Tech Guide: Backing Up Your PC and Mac

If you have ever had your hard disk dying on you, you will appreciate the importance of backing up your computer. Whether you use a PC or a Mac, there is no denying the mortality of your computer’s storage system. Your hard disk will fail one day, and along with it, years of precious data or sentimental family photos.

While it may seem like a troublesome ordeal to perform regular maintenance on your computer data, prevention can save you hundreds - or even thousands - of dollars from paying for data recovery later.

Getting Started

The first thing that you should consider when backing up your PC or Mac is the type of data that you want backed up. A good practice is to separate content you can reinstall or download again from the Internet such as your software, music and operating system (OS) from your personal data such as work files and photos that cannot be replicated.

If you are using a desktop, consider installing your operating system onto a flash-based solid state drive (SSD) while keeping your data in a more spacious hard disk drive. This is because an SSD runs three to five times faster than a regular hard drive but it can cost three to five times more. A 1TB SSD will set you back anywhere from $550 to $750. 
Laptop users however, do not have the space luxury of having separate storage disks, so the solution is to partition your primary drive into two.

However, you still run the risk of losing your personal data due to a disk failure. You can circumvent this issue by using an external storage device such as a thumb drive or an external hard disk, to store your personal data. Additionally, it is always a good idea to store a back-up copy of your data in a separate location, as it also protects you against data loss in the event that your device has been damaged, lost or stolen. 

The Rule of Three

A good rule of thumb is to have three copies of your important data. 

The first, is stored locally, in your device, and is what you use daily.

You can use an external hard drive, paired with software that performs scheduled backups on your computer, for your second copy. Mac users can turn to the pre-installed Apple Time Machine. With its sleek user interface (UI), the Apple Time Machine is an incremental back up software that lets users readily set which data they wish to back up and where they want to back it up to (internally in a separate drive/disk or external HDD). It performs an hourly scheduled back up, tracking and recording changes within the files for storage, allowing it to save space – as opposed to creating an entirely new copy of the data. Of course, in tandem with Apple’s product design, it sacrifices advanced options for ease of use. Mac users are unable to change its default settings, and have to contend themselves with its hourly back up schedule, and the inability to view which files have been recently backed up.

The Windows internal back up is the counterpart to Apple’s Time Machine and performs the same function. However, it is notable that while it is more customisable than the Time Machine, its different variations all have vastly different capabilities.

These programs only back up your data files so in the event that your computer crashes, you will have to reinstall your operating system, then programs and data. There is another type of back-up software, such as Acronis True Image, which takes a snapshot of everything on your hard drive so that you can easily restore everything at one go onto your replacement hard drive.

Thirdly, you should consider having a third copy of your files, preferably not onsite. While this might sound somewhat paranoid, doing so will protect you against the loss of your personal data in the case of a theft, robbery or natural disaster. These days, cloud based services have become competitive enough that they are no longer exclusively used by corporations, and usually offer scalable pricing, although it may become slightly expensive if you require a large amount of space. Amazon Cloud Drive does provide a tantalising option for those who require an unlimited amount of space. It is also worth noting that you should pick a cloud service provider that supports all your devices, including your mobile phones and your tablet. You can check out our price guide below for a cloud service provider that suits your needs.

Cloud Service Comparison

Acronis True Image Cloud: Not just a Cloud service, Acronis is a real bargain at SGD$139.00 per year, Acronis protects one computer and up to three devices from hard disk failure, as well as making it convenient to store and find your files with their Archiving. Alternatively, you can also back up three computers and ten devices for SGD$214.99, as well as SGD$269.99 for five computers and fifteen devices.
OneDrive: You can pay $12/year for 100GB or $24/year for 200GB. Provides free 15GB of storage and supports the Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Blackberry operating systems. There is a restriction of 10GB per file size upload.
Dropbox: $120/year for 1TB of space. Provides 2GB of free space, and supports the Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry and Kindle Fire OS. File restriction per upload is at 10GB on its website, but none using Dropbox apps.
Google Drive: $12/year for 100GB or $120/year for 1TB. Provides 15GB of free storage and supports Windows, Mac, Android and iOS operating systems. The maximum file size restriction is 5TB.
Amazon Cloud Drive: You can opt for $12/year or $60/year for unlimited storage. No free storage space is provided. You can upload a maximum file size of 2GB from your devices, but there is no limit to a file size upload when using a desktop. It supports the Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Kindle Fire OS.
Box: $72/year for 100GB or $204 for Unlimited Storage on its Business Plan. File size restriction differs at 2GB and 5GB respectively. Supports Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Blackberry. Offers 250MB of free storage space. Pricier than its competitors but provides enterprise level security, among other features. Great for businesses.
Copy: $49/year for 250GB or $99/year for 1TB. There's no file size restriction and it supports Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. They also offer 15GB of free storage.

*All prices quoted are in USD, except for Acronis and rounded up for an annual fee for comparison.

Summary

In short, you’ll want to remember the rule of three, and pick out the best solution for your needs. With proper preparation and setup, backing up your computer can be a hassle free experience down the road, and save you the heartache of losing important data forever.