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back up your filesIf you own any kind of digital device – from desktop to laptop, tablet to phone, and more besides – it’s important to back up your files on a regular basis. How regular is up to you, but leaving those documents, photos, albums, videos, programs, etc. sitting un-duplicated for too long could result in one of the horror stories Ryan recently discovered These Guys Didn't Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened These Guys Didn't Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened If there is anything I learned during those early years of working with computers (and the people that use them), it was how critical it is to not only save important stuff, but also to... Read More happening to you.

I have my own horror story of an old hard drive that died taking months worth of my poetry and short stories along with it. I could do nothing more than curse my bad timing/luck for a while and vow to keep on top of back-ups from that moment forward. I’m still laxer than I should be, but I do it more often than I used to. Lesson learned, partly at least.

This Week’s Question…

How, & How Often, Do You Back Up Your Files?

back up your files

So, for this week’s We Ask You column, we want to know two things: How often you back up your files? And how do you back them up on those occasions? I should say straight away that if you have any horror stories to recount about lost data as a result of not backing up regularly you should go and comment on Ryan’s article These Guys Didn't Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened These Guys Didn't Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened If there is anything I learned during those early years of working with computers (and the people that use them), it was how critical it is to not only save important stuff, but also to... Read More . After first reading it through, of course.

This article is designed to find out how often you back up your files, and how you do so What Is The Best Backup Solution? [Geeks Weigh In] What Is The Best Backup Solution? [Geeks Weigh In] Ten years ago an external hard drive – or even a physical disc such as a CD-ROM – was the only practical way to back up files. Consumer-grade network storage solutions were primitive, expensive and... Read More on those occasions. The intention here is to take a straw poll as to how often the MakeUseOf readership backs up its files, while discovering what the most popular methods for doing so are. We may even discover some new or unknown-to-the-mainstream methods or services along the way.

Do you trust cloud-based storage solutions Top 10 Backup Software Apps For Your PC Top 10 Backup Software Apps For Your PC Read More for back-ups or do you prefer physical-based storage solutions such as an external hard drive or USB stick? Have you tried a number of different services and settled on one in particular? If so, why? What does it offer above the others? Is there one make of physical storage device you trust above all others? Or are the claims made by many over security levels and failure rates mostly bunkum?


Drawing Conclusions

All comments will be digested to form conclusions in a follow-up post next week where we will detail what ‘You Told Us’. One reader will even win Comment Of The Week, which will be included in the follow-up post! What more motivation than that do you need to respond?

‘We Ask You‘ is a weekly column dedicated to finding out the opinions of MakeUseOf readers. The questions asked are usually open-ended and likely to start a conversation. Some are opinion-based, while others see you sharing tips and advice, or advocating tools and apps to fellow MakeUseOf Readers. This column is nothing without you, as MakeUseOf social media obsession with anonymity social media obsession with anonymity Read More is nothing without you.

Image Credit: Stuart Pilbrow

  1. moshood
    November 15, 2012 at 10:59 am

    I already backed up my data on my usb but since i still updating the folder with new files how do i back those up ? or does the backed up copy automatically update itself?

  2. Patrick Ip
    August 30, 2012 at 7:31 am

    For all my computers at home, they are backed up daily using two Windows Home Servers (one for data and one for media). On top of that, all my data are being replicated using robocopy among these two servers, another storage server and two Netgear ReadyNAS. Replication can be daily or weekly depending on the type of data. At the begining of the month, all relevant data will be replicated with encryption to a removable hard drive. I have six of these hard drives in rotation and they can be sent to off-site. In addition, I subscribed to ASUS Web Storge for unlimited backup on the cloud. For photos, I will also burn DVD and Bluray disks periodically to make sure none of the memory will be lost.

  3. Kao Vang
    August 29, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I haven't really yet which I need to. My HDDs are a little on the older side.

  4. Greg
    August 29, 2012 at 3:38 am

    I keep files on a flash drive and will eventually put them on Google Drive.
    I think I need to backup bookmarks to, because Chrome lost half of them :O
    But I remember most of them anyway

  5. Kevin
    August 27, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    I use a web based backup service (well known and well advertised). After the initial backup, it does incremental backups daily whenever I am powered up and online. It does this in the background and doesn't seem to interfere with my using the internet nor any of my standard programs. I suffered a hard disk failure a few years back and lost a lot of data. I vowed then to never let that happen so easily. The company I work for has off site backup of all of our work computers that I am told back up every day after end of work.

  6. Mila Kun
    August 26, 2012 at 1:00 am

    I have certain files (the ones I use daily) constantly being backed up with Dropbox, Cubby and Sugarsync. But the more heavy load, like photos and movies, go to an external drive of 1 tera. I try to back that up once a month or so. I'm terribly afraid I might lose any of those, so I try to do it as often as possible :)

  7. porsche4S
    August 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    Backup every night using a WD, 1Tb external HD.

  8. shaurya boogie
    August 25, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    My older pc blew up an year ago and i lost my backup coz my pen drive got corrupted. BUt i backup my new pc fortnightly to an external hdd and also to cloud-google drive, skydrive and dropbox. sometimes even i backup instantly out of schedule if there is something even important on my pc than my life!

  9. Julie
    August 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

    For real-time backup, I have all my programming files in a SugarSync folder. I use BoxCryptor to automatically encrypt personal files before syncing to DropBox. I use SkyDrive for my photos.

    I also back up everything weekly to an external harddisk using Oops!Backup, and then back that up to a 2nd external harddisk once a month.

    This may seem a little excessive to some, but after nearly 30 years in IT, I've seen too many people lose data due to hardware and/or service failure, or theft. I've personally had one laptop stolen, one laptop hard drive, and one external harddisk failure. In all cases, I lost no more than 1 week's data. Now with cloud storage, I should not lose any important data.

    The reasons for backups to external disk are twofold; to protect against failure of cloud storage, and to back up less essential files which I'm not storing in the cloud.

  10. Andrea Kosteli?
    August 25, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Hm, that's a good question... I didn't back up my files this year, but I should, because I have so many of them (almost full disk of 500 GB)... my USB port (one of two on front side) doesn't work, so I can't use external hard drive... I think I'm going to use DVD-s for pictures and books, and CD-s for the rest of the files...
    great idea with this article, that reminded me I shoul do it ASAP, thanks...

  11. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    August 24, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Every time I have new files I'll get them back up in external hard disk,pen drive and dvd. Left dvd at home and bring pen drive wherever I go.

  12. Justin Boyle
    August 24, 2012 at 10:49 pm


  13. Allen Crider
    August 24, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    I haven't been able to find an affordable online backup solution that works with Linux, so I have enough extra disk drives in my desktop system to keep at least two copies of all files on internal drives. I have a cron job that runs rsync every night while I am sleeping to provide me with a full backup.

  14. Erlis Dhima
    August 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    I think almost every month!
    My hard drive gets full of files, since I download a lot, and I buy a lot of DVDs, since I can't buy one...

  15. CB
    August 24, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Weekly backups to a different HD in the comp, my backup comp, and to two externals. With 506gig to back up it takes a while but I once lost a BU at the same time a drive crashed and recovering from that is something I never want to do again.

  16. HannibalCat
    August 24, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    I back up all my music, photos and documents onto an external hard drive, and photos and docs in the cloud to various locations. Unfortunately, non of the free sync sites - GDrive, Skydrive - have enough room to store my music collection, so every album and track gets burnt to CD as well as being duplicated. If I could afford it, I'd buy a second external drive - a much larger one - and just back up the entirety of my C drive to it.

  17. Victor Ong
    August 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I run Memeo Instant Backup. It was a free software which came with my 2 TB hard drive. I can choose individual folders to backup, easily restore the backup, and even encrypt the backup (can only be restored from Memeo Instant Backup). My favorite feature is the fact that it constantly monitors the folders which I input and backs up and changes/new files in there. It is also wireless, so there's no extra wires. As the name suggests, as long as I'm connected to the drive, the backup: it's instant.

  18. Josh David
    August 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I have another computer running debian in a closet that backs up my computer every day. Debian is awesome. :)

  19. Meidimi
    August 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    i back up my important stuff on drop box and skydrive as i have 25gb free space. then i back up my windows on my external drive once a week.

  20. Bruce Kaufman
    August 24, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Every day

  21. Jón Bjarnason
    August 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Time Machine backup every day.

  22. Anders Sporring
    August 24, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    I run Time machine to my large external drive once a day, plus i also use an cloud service that's backing up every time im online. Lte's say I leanrnt my lessons the hard way!

  23. Krysia Baker
    August 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I back up to Carbonite now - which I love, it's instant and I can retrieve my files from anywhere. I used to use an external hard disk, but I think it's wise to have off-site storage.

  24. Ellen Odza
    August 24, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    So after you murder the laptop in the kitchen, is it time for breakfast? Clearly you are a cereal killer. :-)

    I have a LOT of stuff on my computer and consider regular backups essential (unlike various friends who think I'm paranoid - or they USED to think that until their computers crashed and they lost all their files!)

    I used to use an external HD for backing up my files but realized that this method only protected me against an internal HD failure. If someone stole my computer, they'd almost certainly take the external HD as well. If the house caught fire or something, the HD would be destroyed along with the desktop. I also tried burning data to CDs, or using zip or jaz disks (we are going back aren't we!) - the idea was that I'd have one set of backup disks offsite and a second one at home, and I'd update the home ones regularly and swap them with the offsite ones every week. That of course did not last long - too much effort. Then I began researching off site backups and found Carbonite, which is what I currently use.

    I chose Carbonite because (a) it runs in the background automatically, so I don't have to remember to run backups and (b) there is no limit on the amount of material I can back up for one flat fee (and since we are talking hundreds of GB, that's very economical for me).

    I also have my research data (I'm a univ professor and research) on a flash drive that I carry around with me. Any data sets that are used in collaborative research, my research partners have copies of as well - we love redundancy, especially when you are talking about 20+ years of longitudinal data that would be virtually impossible to recreate!

  25. Jhon H. Caicedo
    August 24, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    - I use dropbox for the current year information, and reset the dropbox at start of year to avoid using too much space.
    - At each beginning of year, transfer the previous year from Dropbox to an "archive" partition, and duplicate on 2 Desktops/2 Laptops, also create 2 DVD copies of all data.

  26. John-Charles Quinn
    August 24, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I sort of find it puzzling given all the lost data horror stories in blogs, on sites like MakeUseOf (thank you Dave, great article!), heard in the office, etc. that folks still don't back up and back up and back up again... I use Time Machine on my MBP, of course; but also have everything on the boot drive syncing twice a day to a SCSI RAID 6 four-disk array. Active docs, worksheets, and presentations live on the RAID array and the "work in progress" ones sync to DropBox (so my colleagues and clients can have read access) and iCloud (which allows me to work on them with my iPad.) I also have a Microsoft Windows 7 netbook I use when travelling or when visiting clients' offices. When it is at home Its C: drive syncs with an external NAS hard drive and, as with the MacBook, active files sync to DropBox and iCloud. Recently I've started using Microsoft Office365 and SkyDrive for some .docx and .xlsx files -- mostly an experiment only so far. Some might say all this is a bit excessive, but having everything local in at least two places and having all currently in use Open XML format files local (in two places) and in at least two Cloud stores lets me sleep very well at night! To paraphrase the late night TV news lead in line, "It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your data is?" It's a good feeling to be able to answer, "Yes!"

  27. Carolyn
    August 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I use both Syncplicity and Dropbox, but mostly Syncplicity. I have Syncplicity set up to copy documents between my work laptop and my home PC, and also make a copy on the cloud. I like this service because it updates everything instantly. As soon as I hit save on one computer, the document is copied to the other.

    I manually send super big files like videos and anything I want archived long term to Dropbox. By dividing my files like this I use a limited enough amount of data on both services to qualify for two free accounts.

    About once a year or so I also update any super important documents to a thumb drive, and put it in my safe. Tax records, scans of govt docs, etc.

  28. Benjamin Glass
    August 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I back up my files every day onto my 16 GB USB flash disk. I'm still going through high school, otherwise I would do it less often.

  29. ghleonard
    August 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    All critical folders documents kept in Dropbox Disk Image file backed up locally monthly Data folders backed up incrementally locally daily (Includes critical info above, plus other non-critical data. Music: Local second copy and Google Play. Historical version storage of Quickbooks database backups saved locally and on QB Web site. Photos: All on Google Drive and a local copy Recovery disk updated every third full moon that coincides with a high tide in the Labrador Sound

  30. ghleonard
    August 24, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    All critical folders documents kept in Dropbox

    Disk Image file backed up locally monthly

    Data folders backed up incrementally locally daily (Includes critical info above, plus other non-critical data.

    Music: Local second copy and Google Play.

    Historical version storage of Quickbooks database backups saved locally and on QB Web site.

    Photos: All on Google Drive and a local copy

    Recovery disk updated every third full moon that coincides with a high tide in the Labrador Sound

  31. Gene Wisniewski
    August 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Check register, billing files and movie database - via individual app to secondary and tertiary drive each session.

    MP3s and jpegs - new files always saved/copied to secondary drive.

    Ghost the main drive monthly.

  32. Ales Mole
    August 24, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I backup system partition and data files.

    1. System partition incrementaly every day, every 14 days full backup

    2. Data files (pictures, documents...) are stored on my NAS, but every week, I backup NAS to an external Hard drive...weekly beacuse I don't have that many changes to my files

    3. Some of not so important documents I keep in Dropbox. Also, I backup my Dropbox folder to NAS.

  33. Brian Tkatch
    August 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I rarely make backups. I "want to", but i'm too lazy and it always seems too hard.

  34. LD
    August 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I store all my critical files on a windows home server. Its on a Raid 5 so if a hard drive fails I'll still have my data. The files are also backed up to the cloud with crashplan.

  35. Ruben Marrero
    August 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Weekly to an external hard drive.

  36. likefunbutnot
    August 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I have an LTO4 changer for my apartment, along with enough tapes to do three complete rotations of my dataset, which is about 40TB at the moment. I do a nightly incremental backup on that and a full backup every four weeks. Every quarter I rotate one set of tapes to my parents' house, 700 miles away.

    That probably sounds insane when 20 2TB hard disks (that probably don't work particularly well in a disk array) are only about $2000, but tapes aren't as delicate and it's actually a lot less expensive to maintain that configuration than it is to support many dozens of hard disk drives.

    I suspect my storage needs are a teensy bit out of the mainstream, though.

  37. Phil Davis
    August 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    - Time Machine - hourly
    - Carbon Copy Cloner - daily

    - Dropbox for current working documents
    - CrashPlan for all files (not apps)
    - Arq/Amazon S3 for selected important files
    - DVDs of photos in Safe Deposit Box - updated periodically

    Yes, I am a little paranoid, but I've seen and have experienced equipment failures and natural disasters (lightning, flooding, hurricanes) that make me extra cautious.

    And don't forget the most likely need for backups -- PEBKAC errors. I experienced one of those yesterday and was very thankful for my backup.

    PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair!

  38. Jeepers
    August 24, 2012 at 11:52 am

    My laptop triple-boots Windows 7, Fedora 16 KDE and Netrunner so I needed something that could back up windows and linux. The best I've found are Acronis TIH 2011 and Clonezilla. Full drive images and seperate OS images are created weekly and stored on an external Seagate 500GB hard disk. I also keep a "last-resort" whole drive Acronis backup stored on Skydrive and uploaded with SkyDrive Explorer, (299MB each segment.) I usually remake this backup every 2 to 3 months as it takes a while to upload at +-150mbps.

  39. Roger Caldwell
    August 24, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Time Machine along with Time Machine Editor takes care of me twice per day. Then I have the APEx backed up to my NAS, and ultimately the NAS backed up to a removable USB drive.

  40. Brett
    August 24, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I backup daily to a local external hard drive using Carbon Copy Cloner.

  41. Alan Wade
    August 24, 2012 at 10:07 am

    My documents, Office files, Firefox Profile (bookmarks, customisations etc), Thunderbird Profile (Email, customisations, address book etc) are backed up daily using Backup8.

  42. Roman Vávra
    August 24, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I backup every month... :)

  43. AndreG
    August 24, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I used to be terrible, backups were random and seldom focused on the data that really mattered... even after several bad experiences!
    Today though I have gotten a lot better - thanks to readily available cloud storage ( do I sound like i'm selling something?) I have put together a small set of free utils and services that run daily and backup all of my data files to the internet (skydrive & googledrive) and utilise a scheduler and synchtoy to ensure that the data is always current... I have to say that I don't use backups per se but instead rely on file based copies, uncompressed and 'generic'.
    why... well file based backup is easy to retrieve (you don't need dedicated software just a browser) its omnipresent (clients for all platforms) and I dont need the apps justy the codes (ISO's for all major apps in all major versions are readily available - besides I tend to keep ISO's as copies on alternate media DVD's)

    I dont believe in special media (ie DVD CD Tape or Optical or laserDisk - all fail, regularly, either as media or as hardware / software - I know I have worked in IT for 30 years)....

  44. muotechguy
    August 24, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Daily bootable backup runs overnight; Carbonite cloud backup (sooooo slow), and will be adding a time machine soon.

  45. techandlife
    August 24, 2012 at 6:47 am

    Back up documents etc to an external drive at least once a week using a batch file. Back up encrypted new/changed documents daily to cloud storage using a scheduled batch file.

  46. Chris
    August 24, 2012 at 6:46 am

    I have all my data files on one partition and it is backed up automatically with "KLS Backup" at 7pm everyday to a networked PC located 30 meters away in another building.

    Then every six months I clone my entire 1Tb hard drive and store the clone off site.

    I have also been using Norton "Go Back" for over 7 years and that has saved me many many times. Go Back will not work on Vista or W7 and I regard Go Back as such an essential life-saver that I will not upgrade from XP for this only reason.

    If anyone knows of a replacement to "Go Back" that works just the same on W7 I would greatly appreciate hearing about it.

  47. Coco
    August 24, 2012 at 5:51 am

    CrashPlan for off site backup. I think it runs every 10min.
    DropBox for all documents. I have about 22GB space from Drobox.
    Windows backup to external disk for system backup.
    I have scripted Photos, Music and My Videos folders to backup to Drobo device couple of times per week. These folders are also on a RAID 1.
    I burn Photos to 2 DVDs every few months (one is for off site storage.)

  48. memo1288
    August 24, 2012 at 5:50 am

    I have all my documents and personal files in a single partition, so I just copy that partition to an external hard drive every month.

  49. Jan Vagn Nielsen
    August 24, 2012 at 5:40 am

    I use Carbonite + external harddrive

  50. Clyde Atwood
    August 24, 2012 at 4:30 am

    I backup everyday to Ubuntu one.

  51. Chris Hoffman
    August 24, 2012 at 3:58 am

    That knife+laptop image is brilliant. I laughed in surprise.

    • Shakirah Faleh Lai
      August 24, 2012 at 6:56 am

      Yeah, add blood stain as special effect. Looks more brutal in that way.

  52. Sebastian Hadinata
    August 24, 2012 at 3:50 am

    Every week? Since I sync most of my important files to Dropbox.

  53. Edgar Meixueiro
    August 24, 2012 at 3:11 am

    I only backup my important files to Skydrive automatically. I only have about 8 GB of backed up info, so my needs are not that big.

    • Alan Wade
      August 24, 2012 at 10:12 am

      That looks like my kitchen - the tiles, work surface, cupbord doors and handles are the same.
      Was it you that murdered my laptop?

  54. Serra Stone
    August 24, 2012 at 3:05 am

    I run a Hackintosh, so Time Machine backs me up every hour to my huge external hard drive. :)

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