Tip: Develop a Solid Backup Strategy for Your Notebooks Before It’s Too Late

Backing up notebooks is easier and more affordable than ever. At the minimum, you should have two copies of every photo, video and document that really matters to them. Ideally, you should have several copies of your files stored locally and offsite. How aggressive you are about backing up your data depends can depend on your budget, amount of data and how much time you have to put into it all.

A lot of people get serious about backing up their data after they lose important files. Surprisingly, many people I’ve talked to who’ve lost irreplaceable photos and data haven’t learned their lessons and still don’t backup regularly. Having a basic backup strategy is better than nothing, but I prefer to play on the safe side. If you implement at least some of the below strategies your data will be protected from just fires, disasters and burglaries.

If all you have on your notebooks are a few important documents and music that you can download again anytime you don’t have a lot to worry about it. But if you have baby photos, tax returns, business documents and videos of your wedding it’s time to develop your own backup strategy.

You can tweak and combine the below methods to fit your needs and budget.

Basic Backup Strategy:

Buy an external hard drive that’s significantly larger than your notebook’s hard drive. You can pick up a Seagate FreeAgent Desk 500 GB drive for $85 and smaller drives for even less. Seagate, Western Digital and other popular drive manufacturers include free automatic backup software. This strategy is better than nothing, but it doesn’t protect your data from natural disasters, theft, fire or accidental damage. It does protect you from losing precious memories and other files in case your notebook is lost or damaged. For added protection, store your hard drive in a safe or other secure location when traveling.

Automatic Offite Backup Strategy

There are several services that will automatically backup your notebook to a server. Mozy and Carbonite are two of the best-known examples. You can upload the entire contest of your PCs to these services for a monthly or annual fee. After an initial backup, your any file you save on your PC is automatically backed up to these services.

While these services are great for protecting your data, one challenge for some users is uploading data to these services efficiently. Many Internet service providers provide speedy downloads of data, but restrict upload speeds to a virtual crawl. Things can get painful if you have several PCs to backup or loads of music, video and photos. If you get back from a trip with a 4GB memory card full of photos be prepared to wait days several hours or days until all your pics are backed up.

I use a service called SugarSync to backup and synchronize my documents across all of my computers, but don’t use it for my massive multimedia library.

Manual Offsite Backup Strategy
If you hundreds of gigabytes or terabytes of data to backup it might not be affordable or efficient to backup to online services. While some services offer unlimited plans, it may take weeks to upload or download all of your data. You can add an extra level of protection to the basic backup strategy above by buying an extra hard drive or two, dumping your files onto it and storing these backups in a safe place away from your home. Some people use safety deposit boxes, others leave these hard drives at trusted friendss or relatives’ homes. If possible, store them in a different city or town to protect against natural disasters and other emergencies.

Use Network Attached Storage

WD_NAS_1TB.jpgBacking up multiple notebooks at home can be a real chore, especially if they’re used throughout your home and run different operating systems. Some hard drives come with software that can be installed on several computers, but you have to physically plug in each computer to the drive to backup.

You can buy several drives for your household, but you should be sure that each family member plugs in their PC at the end of the day. If you don’t think that’s realistic it’s time to think about more advanced options, such as Network Attached Storage.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) might sound complex, but it consists of is a box that plugs into your home network’s router. You can backup all of your PCs automatically at scheduled intervals. Of course there is a price premium for NAS compared to standard hard drives. The Western Digital My Book World Edition 1 TB Network Attached Storage costs $179 and can backup both PCs and Macs. Larger units are available and some units can do a lot more than just backup files.

Buy a Windows Home Server
A Windows Home Server is on the complex side of things in terms of getting everything set up for the first time, but they can make your backup life a breeze once you get going. Windows Home Servers are significantly more expensive than just buying a single hard drive, but if you’re serious about backup you should at least consider one.

HP Mediasmart Server EX487

Companies like HP are trying to make Windows Home Servers less intimidating by offering user-friendly interfaces and tools that make it easy to access your data from just about anywhere. I’m currently using an HP MediaSmart Home Server EX487 to backup several PCs once per day. I’ve configured this home server has with four internal drives with a combined capacity of 4.5TB (terabytes) and two external drives with a combined capacity of 3.5TB. All of this drive capacity is used to create extra copies of my data in case one drive fails.

Complete images (virtual photocopies of a computer’s hard drive) of each of my computers are stored on the server. An exact copy of a hard drive can come in handy if a computer has a catastrophic failure. When you recover from a backed up image, all of your settings, applications and data will be right where it was before the failure.

The EX487 MediaSmart Home Server is also set to collect media files from each PC in my house. This means that if I save photos from my camera’s memory card on one computer, I can easily access it on any other. The server is smart enough to avoid duplicate files in order to conserve drive space.

Users can backup all of their data from the server to external hard drives so they can put them in fireproof safes or store them off site. You can also upload files from the server to online backup solutions, such as Amazon S3. Of course storing several terabytes of data can be very, very expensive.


These strategies, along with all the other ways to backup your data, are not foolproof. Hard drives fail over time and things happen beyond your control. The thing you can do is backup your data in multiple places constantly. You should also test your recovery process from time to time. Backing up data doesn’t do a bit of good if you can’t recover it quickly when you need it most.

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