The Basics of Backing Up

The Basics of Backing Up


Kenneth Burchfiel


There’s an unassuming black box a few feet away from me, ornamented with nothing but a white light that flashes from time to time. It doesn’t play music; it doesn’t tell me the weather; if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to use it.

The box is a little something called an External Hard Drive. It may very well be the most dull piece of computer equipment one can ever imagine; the most excitement it gives you comes as you try to wrench the thing out of its bulletproof plastic casing. It’s not in the entertainment business, no doubt. But when your internal drive decides to go to a better place, taking all of your hard-earned files and documents with it, you could care less about how many lights or accessories it has. What matters is that you’ve got a dull little square that can resuscitate your computer.

“Backing Up” a computer has nothing to do with the reverse gear or dance moves. It only requires two things: an external hard drive and a backup program. Think of the first as the same hard disk that sits inside your desktop or laptop, only with an exoskeleton that helps it survive the brutal conditions of the outside world. The nifty thing about these drives is, with no real limit to physical size, you have a cornucopia of storage volumes from which to choose—anywhere from 40 Gigabytes to over 2000. The average user will find 160 Gigabytes of space more than enough, but then again, there really is no “average user” as far as technology is concerned. Anyone with a sizeable video or music folder should probably purchase 250 Gigabytes at the least.

Sizing up your storage needs is but the first part of the buying process. The second is the simple choice between portable and desktop sizes. The former tends to be more expensive, but they make it easy for you to carry an impressive amount of data with you in your briefcase—or pocket, for that matter. Desktop drives sacrifice portability for a cheaper cost; they also tend to rank on the high-volume side of the memory storage chart, seeing as even 250 Gigabytes can easily be fit into a palm-sized device.

These are the two main factors to look at in purchasing a drive, but reliability and transfer rate might also carry weight in your final decision. Thoroughly investigate your drive of choice to make sure it’s not going to call it quits after two months of usage. (User opinion sites are invaluable resources for such research.)

Until Western Digital or Lacie develops a drive that can suck files out of your computer on its own, however, you’ll also need some sort of backup program. Like the hard disks themselves, these come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some of which are easier to manage than most.

Your best bet is to go with an automatic program: one that can transfer and back up files on its own. Find a piece of software that allows you to decide what folders and files you want to transfer, where you want to transfer them and when. It would also be wise to find a program that allows you to establish more than one backup schedule: e.g. one setting for your business documents and another for all of your music. Backing up your entire computer can take hours on end, making it preferable to do the job piecemeal.

Is any of this fun? Absolutely not. Exciting? A complete and utter bore; I’ll be the first to admit it. Nevertheless, it’s far less fun to wake up one morning and find smoke coming out of your internal hard drive, with all your prized documents effectively trashed. And so, that drab black box remains in my room—quietly waiting to save the day.


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