(This article has been updated.)
I wrote an article in 2008 called “How To Back Up Your Personal Computer” that gave the best advice ever about what threats you’re trying to protect yourself from and how to handle them, but, of course, the specific hardware and software I use has changed a lot over the past 8 years.
(Quick summary: You need to protect against user error, computer failure, surge, disappearance, office destruction, and regional disaster. More protection means less convenience, and less convenience means that you won’t do the backups often enough. So, you need to combine several backup methods.)
Here’s what I do now:
Everything is backed up with CrashPlan, which is cheap and has an excellent client application. I have about 800GB there (including 50,000+ photos), and it took a month or two to get it all uploaded. But the incremental updates generally complete in less than a day. I only pay $60 a year.
Original photo files are archived to Amazon S3, as described here.
I like continuous backup, too. I liked Time Machine on my Mac, but I switched to Windows about six months ago. I used File History (built into Windows) for a while, but started to notice that files were being skipped, with no explanation. The user interface is horrible, so complicated that you’re never sure where any particular file is and how to get to it. Obviously, unreliable or confusing backup software defeats the whole purpose of backup, so I started looking for an alternative. Windows 10 is pretty good overall, but File History is an abomination.
Acronis True Image looked good at first, but its client application is very loosely connected to the underlying background processes, and various backups disappeared from the list and then reappeared after a time for no reason. There were also annoying delays with stopping and starting backups, probably also because of the loose UI/engine coupling. Again, too flakey to give me any confidence that the Acronis people are on top of their game.
FlashBack seemed to be much better, but not nearly as good as Bvckup, which has the best user interface I’ve ever seen in a backup program. And, unlike any of the others I’ve tried, Bvckup keeps the backup in the form of ordinary files (like SuperDuper! for MacOS), not inside proprietary database files, so you can easily verify that it’s working. You don’t need a special restore facility, and Bvkup doesn’t have one.It’s only $20 (for personal use), less than either Acronis or FlashBack.
Disk Master Free also works well. It doesn’t provide continuous backup and keeps its files in a proprietary database, but it is free. I have it set up to do an incremental backup every night at 2:00AM. My main reason for using it is so I can have two independent applications, from separate developers.
I have Bvkup and Disk Master writing to two different USB3 drives. 1TB drives are incredibly cheap ($60 or so), so this is a really practical arrangement these days.
I no longer make full copies onto a hard drive for offline storage, since I use CrashPlan.
My advice as of July 2016 would be:
- Use Time Machine on a Mac or Bvckup on Windows for continuous backup to an external drive. Don’t use File History on Windows.
- Use CrashPlan.
- Twice a year or so archive your photos to Amazon S3.