Tip of The Day - Backing up files using external media

I recently did a post on different options for backing up and storing files online. Even though online storage and backup is wonderful, there is a chance that we could experience an apocalypse. In that case, online storage would do us no good and we could possibly loose important files (ok... in the case of an apocalypse, files are the last thing to worry about, BUT there IS a chance our file storage company of choice might go under). To ensure that our important files are kept safe, it is wise to consider other methods for backup.

I will briefly mention some backup methods and software with the pros and cons of each.

Storage Medium

CDs and DVDs - This option really is only good for short term storage or sharing

Pros: Cheap and easy. Most people at this point know how to burn a CD or DVD. If you want to store a few hundred (or thousand) pictures, a CD or DVD might be a good way to go. Many DVD players now let you view images as a slideshow on your TV.
Cons: The storage space is pretty limiting. Shelf life; different people argue that the shelf life of a DVD is about 10-100 years. Lets be real here. In 10-100 years no one will be using a DVD. If you are backing up for the long haul, you'd better make sure you hang on to equipment that will let you read the DVD. Also; scratching a CD or DVD happens all too often, sometimes making the disc unreadable.

Flash Drive/Solid State Drive - This is a great option if you use your backed up files often or on multiple computers

Pros: Storage is easy and fast. USB ports will be around for a while so you don't have to worry too much about your USB drive getting outdated. Storage capacity for USB drives keeps going up.
Cons: Even though storage space for USB drives keeps going up, it is still not much compared to hard drives. Price per mb of storage starts getting expensive when you choose the larger drives.

External or Portable Hard Drive - The best option if you want to get the most storage space for your money.

Pros: Cheap storage. You can buy hard drives that are large enough to back up all your files.
Cons: Not very portable. You can get small hard drives but they are usually more expensive and cannot hold as much storage.

With hard drives, I suggest buying a hard drive and getting a hard drive enclosure or better yet, get a hard drive dock. This will allow you to easily swap out hard drives.

Internal/Computer Hard Drive - This may not be the best option for backup, but anything is better than nothing.

Pros: Everyone has this.
Cons: The more you use this for backup, the less space you have for everything else. If your hard drive crashes then you are hosed.

Here is a tip if you want to use your internal hard drive for backup: Partition your hard drive and use one partition for your OS and the other partition for your files. This way if you need to upgrade or reinstall your OS, you can do while keeping your files in tact.

Backup Software

Toucan - Portable backup. Good for basic backup needs in Windows.

Pros: It is portable so you can use it on whatever medium you are using for backup. Has plenty of backup and sync options.
Cons: Only available on Windows.

FreeFileSync - Similar to Toucan. Runs well on Ubuntu

Pros: This is the Filesync/Backup software that I use. It can be installed on Ubuntu. Works well and fast. Easy to understand.
Cons: Not designed for automatic or timed backup.

Automated Backup - Once you get familiar with backing up files, this is a great way to go. If you use a Mac, you can use Time Machine. Linux users can use Flyback or Back In Time.  Windows users have options built into Windows for backup.

Pros: Once you have it setup, you can forget about it and have your files safely backed up.
Cons: Setting this up sometimes can be a daunting task. This might be overwhelming if you are unfamiliar with backing up files. Also; the typical setup for automated backup is done on the computer hard drive. If this is your setup, you will still loose all your date if your hard drive fails.

The methods and mediums I have listed for backup are just a small percentage of what is available. There are endless combinations you can use for backup. The important thing is that you take the time to evaluate what files are important to you and find a way to make sure these are backed up. Power outages or hard drive failures are not that common, but all it takes is one time for you to potentially loose files that you may consider priceless.

If you really want to make sure that your files are safe and secure, you should consider some of the backup methods I have listed here in conjunction with the online backup methods I mentioned in my previous post.

If you have a nice tip or software that you would like to suggest, please leave a comment!

About McKay Christensen

After having lived in Oregon, Alaska, and China for the past 10 years doing landscape design and English teaching, I have returned to my home state of Utah and currently work for a growing tech company.

In my free time I enjoy working on my website where I post tutorials and reviews (and anything else I think is geeky) and I also like to write songs for my Super English Kid Youtube channel.

My favorite things to do include anything with my wife and son. Hiking, camping, and photography (or anything else outdoors). Playing Ultimate Frisbee or Ping Pong. Listening to 60s, 70s, or 80s, music. 

Feel free to contact me using my contact page. I would love to hear from any of you!


  1. Very nice to see some practical alternatives to those cloudy centralised backup systems :)

    However, there are some alternatives that give you both online access _and_ control of your own data, e.g. ownCloud. You can install this on some computer you own, and get a Dropbox-like interface so that you can backup and share, but using hardware you control.

    I hear there are people working on making this as painless as possible by selling plug computers (tiny computers -- size of a lemon -- running on only 5watts, costing about $50) with ownCloud pre-installed; connect a huge harddrive to that and you've got instant self-hosted Dropbox.

    (Of course, there are also companies which provide ownCloud hosting, but that would sort of take away the point…)

  2. Thanks for the awesome tip! I have not heard of ownCloud, but I like what I have seen! I tried to set it up but did not have much luck (I think it is a problem with setting up the database). I will look into this more for sure!

  3. Thanks for this informative post! I used to use Toucan all the time. But I must admit it has failed me like 3-4 times in the past. I wonder when they are going to come up with the ultimate flawless storage solution.

  4. I am also promoting free solutions like Microsoft Sync Toy if you own a laptop, desktop and a network that is Microsoft based. Doesn't give the option to go back in time unless you don't clean out your recycle bin.

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