How to Back Up Your Digital Life (2022): Hard Drives, Cloud-Based Tools, and Tips

The hardest part of this step is figuring out which hard drive to buy. If you want something small, check it out portable hard drive guide (no external power supply required). Backblaze, a backup company that currently stores over 1 exabyte of data and therefore has considerable hard drive experience, periodically publishes drive statisticsthere are some useful numbers to consider.

Unfortunately, what really jumps out of that data is that lifespan varies by model rather than by manufacturer. That said, I recommend sticking with well-known names like Seagate, Western Digital, and Hitachi. However, even branded drives fail. I recently had a large branded drive fail and it was only four months old. What you get when you stick with the brand name is good customer service. In my case, the company replaced the drive with no questions asked.

Even in the brand name, though, some drives are better than others. Several people on our Gear team have had luck with Western Digital hard drives. I like this 5 terabyte model ($108 at Amazon, $108 at best buy), will back up this very article tonight (it’s backed up to the cloud as I type, more in a minute). If you don’t mind the larger form factor, there’s a Western Digital “desktop” version that’s 6-terabytes no more ($140 at Amazon).

One nice thing about buying a drive to back up your data is that you don’t have to worry about drive speed. Even a slow 5,400 rpm drive is fine. These slower drives are cheaper, and since the backup software runs in the background, you probably won’t notice the slower speeds.

Get the biggest backup drive you can afford. Incremental backup — that’s how all good backup software works — saves disk space by backing up only files that have changed since the last backup. But even so, you need a larger drive for backups than any drive on your PC. A good rule of thumb is to get a backup drive that’s twice or even three times the size of the drive in your computer.

Accept it and forget it

A good backup system will run without you having to do anything. If you have to make a backup, you probably won’t. Nowadays, there is software that can automate all your backup tasks.

Mac users should use Time Machine. It’s an incredibly simple piece of software, and possibly the best reason to buy a Mac. Apple has good guide on how to set up Time Machine so it will perform daily backups to your external hard drive. The time machine is also smart; it will only backup changed files, so it won’t take up all your disk space.

Windows 11 offers backup window, will back up most of your personal data to your Microsoft account, but it’s not intended to completely restore your system, should the hard drive fail. A WIRED reader introduced me to the File History features in Windows, which perform automatic incremental backups on any folder you specify. While File History works pretty well in my testing and can replace something like Time Machine if you go and set it up for every folder you need to back up, Windows still doesn’t really there is a gadget like Time Machine.

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