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2,862 Tutorials

The complete guide to backing up your PC

A range of back up services reviewed, and how to use them

Backing up isn't hard to do, but it's definitely a chore. PC Advisor explains the methods most suited to various computing scenarios, and review a range of  backup services that make the whole process run like clockwork.

Choose a suitable service

Choosing a suitable backup service isn't as simple as finding the cheapest. Most online backup services offer a modicum of storage space for free, and then have a sliding scale of costs depending on the amount of space you need and what type of backup and access to your files you require.

Physical storage of hard drives and discs should be considered if your data is particularly sensitive. In this case, you'll want to know where it's stored and to thoroughly check the company handling its security.

Due to differing legal regulations in Europe and the US, encryption levels vary – as do the terms for recovering your files should the need arise. This should definitely be borne in mind if you intend to entrust large amounts of business data to an external storage service. As with access to your bank savings, you may have to wait several days or longer to access a full disk backup or pay more for the privilege of its early release.

Most of us, though, will be looking to storage larger amounts of data on external media that we then keep offsite or in another room. Online storage tends to be more of a convenience service, allowing access from anywhere and at any time, simply by entering the secure password that's used to safeguard it. Small amounts of data storage – up to 5GB – may even be offered for free.

For example, if the archive is to be just that – somewhere to file documents you no longer need but daren't delete – it's probably best stored on physical media. Bear in mind the shelf life of a CD or DVD is just 20 years, though; Blu-ray Disc lasts somewhat longer.

Another option, of course, is a portable hard drives. These offer good value in terms of cost per gigabyte of storage, but you'll pay for the convenience of a faster interface. Mac users should look for a FireWire 400 or 800 connection, while USB 2.0 offers the best value for the Windows users. USB 3.0 drives are available, but are also more expensive – and you'll need a PC or laptop with a corresponding USB 3.0 connection to make use of this faster transfer technology.

The best compromise the 1.5TB Seagate FreeAgent drive, which can be upgraded to USB 3.0 for an extra £25.

Bear in mind that security isn't always that great on these drives and the encryption and password-protection doesn't always work in a Mac environment. In a Windows-only setup, such utilities are a must for storage of all but the most anodyne of content. Ideally, fingerprint or other additional authentication is desirable.

Finally, don't forget the peace of mind that a Raid setup offers. If your computer supports several hard drives, it's worth investigating this as a day-to-day failover measure. Alternatively, look to the NAS drives chart on page 141 for guidance on a suitable backup drive that can also be used for media streaming and sharing, and for backing up all the PCs and laptops on your home or small-office network.

BT Digital Vault

BT Digital Vault is part of BT Broadband, but there's no need to be an existing customer to use the service; you can enjoy 5GB of free online storage. A £4.99-per-month Vault Plus subscription (free for BT Broadband customers) offers 50GB of online storage, and includes an Auto Backup applet.

Another useful feature is the photo- and video-sharing element, which works by inviting people to view specific content. It's great for sharing holiday snaps, for example. Usefully, the site outlines approximately how many photos, music tracks and video clips your digital vault can hold. Logging in allows you to play your music collection from afar, or scroll through your photo collection.

Although it isn't really a business tool, the generous storage allowance and access anywhere, anytime elements could appeal if you often need to pull down large files for marketing or sales pitches, for example.

Nearest in concept to either Mozy or Windows Live accounts, this user-friendly option is one of the simplest and most approachable, if not the outright best value.


Carbonite is one of those unflashy but admirably effective services we can only admire. It has just about the best pricing around for an online archive – unlimited backups cost £41 per year and are comparatively cheaper if you buy a two- or three-year plan. Unlike the other services here, there's no monthly subscription.

A 15-day trial is available.

Carbonite offers a great deal of control over what gets backed up and how. Certain file types and sizes are automatically and routinely backed up – your Word and Excel documents will fit into this category. Larger files can either be backed up on a manual basis – do you really want to back up every video clip or photo set time and time again? If you do, just add the relevant folder to the Carbonite backup box on your desktop and this will happen as a matter of course.

Content stored on a Carbonite server is protected by the sort of cast-iron encryption you'd expect any such service to offer. There's a Raid 6 failover and CCTV hard-drive monitoring. Pretty serious security, in other words. It's also UK-hosted, which some users will find important.

We weren't keen on the website's outright dismissal of other backup options. A combination of backup options is likely to suit most users, so helpful advice on how to combine Carbonite's cloud storage with other types of backup would have been welcome.

Restoring files when required is a matter of logging into the Carbonite site, clicking on the Restore tab at the top right and browsing to the files you need. Apple iPhone and Android access is also supported. Fancy media sharing isn't supported, however, and there's a single price plan regardless of whether you want to back up files from your home or business computers.


There are a couple of innovative solutions in our round-up, of which CrashPlan is the first. Rather than operating on a pay to back up to a remote server basis, CrashPlan backs up your files to a friend's hard drive. It sounds like an odd thing to do, but makes a lot of sense. In fact, we like the concept so much we awarded CrashPlan our Best PC Utility Award 2011.

You can also pay CrashPlan for online archiving – but if your favourite price is free, the mates' rate option is likely to appeal.

As with Wuala Sync (next page), CrashPlan works by making use of the ‘spare' hard-disk space on a friend's PC. This will work best if you have a fast upload connection for your broadband: on a Be Broadband, Virgin Media or ADSL2+ or BT Infinity connection, you'll at least have more than a 1MB upload over which to send files for backup. Depending on your friend's location you might consider transferring a USB hard drive's worth of content to their PC to kick things off.

You can also back up to an external hard drive if you're confident this will be sufficiently secure for your data archiving and subsequent retrieval needs.

As with Carbonite, you get granular control over the file types that are backed up and the archive sizes you create.

The standard version of CrashPlan offers 128bit Blowfish encryption for a competitive £39 per year, and covers unlimited archiving. Note that this is ad-supported, however, and a cleaner, 448bit-encryption version costs £10 more.

NEXT: Wuala Sync, Fasthosts, Strato, iDrive, Mozy, and Windows Live >>

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