There are a lot of backup programs. Some back up your documents, some back up your operating system and programs. Some back up your choice of folders, and you should check often you included all of your project folders in the list.
There are now many programs that back up to some Internet server. I recommend you also backup to an external hard disk. You will likely find it easier to restore your operating system and programs and documents, to a new computer, from a hard disk.
It is much quicker to restore from backup, than to re-install the operating system and each of your programs, and all of your configurations and settings.
I recommend you backup your documents every day or every week (depends on how often you make changes to your documents, and how much work you could lose without being upset).
What if a Backup Drive Fails?
Don’t mess with a backup drive that doesn’t work. Or with a single backup file that doesn’t work.
Make a new backup.
Before you need to use it.
Of course, test the backup. How do you do that? 1) the backup software should have a “verify backup against the files on disk”, and 2) test by restoring to another computer, probably your old computer that you keep around.
Do This Before Backing Up Your Operating System
First, make another backup of Your data, on another drive.
Remember, different backup software defaults to backing up different folders. Check that you are backing up your documents, settings, pictures.
Music and videos, large files that you want but don’t change often, don’t belong in your daily backup. Back these up on a different schedule.
Check that you are backing up every one of your projects that isn’t in your documents folder.
Check that you are not backing up temporary files, or folders that you used as a “temporary backup” months ago. For example, your Internet browser makes thousands of temporary files, in a folder that is probably inside your documents folder.
Why? Because Murphy’s Law is having a lot of fun with you.
Can You Re-Use a Drive That Gave Errors?
Backups need to be Reliable. Don’t simply make a new backup on a drive that had some issue, where you couldn’t restore a backup.
If you have errors with a backup, keep it. You might need it. But label it as “probably damaged”. Then when you know you have a couple of other backups made, you can delete it.
Reformat a drive (as soon as you know there’s nothing on it you need, or nothing more can be recovered).
Test the drive, while it is empty, the longest sector-by-sector test your software allows. Do the test with writing different patterns to each sector. Do the test that takes all night.
A freshly formatted drive, that you ran full error checking on, will work for storing backups.
However, if the drive gives errors during formatting, for example many bad sectors, trash it. Hard drives used to be much more expensive, so it made sense to try to fix them; now it is simply too much work.
(If the information on that drive is truly valuable, pay for a company that specializes in data recovery; the more you do on a drive that isn’t working, the less likely anyone will be able to recover the data.)
New Drives for Backups
New drives, especially the slower drives, e.g. USB 2 drives, are very inexpensive.
Backup drives don’t have to be fast, they have to be reliable.
Buy a “spinner” for backups, don’t buy an SSD. SSDs cost more.
As of April 2023, 4TB USB 3.1 drives on Amazon $92 + free shipping.
USB2 drives would be a little less yet completely adequate for backups
What About Online Backups
Your files, excluding all OS/X and application files, will also likely fit on common online backup locations. (Pay more and you can store anything online.)
Ideally, you have both an online backup, and a backup stored in another room in your house, not next to your computer (if someone steals your computer, they will steal anything else on your desk). Consider storing an occasional backup at another location, maybe a friend’s house.
The Best Backup Software and Services for 2023 | PCMag