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The 7 best ways to back up your PC

Methods that are (almost) infallible

Nobody likes backing up, but one day it'll save your bacon. Here are the seven most efficient methods of protecting your data, no matter what your situation.

Strategy 3: Back up the whole family on your home network

Good for: Your documents (including your recent documents), application data, and media files

Frequency: Daily

Recovery features: Versioning (which is switched off by default) but no full-system restore

Automatic off-site storage: No

Getting yourself in the backup habit is hard enough. Getting your family on board is nearly impossible. So why not set up a single centralised backup for everyone in the group?

If you connect several computers to one another and to the internet through a router, buy a network-attached storage (NAS) drive - a box containing one or more hard drives that you plug into your router via ethernet. Anyone on the network who has the right permission can access those hard drives.

Besides performing large-scale backups, NAS drives can store photo, video, and music files, and you can access that content even from outside your network. (If you store media files on a NAS drive, you must back those up; see Strategies 4 and 7.) Many NAS drives also work as print servers, giving connected PCs easy access to any network printer.

Most NAS drives come with software for backing up. Every PC on the network has instant access to a huge drive that can hold vast video files or anything else. And the drive is always on and always attached, so backups can run automatically.

I recommend the Synology DS209j for home use because of its powerful yet easy-to-use data-backup program. The DS209j as an empty unit (that you add your own drives to) costs about £149. The two-bay DS209j supports RAID 0 (for striping data across two drives) and RAID 1 (for mirroring, preferred for data preservation) configurations.

Higher-end NAS devices - for example, the Seagate Black Armor NAS 440, the Synology DS509, and the Western Digital ShareSpace - have four drive bays, possess even greater storage capacities, and support RAID 5 for disk parity.

These devices scatter and replicate data across the four disks in such a way that, if a drive fails, the data on that drive can be rebuilt based on the data replicated elsewhere.

Once the hardware is up and running, use software included on the CD to set up the device for your users, assigning a separate safe backup location to each. You must install the backup program, Synology Data Replicator, on every system.

On its own, Data Replicator is one of the easiest, simplest, and most sensibly designed data-backup programs I've ever worked with. Its what-to-back-up options, though few, are the right ones and are easy to understand. The software backs up files by copying them, so you don't need Data Replicator to recover a file (using it will make the recovery easier, however).

The scheduler is easy to set up and doesn't overwhelm you with options. It won't work properly if the backup drive is unavailable, but that's no problem with a NAS drive. You can use this program with a local - versus network - external drive, too, but I wouldn't try scheduling with such a setup.

By default, Data Replicator keeps only the latest version of each file; the Options box lets you turn on versioning and set how many versions to keep. A NAS drive stays on all the time, but it uses considerably less energy than a computer, so if you currently keep a PC on continuously for network access, NAS is a relatively green option.

Laptops buying advice

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NEXT PAGE: Save your entertainment

  1. Methods that are (almost) infallible
  2. The easiest backup of all
  3. Storing your backup at a safe distance
  4. Backing up on your home network
  5. Save your entertainment
  6. Preparing for disaster
  7. Storing in the long-term
  8. Backing up your backup

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