Data storage

Cloud, flash drive or elsewhere, back up your files

Now that your world has become increasingly digitized – from photos and videos to music and podcasts to video games and e-books – it’s no wonder you’re running out of storage space on your devices.

How do you back up all your important files?

Not only does backup allow you to free up space on, say, a laptop or tablet; you also protect these files from threats like malicious virus, damaging power surge, theft, fire or flood etc.

It can be particularly distressing to lose years of irreplaceable personal photos and movies or work-related documents.

You know the adage: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. What better time than World Backup Day, March 31, to back up your files?

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We’ve got plenty of affordable ways to do it, and you don’t need a computer engineering degree to do it.

Focusing on laptops and desktops, here are five solutions and the pros and cons of each.

External hard drive

If you have a lot of files, an external hard drive (HDD) is for you.

Pick up a 2 terabyte (2TB) external drive (about 2,000 gigabytes) for just $59 from the WD Easystore or Seagate Portable. That’s a lot for the price, from big names in this space.

An external hard drive is ideal for media such as videos, which can be large files.

Some are “portable” drives, like the models mentioned above, which means they are smaller and are powered by the computer’s USB port. Others are “desktop” drives, intended for stationary use and requiring an AC outlet.

Some drives are called NAS (network attached storage), which connect to your router or modem or connect via Wi-Fi, much like your own private cloud.

HDDs are great for large files, but they’re not as fast as SSDs (see below), and they can die over time, so having duplicates or triples of these is essential. external drives – and keep them somewhere other than near your PC. Why? In case of fire or flood, backups could be destroyed along with the original.

Solid State Drive (SSD)

A solid state drive (SSD) offers several advantages over a hard drive.

For one, SSDs are much faster when saving information to the drive, as well as accessing data from it. Part of that reason is the fact that SSDs have no moving parts, unlike the spinning magnetic platters inside hard drives.

A solid state drive (SSD) offers several advantages over a hard drive.

Because SSDs have no moving parts, they are much quieter to run than a hard drive. Solid-state drives are much smaller and lighter and don’t require as much power, which translates to longer laptop battery life between charges.

SSDs are more durable and less prone to damage than HDDs, which is essential if you’re on the go, like on vacation, when backing up your captured footage.

SSDs tend to cost more than an HDD, but don’t hold as many files.

Recommended: WD’s My Passport SSD starts at $105 for 500GB and goes up to 4TB ($449). Connect it to a PC or Mac via USB 3.0, for data transfer speeds of up to 1050MB/second. They are shock and vibration resistant and drop-proof up to 6.5 feet.

Cloud backup

Since your files are stored offsite, cloud services, such as Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon Photos, can protect your data from threats.

You can securely access all your backed up data from virtually any internet-connected computer, tablet or smartphone anywhere in the world. Most cloud services have free apps that make it easy to download or upload files from your mobile device.

The cloud can reduce congestion in someone’s inbox, as opposed to, say, sending a 25MB attachment via email.

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While certainly convenient, cloud services only give you a few gigabytes for free; therefore, you are left to pay a monthly subscription to a company to store your files. It can add up, and once you stop paying, you no longer have your own files. You are essentially renting a space.

Apple’s iCloud+, for example, costs $0.99/month for 50 GB, $2.99/month for 200 GB, and $9.99/month for 2 TB.

Remember that you will need an internet connection to access your files.

USB key, SD cards

If you don’t have a lot of files, get a cheap USB stick or two (aka “jump drives”, “flash drives”, or “thumb drives”) or SD memory cards – with, say, 16 or 32 gigabytes. Drag and drop important files from your computer onto these drives before storing them in a safe place.

If your laptop has an SD (or smaller microSD) slot on the side, pop in a card and keep it there all the time, and nothing will come out.

USB flash drives are versatile and inexpensive.

A SanDisk Cruzer Glide 32GB USB flash drive is just $8.99, but remember your desktop or laptop needs a USB A port, unlike the newer, smaller USB Type-C. .

Some general-purpose USB drives, such as the Lexar 64GB USB Drive ($12.69), have both a USB A and USB C connector (on either side of the drive).

Reuse instead of recycle

Finally, do you have an old computer in the closet? A digital photo frame? Or maybe a tablet, an old smartphone or an iPod touch? You can use its internal drive as a backup solution.

Especially ideal if money is tight, repurposing a device with memory you already own means you don’t have to run out to buy something new or pay for cloud service.

Just use a USB flash drive or external hard drive to transfer files from the old device – maybe an Android phone with a broken screen – to your computer via USB to transfer content between them.

Backup Summary

It doesn’t matter how you back up your files, as long as you do it – and regularly.

Personally, I hedge my bets between offline external storage (usually SSDs) and online cloud services (OneDrive), and use EdgeRover software to automatically copy files to any connected external media at 3 a.m. morning every day, when I’m not using my machine.

Happy World Backup Day!

Follow Marc on Twitter for his Tech Tip of the Day posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.