What is the Best Way to Back Up Your Hard Drive?

Losing your data sucks, and not having a backup can result in a catastrophe that could result in loss of work, personal documents, media files, and even your digital photo collection. No matter what you keep on your drive, it is always a good idea to have a backup handy.

Zachtion over at LockerGnome.net asked: What is the best way to back up a hard drive?

This is a solid question, and the answers may vary depending on what you have and how much you need to have backed up.

For example, if you want to back up a drive containing a functioning operating system and file system, then you’re going to want to make an exact backup of your primary drive including the boot sector through disk cloning. This can be done in several different ways.

One popular method for backing up an entire disk is through an open source program called Clonezilla. Clonezilla is placed on a bootable CD or USB drive and it works by making a bare metal backup of your selected hard drive. This allows you to restore (also through Clonezilla) your data as it was on a new hard drive of equal or greater size. Clonezilla only copies written blocks from the drive, so the backup’s file size is based on the space you’ve actually used, rather than the total capacity of the cloned drive.

What is the Best Way to Back up Your Hard Drive?Another capable backup system is Norton Ghost. Like Clonezilla, Norton’s Ghost program creates a total backup of your drive from stem to stern. It is also capable of routinely updating its backup as files are added, removed, and altered. It is even compatible with Windows 7 and BitLocker, allowing your encrypted data to be backed up without risk of errors.

For most users, a total hard drive backup is a bit extreme. While it can save you time reinstalling your programs after a catastrophic drive failure, most users really don’t need to back up every bit and byte on the platter. This is where a more simple approach can really save time and/or money.

To back up only select files, an external drive can be an excellent option. Having your important documents, photos, and media on an extra drive is the fastest and most efficient method of backing up. Some drives, including Western Digital’s My Book Essential, have included software that maintains a regular backup schedule. The downside of this method is the chance of losing your data through lightning storm, theft, or power failure is still present.

Offsite backups are possible for not a lot of money. Cloud storage is available through services like Amazon Cloud Drive and Carbonite. These solutions will allow you to keep a copy of your files on remote servers that are less prone to failure and data loss than most consumer-level products. This isn’t to say that these services are perfect, but they will offer you the most capable form of true backup on the market today.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tesla.art Arttu Mikkola

    I guess you forgot that Windows 7 does it all out of the box? System Images (optionally you can directly copy all te files through the backup, rather than cloning the drive to a virtual disk image, what System Image does.) Backup can be done separately, or by schedule. The integration to libaries is brilliant, and the restoration of System Images is super easy, support for bitlocker, support for network HDD:s and the Action Center also notifies of your backup being made. With Windows 7, i really can’t think of any other reason to use a third party software for backing up your files, than the need to copy them to the cloud.

    • http://twitter.com/FrugalGeek The Frugal Geek

      Not everyone runs Windows 7. The mention of the OS was a side note due to being one of the posted features of the software.