How to Back Up Data

Five Methods:Manually Backing Up FilesUsing a Backup ProgramUsing File History (Windows 8)Using Time Machine (Mac OS X)Backing up to the Cloud

Your data is the most important thing on your computer. Be it family photos, important tax documents, pieces of art, your band’s music, sensitive research papers, or anything else, losing it is simply not an option. Unfortunately, computers fail, and often. Having a backup plan set before anything goes wrong is one of the most important tasks you will undertake as a responsible computer user. Thankfully, backing up your data has never been easier. Follow his guide to learn how.

Method 1
Manually Backing Up Files

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    Insert a storage device or media. The quickest way to back up files is to plug an external hard drive or thumb drive into your computer and copy the files to it. You can also use CDs or DVDs, but these are more unwieldy to store and are more prone to loss and failure than an external drive. You will also need to burn the files to save them, whereas with an external drive you simply drag and drop.
    • Space is an issue when deciding what to manually back up, especially if you are using CDs, DVDs, or a thumb drive. If you have a large enough external drive, space is less of a problem.
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    • CDs hold about 700 MB of data, DVDs hold 4.7 GB, thumb drives vary in size but rarely go above 64 GB. External hard drives come in sizes up to multiple terabytes (TB).
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    • If you are connected to a network, you can also back up to a network drive on another computer.
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    Decide what you would like to back up. When you are backing up manually, it is up to you to ensure that every file that you need backed up gets copied over. Make sure you are thorough when scouring your system for files.
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    Prioritize your data. Make sure that the most important data is always backed up. This includes important and sensitive documents, sentimental files and photos, and other irreplaceable data. Copying takes time, so make the most of your time by saving only what matters.
    • Programs cannot be backed up, and will need to be reinstalled should anything go wrong with your system. Program settings files and preferences, on the other hand, can almost always be backed up. Refer to your program’s documentation on where to find the settings files.
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    Copy your data. Once you’ve decided what you want to save, start copying it over to your backup media. If using an external drive, thumb drive, or network drive, simply drag and drop the data onto the drive and wait for it to copy. If you are burning the data to a disc, follow this guide.
    • For extra data security, back your data up to two different locations. This will help protect you in case one location fails.
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    Remember to update your backups. Since you are manually backing up, there is not set schedule for when your data is copied. It will be on you to maintain a regular backup schedule in order to keep your data safe.

Method 2
Using a Backup Program

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    Download a backup program. There are programs available for free and programs that cost money, but all offer many of the same basic features. One of the advantages to using a paid program over manually backing up your data is the scheduling and automation options. This allows you to take a hands-off approach to your data backups.[1]
    • Some programs will compress your backed up data to save space while others will mirror it so that it remains accessible at the cost of more space. Some programs offer both options.
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    Choose what you want backed up. All programs will ask you what files and folders you want to have backed up. Make sure that you have selected all of your important folders, and that you aren’t forgetting stray locations.
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    Plug in your backup media. You will still need an external or network drive in order to use these programs. Make sure that it is plugged in before beginning your initial backup.
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    Set your schedule. The span of time between backups depends a lot on how often you access and edit your files. If you are constantly making changes that need to be saved, you’re better off backing up frequently, as often as every hour. This can be especially important for artists, writers, and financial documents.
    • Backing up often can put a strain on your computer’s performance. Many people are fine with their backups occurring at off hours when the computer is not in use.
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    • Make sure that your backup location is connected during the scheduled backup.
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Method 3
Using File History (Windows 8)

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    Open the File History program. In order to be able to load older versions of a file or folder, you will need to enable File History, which requires having an external hard drive or access to a network folder. Windows will use that to store older versions of your files, allowing you to recover from bad saves and overwritten documents. It also acts as a backup for all of your personal documents in the event of data loss.
    • You can access File History by searching for it by typing “file history” while on the Start screen. Select File History from the results.
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    Turn on File History. If your external hard drive is plugged in, the Turn On button will become available to click. If you’d like to change the location to a network drive, click the Select Drive button in the left menu and then click “Add network location”. You can then browse for the network drive.[2]
    • Choose whether or not you want your HomeGroup to be able to connect to the drive. If you have multiple computers on your HomeGroup and you want them to all save their backups to a central location, click Yes, otherwise it’s OK to click No.
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    Configure your File History settings. Once you have File History enabled, you can configure its advanced settings by clicking the “Advanced settings” link in the left menu.
    • Change how long files are kept by using the “Keep saved versions” menu. The default is “Forever”.
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    • Change how often copies are saved by using the “Save copies of files” menu. The default is “Every hour”.
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    Add important files and folders to your libraries. Windows 8 File History will not allow you to choose what is backed up. Instead, it will automatically back up everything in your user libraries (Documents, Pictures, etc.). If you have files in other locations that you need to back up, move them to a folder in one of your libraries.

Method 4
Using Time Machine (Mac OS X)

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    Connect an external drive to your Mac. Ideally, this drive should have enough space to fit all of the data from your Mac with plenty of room to spare. This is because Time Machine makes multiple copies over time, and is most effective when you have multiple copies to choose from.
    • You can connect a drive using USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire.
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    • If the external drive has not been formatted yet, do so using the Disk Utility. Make sure Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) is selected for the disk format.
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    Time Machine should open automatically. If you haven’t set up Time Machine yet, plugging in an external drive will open a dialog box asking if you want to use it for Time Machine. Click the “Use as Backup Disk” to begin using the drive with Time Machine.[3]
    • If the dialog box does not appear, you can open Time Machine from the System Preferences screen found in your Apple menu.
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    Allow Time Machine to work automatically. Once you have designated a drive as your Time Machine backup, your data will be saved automatically every hour. Your Time Machine will save an hourly copy for the last 24 hours, a daily copy for the last month, and weekly backups for as much space as your external drive permits.

Method 5
Backing up to the Cloud

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    Find a cloud service. There are several free cloud services available that you can use as an always-online backup location for your files. These include Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Apple iCloud, DropBox, and more. These services all come with a fair amount of space for free, and can be upgraded with more space for a fee.
    • There are also cloud-based backup services that charge an annual fee. These are often more directly focused towards backing up, and include scheduling options. These include CrashPlan+, Carbonite, Mozy, Backblaze, Acronis, and more.
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    Copy your files to your cloud service. If you are using a free service, it will be up to you to maintain your backups. Manually add the files to your service much like you would to an external hard drive. Some services such as SkyDrive and Google Drive will give you a folder that you can place on your desktop. Anything added to this folder will be synced with your cloud storage.
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    Monitor your storage space. While the amount of space you get for signing up may seem like a lot, you may find that it goes quickly once you start adding your pictures and videos. Be careful to backup only your most necessary files, and go through your files on the cloud occasionally and cull the old versions.


  • Back up data timely and regularly.
  • It's a good idea to back up data in several different ways, so that you have an extra backup in case your primary backup medium fails. You may also want to dedicate backup media to backing up certain files, such as a flash drive just for your current writing projects or an external hard drive just for your photographs or music files.


  • No matter how often you schedule backups for, you must still have the backup medium connected to your computer at the scheduled time to perform the backup.

Article Info

Categories: System Maintenance and Repair