One good thing about buying a drive to back up your data is that you don’t have to worry about the speed of the drive. Even the slower 5,400-rpm drive is good. These slower drives are cheap, and since the backup software runs in the background, you probably won’t notice the slow speed.
Get the biggest backup drive you can afford. Incremental Backups – How all good backup software works – Save disk space by backing up only the files that have changed since the last backup. But even then, you’ll need a larger drive for backup than anything else on your PC. A good rule of thumb is to get a backup drive that is two or three times the size of the drive in your computer.
Set it and forget it.
A good backup system works without you having to do anything. If you have to to do Back up, maybe not. Nowadays, there is software that automates all your backup tasks.
Mac users should use Time Machine. It’s incredibly simple software and probably the best reason to buy a Mac. Apple has good instructions on how to set up Time Machine so it makes daily backups to your external hard drive. Time Machine is very smart; It only backs up changed files, so it doesn’t eat up all your disk space.
Windows 11 offers Windows Backup, which saves most of your personal data to your Microsoft account, but it’s not intended to completely restore the system if a hard drive fails. A WIRED reader pointed me to the File History feature in Windows, which automatically performs incremental backups to a folder you select. In my testing File History works fine and if you go and save it for each folder it can take up space like Time Machine, Windows still doesn’t have a utility like Time Machine.
To get Time Machine-level simplicity in Windows, you’ll need to turn to third-party software. I’ve had good luck with Macrium Reflect, which has a free option that does most of what you need.
Off-site backups: All-in-one
The second backup I suggest is off-site, or “in the cloud,” as the marketing departments say. Of course, this is another way of saying “on someone else’s computer.” In this case, I mean a server in a data center far from your home. This is a backup that covers that catastrophic physical destruction scenario. For example, I once lost my laptop in a lightning accident. (Yes, I had a surge protector; it’s very fluid.) But since my data was saved to the cloud, I was able to restore everything.
What you don’t want is something like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Sync.com. These are all great ways to share and sync documents, but they’re not great for backups. When you change a file on your computer, those changes sync with Dropbox. That means if the file gets corrupted, the corruption will be sent to Dropbox and copied across all your backups. That’s not what you want. A good backup doesn’t change. Copy the file to a backup and then it won’t be touched again.