably utilize a combination of online, portable drive and optical media, depending on file type, size and necessary backup frequency.

Some Online Backup Resources

Carbonite offers unlimited backup for  $54.95 per year.  One nice feature is a red, yellow, and green dot by each file to let you know if the file has been backed up, or is waiting to be backed up.Carbonite has a 15 day free trial.

Mozy Home will back up up to 50 GB for $5.99 per month or 125 GB for $9.99 per month.  You can try free and store up to 2 GB free (home use only).  Mozy Pro for businesses starts at $3.95+$.050/GB per month per desktop.