Backup Tips: Keep Your Data Backups Safe, Simple, and Fast

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Choose Your Backup Medium (chart)

Backing up your data to a DVD or CD is fast and inexpensive. You'll fit more data on an external hard drive, however, and online backups give you access to your data from anywhere. Here are the pros and cons of various types of PC backup media.

STORAGE TYPEUpsideDownsideSpeed1Cost per backupRecommended useTip
CD/DVDCompact and stable; media is readily available, inexpensive, and easy to transport for off-site storage.Middling capacity may mean no unattended full backups; media is sensitive to heat and direct sunlight.3 MBps to 12 MBps, plus time for disc swapsAbout 10 to 20 cents per gigabyte Daily backup of up to 4.7GB (DVD) or 700MB (CD)For everyday backup, rewritable media is cheaper per use; for archiving, use write-once discs.
External hard driveExtremely fast; superhigh capacity for unattended, automated backups; can be unplugged and stored off-site.Susceptible to shock (don't knock it over!) and heat; expensive.10 MBps to 30 MBpsAbout $1 per gigabyteDaily unattended backup for home or small officeDrives with cooling fans help you avoid losing data due to overheating.
USB pocket drive Easy to transport; fast; removable for transportation and off-site storage.Capacity is extremely low.1 MBps (USB 1.1) to 12 MBps (USB 2.0)$30 to $100 per gigabyteMobile backup and file transferUse straight, uncompressed file copies so you can restore the files using Windows Explorer.
OnlineVery safe; good security; easily automated; simple file sharing. Pricey and slow, especially without a broadband Internet connection.Depends on speed of upstream connection$2 to $10 per gigabyte, per monthOff-site backup of small amounts of vital data; mobile backup; file sharing Get a fast upstream broadband connection and store only critical data online.
TapeCapacious media with inexpensive cost per gigabyte; removable for off-site storage.Drives are expensive and relatively slow; media is sensitive to magnetic fields; not supported by mainstream imaging programs. 1 MBps to 10 MBps 25 to 50 cents per gigabyteUnattended overnight, weekly backup for SOHO and small businessesThis is the best option for set-it-and-forget-it removable-media overnight backups.

FOOTNOTE: 1 These are rough, real-world numbers. Your mileage may vary.

Jon L. Jacobi is a freelance writer based in Northern California.
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