Think about what’s on your computer.
Now imagine if your computer were to go kaput right now.
Now how do you feel?
If you already know how to backup your computer, you’re probably fine.
But if you don’t know how to backup your computer, you may look kind of like this right now.
But don’t panic!
By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know everything you need to know about how to backup your computer, whether you use a PC or a Mac.
How to Backup Your Computer: What You Need to Know
Before we get into the nitty-gritty about how to back up your computer, let’s talk a little about what you need to know, first.
Why Do I Need to Back Up My Data?
Remember that tiny little moment of panic we had in the beginning?
What do I have to lose?
Perhaps you have photos of your children’s first days home that you never uploaded online saved to your computer.
Or what about some songs that you downloaded as an MP3 that isn’t readily available online anymore.
Maybe you have a draft of the greatest novel known to humankind sitting on your hard drive.
For everything that we post to the Internet via social media or save to the cloud, there are probably some bits and pieces that get left out.
Now think to yourself: Could you easily replace those files?
If the answer is no, backing up your computer can help you replace those files with no hassle.
Is my computer really at risk?
The short answer is:
The longer answer is that there are so many risks out there that it’s not even funny.
It’s an unwritten law of life:
Broken computers happen when you least expect it.
Sometimes you have an overly enthusiastic, but ultimately unhelpful, co-worker
Broken computers also happen when it’s least convenient.
Case in point: When you have a deadline.
Repeat after me:
Coffee is great. Computers are great. But these two great things do not go great together.
Hardware failures cost time, money, and most importantly, data.
If your hard drive or solid state drive fails, can you get back to where you needed to be easily?
Not if you don't have a backup.
VIRUSES AND HACKERS
In 2012, Wired writer Mat Honan documented his digital demise at the hands of hackers.
Among the things he lost:
Once the nerdy boogie-men of overblown, under-researched Hollywood productions, hackers are severe threats to both personal and commercial computer users.
The FBI added cybercriminals to their Most Wanted lists in 2014.
Since then, the threat has only grown.
But that’s not all.
Your devices, including your computer, smartphone, and tablet, are all at risk for viruses.
“But I have a Mac! Macs don’t get viruses!”
There’s a common misconception that Apple computers and devices are safe from viruses.
It used to be that viruses mainly targeted Windows PCs because that made up most of the market.
After all, more potential targets mean more potential data to steal.
But that’s no longer the case. While Apple is pretty good about protecting their computers out of the box, viruses and malware still get through.
Macworld keeps a list of recent threats to Mac computers, just in case you want to check it out.
Laptop theft is a threat to all laptop users, especially when you take your laptop out and about.
What’s worse is that only about five percent of stolen office equipment, including laptops, is ever recovered.
That's not a risk you want to take.
"To err is human.
To really foul things up requires a computer."
We all make mistakes. (We’re only human after all.)
Sometimes you are doing the right thing by clearing out some digital clutter.
And just as you empty your computer trash bin, you realize you trashed something you didn’t mean to.
Or maybe you installed something you really shouldn't have.
Having a backup to try to replace your file or to roll back your changes can help you start over like nothing ever happened.
What You Need to Back Up
System files and application files are always essential to back up. These often contain things like your preferences and what not.
But when it comes to personal files:
It could be a bit more complicated.
Save early, save often!
If you’re the creative type, you no doubt have heard this age-old adage: ?
Let's add something to that:
Whether you create projects for work or your personal use, having a backup of previous projects is invaluable.
You never know when you will need to revisit a project to make changes or for inspiration.
The same goes for other important personal files.
If you’ve ever saved necessary files like your W2 or a PDF of other paperwork to your computer, having this data available from a backup can save you a LOT of hassle if you were to misplace the hard copy.
When to Perform Your Backups
No, seriously, if you haven’t done a backup before, right after you’re done reading this, do it now.
Once you’ve established a backup, you want to continue it regularly. Make it a date on your calendar.
How Often to Backup
Now that I’ve convinced you, you’re probably wondering how often you need to back up.
The answer is: regularly.
A good general rule of thumb is to back up your computer every week or so.
You could go as long as two weeks to a month between backups if you only use your computer sporadically throughout the week.
Types of Backup
Before you start, let’s go over the three different types of backup that you need to be familiar with.
A full backup is exactly what it sounds like: it backs up ALL of your files you tell it to.
Let’s pretend that your computer is a file cabinet. When you tell your backup program to perform a backup of the top cabinet, it will take everything that’s in the top cabinet and make a copy of it.
The first time you do a backup, you will perform a full backup.
Here's why you don't do one all the time:
Full backups take up a lot of space as well as time to perform.
Depending on the size of your drive, your initial full backup may run for hours.
While you will want to do full backups at regular intervals, there are other ways to back up your data without taking forever.
After all, you're busy.
A differential backup only backups data changed within a specified period from its last backup.
Pretend you backed up your computer on Sunday evening. During the week, you added files to your computer on Monday and Tuesday.
If you had an incremental backup set up to run on Tuesday evening, the program will backup everything that you that’s different from the full backup on Sunday evening.
Since it is only backing up files that changed, differential backups are often smaller and run faster than a full backup.
Like differential backups, incremental backups only backup files that have changed.
The difference between incremental and differential backups is that:
Differential backups will backup files that have changed from either a full or incremental backup.
Similar to differential backups, incremental backups are smaller in size and run faster than full backups.
Different Ways to Backup
There are a few different ways you can back up your computer. You can use these methods on both Windows and OS X computers.
Let’s take a look at them.
BACKUP TO CLOUD
Backing up to the cloud is a popular backup option, utilized by individuals and businesses alike.
When you back up your data to the cloud, you are transferring your backup files to a server on the Internet.
The advantages to cloud backups are:
It ensures that you always have an off-site backup.
You have the peace of mind knowing that somewhere, your data is safe and waiting for you if you ever need it.
Here's the catch:
Backing up to the cloud can bring up privacy issues if you’re squeamish about handing over control.
This is why:
Since the cloud server is not under your control, you cannot always be sure who has access to it. For example, if a hacker were to breach the cloud server’s systems, they can theoretically get access to your data.
The Good news is:
Reputable cloud backup services should keep your data safe and encrypted. Be sure to do your due diligence before choosing a cloud backup solution!
But wait, there’s more!
Something you want to keep in mind with cloud backup services is that you should have a fast Internet connection, at least for the first time you back up.
Otherwise, you could be waiting your life away while your first back up completes.
BACKUP TO AN EXTERNAL DEVICE
You can also back your data up to an external device.
Most back up programs will allow you to choose your back up location. These back up locations often include a separate data drive, a local server, an external drive, or physical media.
Whenever possible, avoid backing up to a separate drive physically located on your computer. While convenient, if your computer hardware to fail, you risk losing your backup as well.
Do this instead:
Local servers, external drives, or physical media such as DVD are your best options. Since these backups are not on your computer, you are at less risk for hardware failure.
More security considerations
Remember to secure the drives where your backup is stored. Otherwise, you risk other people gaining unauthorized access to your backup data.
Choose to encrypt your backup. Encryption will keep your data safe even if someone elsewhere to get hold of your backup files.
Physical security is also something you should think about. This is especially true if you are backing up your computer to a portable drive or USB stick.
Keep any and all drives that contain your backup data secure in a locked drawer.
For optimum security:
Arrange to have your backup taken away from your main home or office and kept in a fireproof, temperature controlled environment.
Other Maintenance Tasks
Backups are just one part of a smart computer maintenance routine. There are a few other tasks you should put into your schedule to help keep your computer running smoothly.
Always enable antivirus to help protect your computer from viruses and malware.
Windows and OS X both have their antivirus and anti-malware software built into the operating systems.
While the built-in software is good on both operating systems, other antivirus software may be more suitable for your particular needs.
Check around to see what’s best for your computer usage style.
UPDATE YOUR OS
Aside from an antivirus, keeping your operating system up to date is one of the best ways to keep your computer safe from intrusions.
Enable regular updates for your operating system to keep your computer updated hassle free!
Maintain your passwords
Here’s a tip no one likes to hear:
Change your password regularly.
I know, changing your password is a pain. But it’s an excellent way to keep people from misusing your password in case you misplace it.
Another thing no one likes to hear:
Use a complex password that includes alphanumeric and special characters.
And don’t use dictionary words.
Or anything easily guessed.
If you have trouble memorizing a password after you’ve changed it, use a password manager.
How to Backup Your Computer: Windows PC
Okay, now that we’ve got all THAT out of the way, let’s get around to learning how to back up your computer.
Windows has several backup utilities pre-installed. We will cover how to use Windows Backup and Microsoft OneDrive.
How to Back Up Your Computer Using Windows Backup on Windows 10
Windows Backup is an easy to use utility that allows you to back up files and folders on your PC to an external drive.
OPEN THE BACKUP AND RESTORE UTILITY
On your computer, click the Windows icon in the lower left-hand portion of your screen.
Navigate to Settings. From the Settings window, click on the “Update and Security” icon.
On the lefthand portion of the Settings screen, click on Backup.
SELECT DRIVE TO BACKUP TO
Click the plus sign next to “Add a Drive.” The backup program will then look for the drives you can send your backup files to.
From here, you can choose an external drive or a local server drive, as applicable.
Once you choose your back up location, the application will show you an overview. This overview shows you the amount of space available on your destination drive. It will also give you a “Back up now” option.
CHOOSE YOUR BACKUP FREQUENCY
Select your backup frequency.
By default, your computer will backup files every hour.
Don’t want to back up every hour?
You can choose from intervals starting at every 10 minutes to once daily.
Select how long you want to keep your backups.
The default is Forever, but you can choose to purge backups as need or in monthly or yearly intervals.
CHOOSE FOLDER TO BACKUP
Once you choose a drive to back up to, you can select the folders you want to back up.
By default, Windows will back up your user folder C:\Users\yourusername and all the file folders within it.
You can also choose to add additional folders than the default.
To do so:
Find the “Back up these folders” option and click the plus sign next to “Add a folder.” After that, you may choose any additional folders on your drive to include in the backup.
If there are file folders you do not want to back up, scroll down until you find the “Exclude these folders” option. Click the plus sign and then add the folders you do not want Windows to backup.
PERFORM YOUR FIRST BACKUP
Once you have everything set up, click the “Back up now” button to begin your first back up.
How long this first backup will take depends on how fast your connection to your external drive or server is.
If you have a lot of data to back up, prepare for this first pass to take several hours.
How to Back Up Your Computer Using Microsoft Onedrive
Microsoft OneDrive comes pre-installed with every Windows 10 machine. It comes with five GB of data to store files in the Microsoft OneDrive cloud.
OneDrive is a sound file backup option if you want to use what you already have on your computer.
Not only that:
It is also handy to use if you use the same Microsoft account on multiple computers as a way to sync your files.
Open the Settings menu on Microsoft OneDrive
Navigate to OneDrive by clicking in the OneDrive icon in your Windows System Tray in the bottom right-hand corner of your Windows 10 screen.
Right click on the OneDrive icon and then select “Settings.” This will bring up the settings menu.
Set up Autosave on OneDrive
Click on the tab that says “Auto Save.”
Under the “Protect your important folders” section, click the “Update folders” button.
Select the folders you would like to back up to the OneDrive cloud.
Start the initial sync
Once you've selected the folders, click “Start Protection” and the sync process will begin.
If this is your first time synchronizing your files, this may a while.
How to Backup Your Computer Using Acronis True Image for Windows
If you want more than just the standard backup that Windows provides, try looking at third-party software.
Acronis True Image is a third-party backup application that includes a full backup, disk cloning, quick recovery, and ransomware blocker.
While True Image is available for both Windows and Mac OS X, we’re taking a look at how to install and back up on Windows 10.
Download and install acronis true image
From your Windows 10 computer, open your favorite web browser and navigate to the Acronis True Image website.
Click the “Try now” button. This will take you to a page where you can download a trial version of the Acronis software.
You can use the Free Trial version for 30 days.
If you don't want the free trial:
Download the file and then double click to install.
Open acronis true image
Open Acronis by clicking the “Start application” button immediately after installation.
Alternatively, you can click on the Windows icon in the lower left-hand portion of your screen. From there, select the Acronis folder and then launch the “Try and Decide” icon.
Once you open Acronis True Image:
Click on Backup and then click on the icon to choose the computer you would like to back up.
SELECT Your backup destination
You can choose to back up to the Cloud or an external drive. You will need to create an account with Acronis to backup to the Acronis cloud.
BACKup your computer
Click the green “Back up now” button to begin the backup process.
Note that if it is your first you are backing up, especially to the cloud...
You guessed it -- this process may take a very long time.
How to Backup Your Computer: Mac
How to Back Up Your Computer Using Apple Time Machine
Apple Time Machine is Apple’s built-in backup utility.
You will need to connect your Mac to an external drive.
A note about external storage devices
You can use an external drive physically connected to your Mac using USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire connections.
You can use an external drive connected via wireless, an AirPort Time Capsule, or a network device that supports the SMB backup protocol.
Open the Time Machine application
Click on the Apple menu and navigate to System Preferences and click on Time Machine.
Select external drive
Once Time Machine is open, click on the button that says “Select Backup Disk.”
Choose the drive that you want to back up to and then click on “Use Disk.”
You can choose to encrypt your backups in this step.
This is always a good idea to help protect your data!
YOUR FIRST BACKUP
After you choose the disk and select “Use Disk,” your first backup will begin. Depending on the amount of data you are backing up, this may take a very long time.
Once set up:
Time Machine will automatically take care of all backup jobs, so you do not need to do anything further.
How to back up your computer using Apple iCloud
If you only want to back up your personal files, you can use Apple iCloud. This will sync your chosen files across all of your iCloud connected devices.
Access iCloud by clicking on the Apple icon in the top left corner of your Mac.
From there, navigate to System Preferences and select iCloud.
If necessary, sign in with your Apple ID and then click on iCloud, and select files and applications for iCloud.
You can choose to sync different files and applications through iCloud including your iCloud Drive files, Photos, Mail, Contacts, and more.
Once you selected what you are syncing, you're done!
Please note, your computer may need some time to sync any existing files before you can use them.
How to Backup Your Computer Using Carbonite
You can use Carbonite for free for 15 days; after that, service starts at $6 per month.
Download and install Carbonite
Here's where to start:
Go to the Carbonite website and choose the computer plan that best suits your needs. Download the free trial by selecting the “Try it free” button.
You will have to provide an email address.
Download the file and then double click to install it onto your Mac.
Once installed, Carbonite will start to run, and will automatically select folders to backup.
If you don’t agree with what Carbonite chose for you, you can manually select what folders to backup.
And like all the others:
The initial backup may take a while depending on your Internet speed and how much data there is to back up.
Checking the Backup
Life revolves around our digital data. Our computers are educational tools, work tools, and entertainment hubs.
The dark side is:
Losing data to a computer crash or otherwise can mean being cut off from those tools.
You know how to backup your computer! And you a way to ensure you will always have that data when and where you need it.
Do you back up your data on a regular? How do you keep track? Tell us your tips and tricks in the comments!
Featured Image: CC0 via Pixabay