How to back up your computer and files

A bad virus, hardware failure, fire or other disaster can wipe out your computer and all those documents, photos, and other files.

So if you haven’t already, make a small investment of your time and money now to ensure the safety of your data. Don’t wait until something happens. I see that happen all too often. Here, I discuss how to get started, but if you need further help, contact a professional like myself.

There are two main backup methods: local backup to an external drive or online backup to the cloud. There are pros and cons to each method, and if you have the resources, I actually recommend doing both.

A local backup gives you relativity quick backup and restore times, whereas most online backup services can take days or even weeks to backup all your data over the Internet and then the same amount of time if you ever have to restore your data after a disaster. However, backing up only to an external drive means the data could be lost if you ever have a theft, fire or other disaster that could wipe out both the computer and backup drive. If you only do one method, I’d recommend online backup.

When choosing a backup drive or online service, it’s good to have an idea of how much data you need to back up in terms of gigabytes (GBs). Here’s one way to get an estimate: open File Explorer and navigate to the Windows drive (usually the C drive), open the Users directory, right-click on each user’s folder (including the Public one) and select Properties. On the Properties window that pops up, the file size will display. If there’s multiple users in the Users directory, do that for each user folder and then add the sizes to get the total. And then if you have multiple computers you want to backup, do that on the others as well.

If you want to set up a local backup, get yourself an external drive, if you don’t already have one. Either a flash drive or an external USB hard drive from an office supply or electronics store. If in doubt about the size you need, a 1 terabyte (TB) drive is plenty big for most users and usually costs between $50 to $90. If you have multiple computers to backup, consider a drive like Western Digital’s MyCloud that can plug into your network, usually costing $120 to $180 for a 2TB drive.

Once you have a backup drive plugged in, you can set up Windows to automatically backup your computer. In Windows 8.1 and 10, open the Settings app, choose Update & Security, select Backup, and then under the File History settings click Add a Drive. If you have Windows 7, open the Control Panel and find the Backup and Restore settings and use their wizard to setup the backup.

There are many online backup options out there. They typically base their pricing on how much data you backup, usually expressed in terms of gigabytes (GBs), and/or how many PCs you backup. My personal favorite service is CrashPlan (, which offers unlimited backup sizes for one PC at $5.99 per month or $13.99 per month for up to 10 PCs. Other popular services include Carbonite (, Mozy (, and iDrive (

About the Author