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How to back up all your devices

Posted on 30 Dec 2012 at 10:00

It’s becoming vital to back up not only PCs but smartphones and tablets too. We show you how to protect every device you own

It’s perhaps the most often-repeated advice in computing: “back up your data!” Yet many of us simply don’t do it, or don’t do it as often as we should. That’s understandable: duplicating and archiving your data feels like a chore – and, most of the time, a pointless one at that. But as the saying goes, there are only two types of computer user: those who’ve lost data due to a system crash, and those who will. In these days of iPads and smartphones you can also lose important data by literally losing it – or having it stolen. If you haven’t kept a backup, your photos, messages, contacts and more may be gone for good.

Backing up your data will probably never be fun. But with the right tools and processes it can be largely automatic – which means there’s no excuse for not protecting your data. Sadly, there’s no single backup system that can protect all your devices in one go. But in this feature we’ll show you how to keep each of the devices in your home backed up with little or no effort, so that when a data disaster does strike you’ll be prepared.

Backup for PCs and laptops

For most of us, the Windows PC remains the main repository for documents and media, so if you only keep one thing backed up, it ought to be this. Probably the most fuss-free approach is to invest in a continuous cloud backup service.

Backing up to the cloud has several advantages over using your own physical media. Because your backup destination is physically remote, there’s no clutter in your home – no stacks of external hard disks or boxes full of DVDs. Your data is safe from physical hazards, such as burglary or fire, and so long as the backup service uses strong encryption and data protection practices your personal information will be more secure too, as thieves will be unable to read it. Best of all, you never need to worry about running out of space. Many services provide unlimited space at quite reasonable prices.

You can expect backing up a 100GB media folder to take more than three weeks of solid uploading

There are downsides to cloud backup, however. Clearly, you need a reliable internet connection: without one, you’re unprotected. The need for connectivity may also be a showstopper for laptop users who rarely connect to the internet, though we suspect those are a dying breed.

Even if you do have a constant connection, your first backup may take a very long time to complete. Domestic broadband rarely offers more than 1Mbit/sec upstream, so you can expect backing up a 100GB media folder to take more than three weeks of solid uploading – tying up your connection and leaving you only partly protected in the meantime.

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User comments

I have around 700gb of data to back up. The cloud sounds the perfect solution - I'll start backing up now and hopefully it'll all be done by late summer 2013.

Isn't the cloud just so cool and practical for all problems!

By cyberindie on 30 Dec 2012

Great Advice

This is good advice to follow, I especially agree with the cloud storage conclusion.
I have a 1TB nas device and all data is stored on there. This makes it easy to back up to some offline storage (I use a 3tb USB drive)but this requires me to manually run it.
Recently I looked at cloud solutions as an easier way to take the headache out of remembering to back up so invested in Google Storage and set it going.
The first problem is just as you say, I'm on a 30mb / 2mb link with Virgin Media and it still took over 2 weeks to backup all my pictures and videos and documents, and I don't think my collection is excessive, just 10 years use of a digital camera.
One important thing to note is who can see your data, you might not think this is relevent to you as it's just a few pics and documents etc but imagine how easy identity theft would be if your online storage provider gets hacked (or someone gets hold of your data).
If this is important to you, you should be looking at a client that encrypts data on your machine (not on the cloud) so you know that even if you storage is compromised, your data is useless to anyone else.

By andyw35 on 30 Dec 2012

Is the backup safe?!

One point that seems to be overlooked is the safety of the backup itself.
Using a USB or local NAS is fine if you are just concerned with the PC dying, but what if the building it is in is flooded or otherwise damaged?
Windows 8 File Recovery concerns me here as it seemed to only work on local storage?

I use a local USB3 and Acronis True Image for general weekly backups and then a separate drive for critical data backups as required which is either kept offsite or in a fire and waterproof media safe.

By ajf350d on 30 Dec 2012


I used Carbonite, they use PIE (pre-Internet encryption), so the data is encrypted using your key, before it leaves your computer. The hoster can't see your data.

It was very good, although Apple's Apeture product caused it problems. Every time I added a couple of new photos to Apeture, Carbonite would report that it had another 96GB to backup (database size, I guess).

On Windows, it worked much better.

By big_D on 31 Dec 2012

My solution...

If ever i buy a drive, i buy double. Use one as master and other as backup. Cloud is fine for average user but not always the best £££
solution. I would dread to think how long it would take to backup my 2.5TB of data.

By milesfinch on 1 Jan 2013

Time Machine

re Time Machine: I use this with a Synology NAS without having to do anything special at all. I simply pointed Time Machine to a shared drive on it and it takes care of the rest.

The biggest issue is that it's far too "good": it backs up once per hour and there's no way to change the setting! (which isn't very good at all) It keeps track of what changed but even so, it's almost always on, clogging up my wireless connection.

Only way to make this easier to handle is by limiting it to certain directories - but then what to do in case of a failed system disk?

By TheoB on 2 Jan 2013

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