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How to back up your computer

Hard drive computer backupAnyone who’s ever lost an important file knows just how crucial backups can be. They’re one of those things that you might only use once or twice in your lifetime, but when the day comes that you urgently need to recover a file, you’ll be relieved you had the foresight to plan ahead.

Backing up your data is tantamount to making a spare key for your car — you’re basically making a copy of something important in case you ever lose the original.  Although backing up is essentially saving something twice just in case it’s lost, this article is about more than just saving a couple important files.

We’re going to assume here that if you made it to our site and landed on this article, you probably have the basic computer skills necessary to copy and save a file to separate location. This article isn’t about how to save a few files — it’s intended to give you a simple explanation of how to back up your entire computer. Read on to get the details.

First of all, regardless of whether you’re on a Windows or Mac PC, you’ll need to get a backup drive. This can be just about any USB external hard drive, but since you aim to make a complete backup of your system, it’s best to opt for a drive with about twice the capacity of your computer.

Once you’ve got your backup drive, connect it to your computer via whatever port you prefer – be it USB, FireWire, or ThunderBolt. If this is the first time you’ve plugged in the drive, both Windows and Mac will ask you if you’d like to use the drive as a backup. If this happens, choose yes.

If you’re not immediately prompted to use your external drive as a backup, do this:

MAC: Go to System Preferences > Time Machine, hit “Select Backup Disk” and choose your external drive.

WINDOWS: Open the Start Menu, type “backup” into the search box and choose “Backup and Restore” from the results. In the window that pops up, click on the “Set Up Backup button,” select the drive that you just plugged in and click Next until you reach the final window. On the last window, click “Save Settings and Run Backup.”

**Note: if this is the first time you’re backing up your system, it’ll take a while. Do it at a time when you won’t be going anywhere and won’t need to unplug your computer.

That’s it! Once you’ve finished the setup process, your computer will automatically create backups of your system whenever the backup drive is plugged in and available.

However, while this method will protect you from unexpected hard drive issues and accidental deletions, backing up on a physical disk still makes your data vulnerable to fires, floods, and toddlers playing with magnets. If you want truly accident-proof backups, back your system up in the Cloud.

Cloud storage services have boomed in recent years, and there are loads of good, low-priced services out there. We recommend iCloud, CrashPlan+, BackBlaze, and CommodoBackup – but there are dozens of others out there that offer different pricing plans. Shop around and find the one that suits your needs.