How to Back Up a Hard Drive

External Hard Drive Backup Options

External hard drive
External hard drives are very convenient backup solutions, but they can be damaged and stolen.
© iStockphoto/PixelAxel

Now that you've learned some reasons why to back up your data, let's explore the places you can send your data in order to retrieve it safely should you encounter some sort of computer meltdown.

One option is to export your data to an external hard drive. These devices are readily available at your local retail store and can be found at various Web sites online. Most of these drives connect to your desktop or laptop computer through the universal serial bus (USB) port on your machine. Installation is usually a matter of plugging them in and letting your operating system discover them. Many of them come with third-party software to help you back them up. One installed, you can access your external hard drive much the same way you would access your internal drive or another device connected to the computer. Backing up your data is as simple as clicking and dragging those files you wish to back up into the external drive. This is perhaps the best solution for backing up your hard drive. Your data is safe on the external hard drive should your computer crash.


A second option, one which is gathering more popularity, is cloud storage, backing data up online to a virtual location. There are lots of cloud storage sites on the Web; many offer a few gigabytes of storage for free but require you to pay for more space. Many of these sites boast security measures aimed to protect your vital information such as Social Security, bank and credit account numbers. Still, anytime you put information on the Web, you should do so with caution. Information on the Web, no matter how secure, is susceptible to hackers and security breaches.

If you want, you can back up your hard drive on CDs, DVDs or on a flash drive. CDs have a relatively small amount of storage space and are better for smaller data backups. DVDs can handle about seven times more information than CDs. Most CDs and DVDs are designed to be used once and can't be rewritten, though you can buy discs that can be erased and reburned when you back up your computer again. Flash drives, in comparison, can handle a few gigabytes of information and can be rewritten the same way you would with a regular hard drive. The downside is that larger flash drives can be costly, which makes backing up an entire hard drive an expensive proposition. If you use removable media, you can lock your backups in a fire safe or safety deposit box -- which you can't do with cloud storage and you may be less likely to do with an external hard drive.

If your hard drive crashes, chances are good that you will lose some data. But taking a proactive stance by backing up your hard drive will limit the damage. It's better to lose a few files than a whole life's worth of work and information. For more on hard drives, viruses and related articles, take a look at the links below.

Related How Stuff Works Articles
  • Barlow, Gene. User Group Relations. "Perfect Backup Approach." August, 2004. (March 24, 2009)
  • BBC News. "Was Y2K Bug a Boost?" Jan. 4, 2000. (March 27, 2009)
  • Microsoft. "Windows XP Backup Made Easy." (March, 25 2009)
  • Mims, Forest M. III. Creative Computing. "The Altair Story; Early Days at MITS." November, 1984. (March, 27, 2009)
  • Slavin, Lois. MIT News. "Y2K Readiness Helped New York after 9/11." Nov. 20, 2002. (March 25, 2009)