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How to back up files in Windows using an external drive?

Nov 7, 2013

We explain the basics of backing up your files and why you shouldn't simply back up to your PC's hard drive.

QUESTION: What’s the difference between using “Back up or restore your Files” in Windows 7 and buying a portable hard dive featured in your website like Seagate or Western digital?

What is the point in buying a portable hard drive if one can back up everything for free using Windows backup as described in this link?

HELPROOM ANSWER: Backing up your files using the above method is a good way of preserving an additional copy of your important files. But, although this will provide protection against accidental deletion, it offers no protection against other common causes of data loss such as hard drive failure or theft of your entire PC.

The Notes section of the page to which you have linked, provides a clue to the answer: “We recommend that you don’t back up your files to the same hard drive that Windows is installed on”.

If you make a backup copy of your data onto the same hard drive as the original files, consider what happens when that hard drive breaks down – both the original and the backup copy will be lost and you will have no way of recovering your data.

Backing up your files on to an external hard drive means that, when your PC’s hard drive fails, you can buy a new one and then restore all of your carefully backed up data from the external drive.

If you keep your external hard drive away from your PC, then there’s a good chance that if your PC were to be stolen, the external hard drive might be left behind. This means you would be able to restore your data onto a new PC. Microsoft recommends a “fireproof location separate from your computer” – leaving a second copy with a friend or neighbour would be even more secure.

A more convenient way to back up your data offsite, would be to use one of the many available cloud storage services.

This method automatically backs up your data to secure online servers and gives you the added benefit of being able to access your data from anywhere in the World. Most of the time you can also access your files on the move via smartphones and other mobile devices.

Backing up your files via the Internet does take much longer and costs will depend on the volume of data you need to back up.

There are however many ways to back up data online free of charge. For example, if you sign up to Microsoft’s SkyDrive service you will get 7GB of free storage space. Microsoft suggest that this is enough to store around 20,000 Office documents or 7,000 photos.