It’s surprising how few people take seriously the simple act of backing up their data. The reasons for this are many. Maybe they think that their laptop will never break, that everything is in the cloud anyway, or that it’s just too much hassle. But, the truth is that a worrying number of people are just one hard drive failure away from losing photos, videos, documents, or other important files that can never be replaced. Then there’s the rising threat of ransomware infections, which encrypt data on a device and literally hold it to ransom until the users pays up. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the criminals will return their captives safely.
All of these stomach-turning scenarios are avoidable though, if you take a small amount of time to back up your system on a regular basis.
To help you, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide which shows how to quickly back up your most important files. We’ll also lay out the various options for creating system backups of your whole PC or laptop, so that if the hard drive fails you can restore it back to just the way it was.
There’s also tips on how to back up mobile devices too, as much of the data we generate these days begins life under those brightly lit displays.
If you’re specifically looking for free ways to back up, then check out the section on cloud storage as many services offer a lot of space for free.
What kind of backup do I need?
There are a variety of backup styles on offer, so we break down the main types below. You’ll definitely want to pick one, but it’s wise to use multiple techniques and create multiple backups. This is to prevent a double disaster, by finding that the sole backup you’ve created is corrupted or didn’t cover what you thought it did.
Back up to an external hard drive
This is the simplest way to back up files from your PC. Just plug in a USB hard drive or flash drive and use Windows Explorer (File Explorer in Windows 8.1 and 10) to copy files from your computer to the removable drive.
It’s completely manual, but if you set a reminder to do it once per month and leave it copying while you’re off doing other things, it really doesn’t take much effort. Plus, once the backup is done and the drive is disconnected, it’s offline and safe from ransomware attacks.
For a more automatic option, try using the built-in File History feature in Windows 10, or Windows Backup & Restore in Windows 7.
Another option here is a NAS drive. This is a hard drive that’s connected to your router instead of via USB. This is better because it is accessible to all computers in your home (including phones and tablets) and because you can buy models with multiple internal hard disks so if one fails, there’s still another copy of your files on another.