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Prepping my computer

I have all of my documents, family pictures, videos, songs, and more between my two devices, my desktop computer and my phone. I really want to prepare for the eventual computer crash, lightening surge, burglary, or virus that can affect my computer and phone and would take out my family memories, tax documents, recipes, etc…

What are some things I can do to prevent me from having my devices crash, and if they do crash should I have some sort of back up on another hard drive or on the cloud?

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  • Comments (16)

    • 7

      A cloud back up would be good; you might also consider a solid state external drive that you keep in a faraday cage/bag for added protection from any electrical interference that could cause problems.

      If your devices don’t already use solid state drives, you might consider upgrading, as they’re generally considered more reliable than the previous favorite, hard disk drives.

      and lastly; consider analog copies, at least for some of your data. Print your most valued pictures in an album, burn your favorite videos and songs to discs, etc. It’s much easier to archive physical objects, because they’re simply more stable than data, which has a teeny tiny chance to corrupt itself every time you access it. Electronics are also more delicate delicate, and if anything were to happen to your devices, analog copies might have a slightly better chance of surviving whatever happened to them.

      • 3

        Great suggestion to have a mix of digital and analog storage. I do need to go to Costco and get some more printed out.

    • 7

      Your options are somewhat dependent on the platforms/hardware you’re using, but all major platforms will have some sort of backup option – just different features and ease of use.

      Honestly, the “harder” part of backing up computers is organizing and taking stock of what is important to you.  While you can do whole-computer (and phone) backups I recommend having a root folder with your main archive so you can copy it and maybe a secondary “working area” that you periodically merge into a longer term archive.  Once you have those items identified/well organized you can usually copy them to backup media periodically.  Lets talk through a couple options:

      Cloud based services – while I don’t use them various vendors offer storage space (either free or paid) and a variety of software exists to upload your documents to a cloud backup.  This should protect you from local loss (theft, damage, etc).  I’m not familiar with all offerings on the market but if its a reputable vendor, it will probably offer some level of de-facto protection against virus/ransomware, etc?  The downside is large scale reliable backup is rarely free.  You’ll probably have to pay some nominal fee for more than a couple GB of space and you’re at the mercy of the vendor’s IT/backup practices.  You’ll also need an internet connection.  Think things like iCloud (apple), One Drive (Microsoft), Google Drive, DropBox, or other multi-platform providers.

      Local options – these aren’t free and require various levels of personal discipline and technical savvy.

      External hard drives are easy, and often/sometimes plug and play (automatic backup when plugged in).  But, you have to remember to use them.  I have an external hard drive for a macOS laptop – its yelling at me that I haven’t backed up in 26 days right now, actually – but truth be told I don’t keep much on this thing anymore.  External hard drives are nice because they are usually very portable and offer a small degree of segmentation that is inverse to how often you backup.

      Network Attached Storage (NAS) is another option, these are usually “always on” and “always available” but are still vulnerable to several of your concerns (virus, surge, theft, etc).  They aren’t always cheap but you can generally ‘set them and forget them.’  If you have friends/family who also has one my understanding is you can set these up for remote access so you could imagine hosting a friend’s encrypted backup in exchange for them hosting your encrypted backup.  Still requires internet and a trusted friend but at least its not a single point failure anymore (both have to get hacked/stolen/destroyed for a total loss).

      Keep in mind that if your concern is a virus/ransomware some might be able to travel over your network or even wait and spread to detachable read-write media like an external hard drive.  Offline backups are physically segmented and therefore less vulnerable (though less convenient/harder to actually use).

      If you have the patience and capacity, using physical write-once media is a possibility with some benefits.  Writing data to backups on DVD-R/blueray/etc once a month and putting copies in various different physical locations protects you from single point failures (fire/theft) and since they’re largely offline they can’t really be “hacked” by conventional means (though physical security becomes more of a concern if you have redundant copies).

      If you’re serious and have manageable amounts of data, use multiple methods (and store some offsite).  Get in the habit of refreshing backups periodically.

      This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about.  I have at least 3 external HDs, 2 desktops with large scale storage and network sharing, a newly purchased NAS on the way, and a few highly critical documents backed up in encrypted cloud storage.  I’ve written my own scripts and database tables to help me organize data going all the way back to 2001, and slightly before.  Its a never ending process, really, but you evolve best practices.  Most of my important files are backed up in at least 4 different places (more because I’m too lazy to *really* organize than that paranoid, HDs keep getting bigger/cheaper so why not have duplicate backups for older data?).

      For the long term keep in mind that you’ll have to migrate and refresh hardware.  Hard drives (spinning disks) can break, CDs/DVDs/etc have a shelf life and can degrade/become unreadable over time.  Even old hardware can stop being supported (I lost a lot of data from a “SuperDisk” drive using a parallel port and proprietary drivers from the late 90s.  In my defense I was literally a kid at the time).

      • 6

        In case you were looking more for links/how too – some examples:

        1. iCloud
        2. OneDrive
        3. Google Drive
        4. External Hard Drives
        5. DropBox

        There are many, many ways to do this – its worth reading about a few that are best suited to your platform/budget.

      • 3

        What encrypted cloud storage do you have Rich DC? I’m just currently storing a few things on Google Drive, but haven’t been the biggest fan of Google being able to see and have access to my files if they want.

      • 3

        one way to do this is to create an encrypted zip file (7zip will let you do that) that contains any sensitive documents, then upload them to something like google drive.  Mostly I do this for things like credit freeze unlock pins and relatively small documents (tax/bank type info, etc).

        You can look into other options, 1password has the option to stored encrypted notes for things beyond regular passwords but I’m not sure if they have data limits.

      • 3

        Thanks for taking the time to write this great strategy Rich DC! I think I want to have everything backed up on an external hard drive, and then some of the most important things also on the cloud. Because I have data caps on my internet, and don’t want to pay for large cloud storage, I won’t be uploading every picture, video, and song. But things like my digital journal, stories i’ve written, and a few other important things would be good to store in two places. Plus I can then access them on any of my devices because they are up in the cloud!

    • 9

      I agree with Rich DC’s post and he sums it up pretty well. I personally like doing external hard drive backups. Not too expensive, last long because they aren’t connected to the computer and running all day, and not as prone to hacking because they are disconnected. You do need to make sure that you back it up regularly though compared to other automatic methods.

      Simple answer: While you should be updating your backups at least every 6 months and don’t have to usually worry about the following, if you fill up a hard drive and want to just have that sit on the shelf for archival reasons for years on end, I would recommend still plugging in your hard drive in every year or so.

      Technical answer: For mechanical hard drives, plugging in every so often will keep the lubricants in the spinning platters and arm from drying out, and allow it to check for bad sectors (data corruption). In SSD’s, while great because they don’t have moving mechanisms that can fail and are more durable from drops and such, plugging in will help recharge the cells with new electrical charges. SSD’s don’t store information as long as mechanical hard drives because they rely on trapping an electrical charge in a small transistor and that can weaken over time, especially in heat. A general rule is that if left on a shelf untouched, a hard drive can start showing signs of data loss in about 5-7 years, and an SSD in about a 1-2 years. Lots of factors here though, manufacturing, how old the drive is, how much it has been used, temperatures, humidity, etc…

      • 5

        do you have info about shelf life for SSDs that are powered on regularly (but without lots of reads/writes?)?  I hadn’t heard about them losing data without power but not exactly surprised.

        I’d also read/been led to believe that SSDs fail first through an inability to write new data (which for archival purposes isn’t as big a deal if you can still read old data when you can’t write data anymore) – any truth to that assessment that you can speak to?

      • 5

        The life expectancy of your SSD depends on many factors. Such as if you have a multicell, triple cell, or quad cell model. The cheaper SSD’s (triple and quad cell) will try and cram more cells into the same place, which will increase the amount of data that can be written to the same spot, but will decrease it’s life. 

        One big thing you can do to help increase the life of your SSD is to always leave 20-10% free. By filling it up only 80-90%, it gives room for the SSD to move data around and write new data on free cells. This will also increase your speed by leaving free space open. So when looking to buy an SSD, if you think you will only need 100GB, don’t go by the 120GB model. Buy the 240GB model and it will last twice as long because it will prevent writing to the same cells and wearing them out as fast. Get the biggest one you can afford, and leave free space.

        Having a quality power supply, which prevents power fluctuations, and keeping it cool will also increase an SSD’s life.

        SSD’s are smart and if blocks are starting to wear down and not hold data, they will flag that those blocks are bad and that it won’t try writing data there anymore.

        The top SSD brands, which also come with a premium, are Samsung, Kingston, and Corsair. These will last you a bit over 1 petabyte of writes (1024TB). Cheaper models will die before this, around 700-900TB’s written. 

        Most SSD’s will last the average user the age of most of the other parts in their machine. 

        There have been some cases where an SSD can still be read, but not written. Which is great so you can get your data off and back it up still. But hopefully you have replaced it by then. 

      • 2

        I think i’ll just get a normal mechanical hard drive. I don’t really need the fast writing speeds of an ssd and they are cheaper as well. Thanks for your input supersonic!

    • 4

      I recommend having three backups of your data:

      1. A local backup, like Time Machine on the Mac. It’s best if it maintains different versions of files in case you need to restore an earlier one.

      2. A bootable backup so you can get back to work quickly if your drive crashes.

      3. An off-site backup in case of disaster or theft. That could be a cloud backup service like Backblaze or a hard drive stored in a safety deposit box.

      I also recommend an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) for desktop computers, which protects from surges and lets you turn your computer off safely if the power goes out.

      • 4

        Thanks for your suggestions Josh Centers! 

        What do you do for your off-site backup? I’m thinking of going to my bank soon and asking how much a safety deposit box would be. 

      • 3

        I am a fan of Backblaze for desktops. However, I’m transferring my data storage to a Raspberry Pi server, so I might investigate something like Amazon Glacier, which might be cheaper, but not as user-friendly.

      • 3

        I’ve never heard of Amazon Glacier, but at those cheap of prices, it could be a great solution. Its like $1/tb a month. Not bad. 

    • 4

      I use this for my local files backup to external drive drive and then external drive to SAN and then SAN to cloud.  Next step in my grand plan is to do the son, father, grandfather strategy** on the external drive to move a copy out of my house. — “SyncToy 2.1 (from Microsoft) is a free application that synchronizes files and folders between locations. Typical uses include sharing files, such as photos, with other computers and creating backup copies of files and folders.” https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=15155

      ** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backup_rotation_scheme#:~:text=Grandfather%2Dfather%2Dson%20backup%20is,as%20daily%2C%20weekly%20and%20monthly.&text=The%20weekly%20backups%20are%20similarly,backup%20on%20a%20monthly%20basis.

      • 2

        Steve_Holden, Thank you for your suggestion 🙂 I think that will make it much easier than manually going through and trying to remember which files i’ve updated since the last backup