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Best way to back up your computer data

Whether it's term papers or tax documents, baby photos or your favorite songs, your electronic files have value. What would you do if they all disappeared, along with your personal data, too? Theft or fire can mean a total loss of files. Incidents like these may seem unlikely, but common occurrences like water damage or simple computer failure can lead to the same devastating effect. And don't underestimate the role of human error—you or a family member might accidentally delete a document that can't be recovered. Your only protection against these losses is backing up your work.

The most common methods include cloud backup services or external hard drive backup. You could weigh the pros and cons of each, but the truth is the best choice is both: Even your backup needs a backup. Read our quick rundown of the basics to find the approach that's best for you.

Cloud backup services explained

Cloud storage is still a relatively new concept, and some people remain uncertain as to how it works. (Where does all that data go?) Basically, cloud storage means you're taking the files on your computer and giving them to a web-based service to store in an off-site database. These services rely on encryption and authentication to keep your data secure and safe. It's a simple strategy for backing up work on a remote server.

There are hundreds of cloud storage options available, but most everyday users can rely on popular options like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud and Microsoft OneDrive. Depending on which you choose and how much you store, you may have a pay a small monthly or annual fee to back up your work.

Hard drive backup—the easy way

Mac OS X and Windows both come with a simple backup capacity—so now it's up to you to purchase an external drive to connect to your computer. An external hard drive is a self-contained storage unit that allows you to retrieve data when needed. Think of it like a computer without a keyboard or a screen. Choose a small, portable drive that offers at least twice the amount of storage that your computer does. Some external hard drives come with features like fireproof or waterproof casing at an extra cost. Brands like Seagate and Western Digital offer quality options for everyday users. Use your operating system's applications to back up your work to the new drive on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis, and you're on your way to safety and security.

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