When was the last time you backed up all your important documents and photos? One month ago? A year ago? Never? Setting up a good backup system can seem tedious and intimidating, but it is not. Anyone can do it, and everyone should do it. In less than 15 minutes you can have a system that automatically backs up your files – both to an external hard drive and to an encrypted cloud storage system – without requiring any other action on your part.
What makes a good backup system?
Experts recommend the 3-2-1 rule for backups: three copies of your information, two local, and one elsewhere. For most people, this means the original information on your computer, one backup to an external hard drive, and another to a cloud backup service. With this system, it is very unlikely that you will lose your information, even if your laptop is stolen, your hard drive is damaged, your house burns, or the internet as we know it ceases to exist (if all those things happen at the same time you probably have more serious problems).
In this guide we are going to focus on creating an automatic incremental backup system (one in which only the files that have changed since the last backup are backed up), because once you configure it, you should not worry anymore. The system will automatically backup all your past and future files according to the 3-2-1 rule, and you can also recover previous versions of your files in case something important is overwritten.
Simply moving your important files to a hard drive or USB stick is not a backup. Hard drives fail – it’s not a question of if they will, but when they will – and USB sticks or SD cards are small and easy to lose. A good backup system requires redundancy, with multiple copies of your important information so that data is not lost forever in the event of a disastrous event.
Cloud sync services like Dropbox or Google Drive are not backups, they are meant to sync files across multiple devices, and they’re great for that purpose. But they are very expensive when it comes to backing up your entire computer – Google charges $ 10 per month for 1TB and Dropbox charges $ 9.99 for 2TB making them more expensive than Backblaze’s unlimited package which costs 5.40 euros per month. In addition, they usually do not offer any type of encryption, so we do not recommend using cloud synchronization services for anything private, especially personal documents such as income tax returns.
Backup services in the cloud encrypt the information on your computer. This means that the provider does not have access to the key to decrypt it, making them very secure. But if you don’t trust a cloud backup service yet, then your options for a 3-2-1 backup are much more limited. You still need to have a backup at home and another in a different place. For your backup elsewhere you need another hard drive in a different physical location, such as at work or at a friend’s house. You can implement a remote server to achieve this, but it is extremely complicated.
Some people prefer to make a disk image rather than a backup. This is a snapshot of your entire disk that holds all of your files, programs, and references, as well as the operating system, drivers, and more. If your disk fails, you can restore your backup to a new disk or computer in the exact way you had it before, without having to re-download, reinstall and reconfigure all your applications and settings. This is a bit of a stretch for most people, because it takes a long time to make these images, they include a lot of files you don’t need, and it doesn’t allow you to restore to previous versions or just a few files at a time.
The tools you need to back up your computer
We’ve spent hundreds of hours researching and testing our back-up guide to help us find the best tools for the job. This is the material I have to support my own information. If you already have a disk or backup service that works for you, we are not saying that you should change – that could be tedious, expensive, and with little benefit – But if you are starting from scratch or want to change any component of your backup system, the options that we have compiled will serve you. Most people will have enough with an external hard drive and a subscription to a backup service in the cloud, in addition to the free tools that are already pre-installed in their operating systems.
Western Digital My Book 4TB
The best desktop external hard drive
An external hard drive is the fastest and cheapest way to back up your files at home.
$ 112 from Amazon
Most people’s first choice is a USB desktop external hard drive. Desktop hard drives are the most economical option when it comes to storage. Plus, they are quick and easy to set up.
Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB
The best portable hard drive
If you travel a lot, a portable hard drive should give you enough space to back up most laptops and while its small size allows you to fit them in any backpack.
$ 83 from Amazon
If you travel a lot, don’t need to store a lot of information, or use your laptop in many places, buy yourself a portable hard drive. They are not available in the higher capacities of desktop hard drives, they are slower and more expensive, but portable drives are much smaller and do not need a power cord, so you can use one with your laptop wherever you are. .
Synology DiskStation DS218 +
If you are backing up multiple computers in your home, a NAS is an inexpensive way to back them all up in one place.
$ 600 from Amazon
If you have multiple computers to back up, instead of using an external drive, you can use a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, which connects to your router. A NAS is much more powerful and flexible, but more complicated to set up, and most people don’t need it unless they have multiple computers in the house. (It can also be used for streaming videos, setting up a private server, and much more, but in this guide we will focus only on storage).
The best backup service in the cloud
A good cloud backup service is easy to use and runs in the background after you’ve done the initial setup.
60 euro from Amazon
The easiest way to protect your information in the event of theft or disaster is by supplementing your local backup with an online backup service. These services have a monthly (or annual) cost in exchange for storing your encrypted information on their servers. With its software, you can customize your preferences and get your information whether you’ve lost everything or just overwritten a single file. In this guide we detail how to back up your computer using Backblaze, but it is economical only if you are backing up a computer. If you need to back up multiple devices, we recommend using IDrive .
Backup your computer to the cloud with Backblaze
One of the main reasons for using Backblaze is its simplicity. You don’t need to configure many parameters for it to work properly.
- Create an account on Backblaze .
- Download the Backblaze software for your operating system ( Windows / Mac ).
- Double click on the file and run the installer. Follow the onscreen instructions to grant Backblaze access to your storage drive.
- Backblaze will start backing up files automatically.
By default, Backblaze backs up almost everything on your computer, including common folders like the “Documents” folder, your user folder, and the “Pictures” folder. The only folders that Backblaze does not support are “operating system, application files, empty folders / directories or temporary internet files” (Backblaze will also back up external drives connected to your computer, but we recommend using Backblaze only with files stored, and not backed up by Mac’s “Time Machine” or Windows “File History”).
If you have large files or folders that you don’t need to back up, you should exclude them from Backblaze, especially if your ISP charges you for exceeding the monthly download limit. If you want to change which folders are backed up, you will need to open the options menu. Click on the Backblaze icon on the taskbar, then select Backblaze Control Panel, then “settings. On a Mac, open System Preferences, click Backblaze Backup, and then Settings. To specify which folders are backed by Backblaze, click the Exclusions tab. Backblaze uses an “exclusion” system that excludes what is on the list instead of an “include” system, so all the important information on your disk will already be backed up. If you don’t want a particular folder to be backed up, click the + symbol to exclude the folder. (This is unintuitive, and we hope Backblaze will improve it.)
The rest of Backblaze’s options, including backup schedules, bandwidth limits, and performance options, work well in their default settings for most people. If Backblaze causes network congestion for your other computers, you may want to cut bandwidth or change the backup schedule for another time when you are not at home.
The first backup always takes longer, so give it time to do its job. Depending on the size of the files you are backing up, it can take hours or even days if you have several TB of information. Subsequent backups are faster because Backblaze only uploads files that have changed since the last backup.
Create local backups in Windows with File History
All the parameters you need to customize in File History are in one place.
Windows 10 includes a free backup utility called File History that saves versions of your files to an external hard drive. Thanks to this, in addition to backing up your files, you can also revert to previous versions. Backups are done automatically once File History is configured:
- Connect the external hard drive to your computer. If Windows doesn’t recognize the disk when you plug it in, you may need to format the disk for Windows. Note: Use the NTFS format.
- Type “File History” in the Windows search bar and click Backup Settings . Or click Start Menu and then Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Backup .
- Click Add a Drive and select your external hard drive from the list.
- Click More options to add folders, exclude folders, or change other settings (by default, Windows 10 backs up everything in the User Folder, which is what most people need to back up).
The default settings in File History work for most people, but you can adjust them to suit your needs. If you make a lot of changes to your files in a short time, it may be worth increasing the default backup frequency of one hour. If you work with large files (like videos), you may want to change how long backups are kept if you don’t think you’re going to switch to a version that is several months old.
Create local backups on Mac with Time Machine
The Time Machine main screen says when the last backup was made and when the next one will be done.
To back up your Mac, you can use Time Machine, which comes free with the macOS operating system. Like Windows File History, Time Machine saves older versions of files to an external hard drive.
- Connect the external disk to your Mac, you may get a dialog box asking you to format the disk for macOS; This guide shows you the steps you should follow, and we recommend the macOS Extended (Registered) format because your backup will be encrypted through Time Machine in the following steps.
- Once formatted, open System Preferences and select Time Machine , click Select Backup Disk and select your external disk.
- Check the Encrypt backup disk box . For greater security we recommend encrypting your backup. Click Use this disk .
- Create a password for your encrypted backup. Do not forget this password (save it in a password manager) because without it you will not be able to access your backed up files.
That is all; Time Machina will now run in the background. By default Time Machine makes a backup of your entire hard drive, including the operating system and system folders. If you don’t want to back up certain folders, you can remove them by opening System Preferences , clicking Time Machine, and then Options . We recommend keeping the rest of the parameters at their default values.
How to restore your backed up files
Restore from Backblaze
You can restore files from Backblaze in an internet browser, but not in the Backblaze application.
With Backblaze, you restore files using a web browser:
- Log into your Backblaze account .
- Click View / Restore Files .
- At the bottom of the screen you will see a folder structure like the one you would see on your computer. You can select specific files to be restored from any date in the last 30 days. When you get what you’re looking for, click Continue with Restore .
After selecting the files you want to restore, Backblaze will create a ZIP file. This process may take a while to complete if you are restoring a lot of information. When finished, you will receive an email with a download link with which you can download the ZIP file and have access to your files.
Restore from File History (Windows)
In Windows, there are three ways to access your backed up files. You can access it within the Windows folder explorer or using the File History application.
The most likely way you will restore files will be one at a time.
Here are the steps to restore a previous version of a single file:
- Navigate to the file you want to restore using Windows folder explorer.
- Right-click on the file and select Restore Previous Versions .
- Choose the version of the file you want and click Restore . You will get a dialog box asking if you want to overwrite the current file. If you do not want to replace the current file, click the drop-down menu next to Restore , select Restore to , and select a folder in which the backed up version of the file will be saved.
Restoring entire folders is convenient if you work with projects that use multiple directories
You can also restore an entire folder or get a detailed view of a file:
- Open Windows folder explorer and navigate to the folder.
- Click Start in the top menu and then History
- File History will open a new window with all the files backed up in that folder. You can go forward and back in time with the arrows. Select the files you want to restore and click the green Restore button to get the files back.
If you do this with an individual selected file, such as a text file or an image, you will be able to preview each file on the File History screen so that you can compare them and see the differences.
Finally, you can go directly to File History to search and restore your entire library of backed up files. This option is very useful if you want to see every file that you have restored over time, or if you are not sure where a file was located.
- Type “Restore Files” in the Start Menu search bar and select Restore Files with File History .
- Here you will see all the restored files by date. When you find a file that you want to restore, click the Restore button .
If you buy a new Windows computer, you can transfer information from your external hard drive to your new computer, but the process is a bit complicated.
Restore from Time Machine (macOS)
Time Machine allows you to view your backed up files in the same way that you would in Finder.
There are two ways to access your Time Machine backups: in the Time Machine application itself, or in a compatible application. Here’s how to restore any file using Time Machine:
- Click on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar, then click Enter Time Machine (If no icon is not there, open System Preferences , click Time Machine , and check the Show Time Machine status box in the menu bar ).
- When you find the file you want to restore, use the arrows or the navigation bar on the right to view the different versions, and then click the Restore button when you get the desired version of the file.
Some applications allow you to compare the current version side by side with the supported version.
Some applications are compatible with Time Machine from other third-party applications. In this way, you will be able to see the previous versions of documents without leaving the application you are in.
- In a supported application, click File > Revert to, see all versions.
- Use the arrows to go forward or backward between different dates. When you get the version of the file you want, click Restore .
Time Machine can also be used to move all your files to a new computer. To achieve this, go to Apple’s guide when buying a new Mac