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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 6: Store items for the long haul

Good for: Heirlooms

Frequency: Once a year

Recovery features: No versioning or full-system restore

Automatic off-site storage: No

With proper archiving, your photos, videos, and other digital memorabilia could last a long time. Archive your valuable files about once a year, saving them to long-lasting media manually. Make multiple copies of the backups, and check to confirm that you can read them on another computer. Keep a copy for yourself and send others to relatives. Consider putting one in a safe deposit box.

Obviously, since properly testing an archiving strategy would take at least 50 years, I can't guarantee that any of my suggestions will work. Still, a few wise choices can improve your odds of success.

Archival media should satisfy the following criteria.

The media must be un-erasable
According to the law of data entropy, whatever can be erased, eventually will be erased.

Media and mechanicals must be separate
Hard drives hold a vast amount of data - up to 2TB on a single drive - but like other mechanical devices with moving parts, they can break. A well-made, properly stored CD or DVD frees you from having to worry about mechanical-component failure.

The media must be inexpensive
The cheaper copies are, the more likely you are to make multiple copies, which in turn will increase the odds that at least some will survive.

The media must be ubiquitous
If everyone uses the medium now, chances are better that someone will be able to use it in the 22nd century - or at least later in this century.

The media must be robust
It needs to survive for decades. CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, and DVD+Rs meet the first four criteria, but - despite various claims of longevity based on laboratory aging - no one knows how robust they'll be in the long run.

Your best bets among optical discs are relatively expensive archival discs. Makers of these discs claim to use higher standards for them than for run-of-the-mill data discs; and all use gold rather than silver in the disc's manufacture to increase longevity.

But archiving concerns extend to other issues such as whether the file format will be readable in 50 or 100 years. Your chances are better if you stick to popular formats such as .jpg, .mp3, .doc (but not .docx), .txt, .html, and .pdf. And the more formats you can save the file in, the better.

You should store the discs in jewel cases, upright, away from direct sunlight, humidity, and extreme temperatures.

Another possibility is to burn a copy to Blu-ray Disc. Blu-ray doesn't yet enjoy the same reach that DVD and CD have, and it remains pricey. But Blu-ray far exceeds DVD and CD in capacity, and the format is gaining acceptance rapidly. With a little luck, your great-grandchildren will enjoy your mementos from the early days of digital photography.

Laptops buying advice

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NEXT PAGE: Backing up your backup

  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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