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The Best Ways To Backup Your Files And Photos -- Advice And Tips

Updated on January 5, 2012

When it comes to preserving those memorable moments and those important files lurking around on your computer, there are a ton of ways to make sure they stick around, and don't disappear into the abyss of digital oblivion.

As a diehard addict of information, I know how frustrating it can be to lose data, especially when it's gone... forever. That's right-- one day your computer is running fine, and then poof, suddenly it's all gone. All those pictures from your last vacation, all the baby photos, the archived black-and-whites scanned from grandma's long-lost originals, the school reports, the important data your boss needs yesterday... all gone.

Or Is It?

The first and most immediate thing to consider when the subject of backing up files and photos comes up is recovery. (We'll get to preventative measures in a second) If you've just lost a bunch of data, don't reformat the hard drive... yet. While technicians and companies in your area might charge you a whopping sum in the hundreds to get your baby photos back, you can do it yourself for the minimal cost of an external hard drive box (About $20).

Here's how it works:

  1. Carefully remove your hard drive from your computer and plug it into the external box (make sure to ground yourself on a metal object to discharge static electricity before touching the drive or any circuit boards, and make sure to follow all manufacturer instructions.) Your external box should match the type of hard drive you're pulling files off of-- laptop boxes for laptop drives, etc. It's a lot easier than it sounds-- big boxes for big desktop drives, and little thin boxes for little thin laptop drives.
  2. Find a friend who has a computer you can use, and connect your hard drive box to their computer (If your crash was caused by a virus, make sure their computer is sufficiently protected, or you might lose a friend -- that virus is still on your hard drive!)
  3. Follow all specific (and individual) steps provided by the manufacturer for accessing the hard drive. In a few very rare cases I've seen, data has been irretrievable, but it's usually the exception, rather than the rule.

Voila! You have access to your data again. But where to go from here? Simple. Back it up, then replace and reformat your hard drive before putting the data back on it. How do you go about backing it up? Read on.

Preventative Measures

There are a number of places and ways you can backup your files either before or after the big crash happens, and the best piece of advice anyone can give you is to use more than one. Why? Because things happen, and like the old adage goes, you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket.

Online Storage

When it comes to backing up your files and photos, no method has quite the ease and flexibility of uploading them to online storage. Heck, just do a google search on "data backup" and you'll find a veritable army of companies that make it their business to keep your data safe and secure and get it back to you quickly and easily-- for a fee. But do you have to pay for the peace of mind you get from knowing that your important files are safe? No!

Perhaps the easiest way to backup your files for free is to use the storage capacity in your email! That's right! several email providers like Gmail or Yahoo allow free storage capacity in the gigabytes. And there's no limit to how many accounts you can manage or maintain on the same IP address, meaning you could (theoretically) amass a nearly infinite amount of stored data online for free by just sending yourself emails. Of course, the size limit for emails is usually about 20 megabytes, and that can limit what you're able to back up, especially if we're talking home movies.

Another great way is find little start up companies with unlimited "trial" services like that featured through xdrive or Dropbox. Check them out-- xdrive alone offers a free five gigabite storage service with no strings attached (besides the usual account signup) and they're just one company out there in a sea of others.

A third way to back up your files online is to use websites-- sites like photobucket, myspace, and Deviant Art are great for preserving photos you don't mind people looking at. Heck, using any of these services is a great way to create a single central repository for your pictures that you can link other people to, like family members and friends.

Offline Backup

Offline backup is a great suppliment to online, and it's pretty versatile as well. As a writer, I keep a number of offline backups of my current projects in case something goes wrong with one of them, and I've never lost a word. So what's the best way to backup your files offline? Again-- variety.

External Hard Drives work on the same principle as the hard-drive-in-a-box that you can connect to your friend's computer in order to recover your important data, with one crucial difference-- it's a permanent addition. An external hard drive is like your computer's extra brain, so when the first one "dies" the second one will still have all the first one's "memories" you've chosen to backup on it. This is by far the easiest way to preserve your data-- you can pick up an external hard drive that will hold half to a full terrabyte (that's 1,000 gigabytes) or data for less than two hundred dollars if you shop around a little bit.

USB keys and SD Cards are awesome. I'm a fan of compact storage, and it doesn't get more compact than these. In addition to your external hard drive, I'd recommend picking up a key for all your most important of importants and getting one that's protected enough (on the outside) to survive being on your keyring (and therefore on your person) wherever you go. I've seen them before, and I own one, and it's saved my digital butt enough times to make me smile. SD cards work the same way, and they're not just for cameras. A lot of today's more compact devices (like PDAs and modern cellphones) can be backed up easily using SD cards, and even as small as they are, they come in massive data sizes. (again, think gigabytes.)

Discs are more of a last resort these days. DVD discs will hold 4.7 gigs and a CD is about 700 megs, which makes them inefficient for large scale data backup, but workable if you've just got a few hundred megs of files to backup. A word of warning-- I've lost data by archiving it on discs in the past-- the data will slowly corrupt over a matter of years until it's unreadable by the computer, and that can be a real problem, especially if you're using discs to backup stuff in the long term. Stick with keys and externals, especially if the stuff is really important.


Another way to preserve the digital is to bring it into the physical by printing it. This works great for documents, but not so great for pictures (decreased resolution). Now most people might sneer or scoff at the idea, but trust me-- if things are iffy, inconsistent or otherwise unreliable in your data-archiving environment, why not take the data out of that environment altogether and keep it in a hard, manuscript-type form. In the worst case scenario, you can always re-type it, and as much of a pain in the rear as that sounds like, it's better than starting over from scratch.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      This is great! I also think is does a swell job of serving as a scuree email service provider where you do not really need to create a new email address but uses your current one. It also uses asymmetric encryption and you can send or store both large and small files. It also does a whole lot of other stuff and has a lot of features now available. Not only that, is FREE as well and its definitely worth checking out!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Try using a cloud service! It is FREE and lets you access data as long as you have internet, and saves a copy on your computer! is a new cloud storage service (est. 2013) and is absolutely amazing! Compared to other similar free products (box, dropbox, skydrive, google drive, Ubuntu One, Sugar Sync), copy offers much more GB storage for free! Plus its

      features are essentially the same as dropbox!

      So how does GB storage does Copy offer? Copy is offering a temporary promotion deal of 15 GB starting out, and +5 GB for anyone you invite! Both you and the invitee get +5 GB, so if you download from my link:

      you get 20 GB instead of 15 GB starting out (and I get +5 GB too)! Compare this to dropbox's 2 GB starting out, +500 MB (0.5 GB) per invite. Or compare it to SkyDrives 7GB, Google Drive's 15GB, Box's 5 GB (they had a promotion for 50 GB starting out, but no longer. Get onto copy's limited promotion deal!). This deal won't last forever, plus there's NO limit to how many invites you can have! Remember this is all FREE! Some users have 1 TB of cloud storage purely from invites! So if you want 20 GB starting out, and found my analysis useful, use my link :]

      And who doesn't like free cloud storage? It gives a means to sync our data to various computers, iphones / android

      devices, and more! Plus it backs up all of our files, while encrypted onto a secure network. Quote "Files are transferred using SSL and according to Copy’s support staff encrypted on their servers as well."

      P.S. You should still use dropbox for any older programs since uses a newer, and dropbox is much more compatible with pre-existing , older software. Copy is better off used as a personal storage / backing center and dropbox is still better for working on group projects.

      Also copy is compatible with iOS and Android as well!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I back up my data on the cloud using My computer crash 2 weeks ago and I was able to save my data, saved me a lot!!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have an old computer with pictures on it and I'm about to get rid of it, but it has virus. Can my pictures be put on an external hard drive even though the computer has a virus? I would appreciate it. Thanks!!

    • slc334 profile image


      7 years ago from Canada

      Wow, this is a really great hub. Since it was written, there have been a few more options available. I just finished writing a hub about the best free backup resources, so if you have the time, I'd love if you could check them out and give me some feedback. Thanks again for the fantastic hub!

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      As a general rule, your information is safe when stored online with these services. However, hackers (and problematic employees working for the remote backup service) could be a threat in some rare instances.

    • hotheadtech profile image


      8 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for the info! Did you know that gives you 10MG of free storage? It's awesome. :)

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      When it comes to backing up your files and photos, no method has quite the ease and flexibility of uploading them to online storage

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      When it comes to backing up your files and photos, no method has quite the ease and flexibility of uploading them to online storage

    • profile image 

      8 years ago from bear, de, 19701

      Thanks for sharing such wonderful information in a hub this is the most common problem which is faced by everyone.Really the tips are very useful and will definitely try these tips.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for all that information, great tips well what I do to backup my data is use ZenOK Online Backup I would recommend it to everybody

    • save my system profile image

      save my system 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom - London

      For photos there are several options, you can try online storage option for the same as well a you can compress them with the help of software's and store it on CD ROM,DVD etc.

    • Etsel Skelton profile image

      Etsel Skelton 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you for this hub. This is important for computer users to understand. It is indeed what a lot of repair shops will do to get your data back.

      But, if the data you are trying to recover is of a critical nature it is still a better idea to hand it off to a professional data recovery company.

      The most successful attempt to salvage your data is usually the first attempt--often this is the drives' "last gasp."

      If the data is critical then let a pro have this "last gasp" to work with.

      Another hazard is that by plugging it into another machine the OS may write to the drive and over the data that you want.

      Also, if your drive is making whirring, grinding, or clicking noises DO NOT attempt a recovery. Turn the drive/computer off and, and get it to a pro.

      Better yet, just backup and don't even worry about all of this hassle and expense.

    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic...

    • profile image

      Luis Becerra 

      8 years ago

      I have over 250gb of photos, as you know it will be hard to back them up to DVD, this is what I have done to protect my pictures; there is a software called ViceVersa that will synchronize several hard drives even through a network and it can be done on schedule basic like every 30 minutes and so on... I have 3 HD 500GB which cost me about $60 each and ViceVersa ($60) making sure that they have the same information on all 3.

      I think for the price, this is the best solution.

    • Bilaras profile image

      Edward Happer MSc 

      8 years ago

      I am using dual backup for my pics and docs .. DVDs and Hardrive purely for backup purpose... I hope my stuff stays safe ... Great hub earl..

    • profile image


      9 years ago


      what about DVD RAM?

      DVDRAM disc have 50 years waranty. I now its is not chip way (10 dvds ram cost 15 GBP) but is beter then any other magnetic backup!

    • prasetio30 profile image


      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      thanks for share. It is a great tips.very nice

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      10 years ago from NSW, Australia

      thank you for answering my request, these are very helpful suggestions...


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