An old saying in IT goes like this: "You never realize how important backups are until you need one and don't have it." Unfortunately, this is true even today. While consumers are more tech-savvy than ever, many computer users still neglect to create copies of their hard drives to protect their data from potentially permanent loss.
In this article we will cover:
- Backup Basics
- What a Backup Is
- What a Backup Is Not
- Why Backups Are Essential
- Available Backup Options
- How to Back Up Your Computer Hard Drive
- Restoring Data from a Backup
- Summing Up
Backup hard disk basics
Backups have a reputation for being cumbersome to create, maintain and manage, sometimes resulting in users neglecting to perform them. While backups can be tedious without the right tools, modern hard disk backup software and methods make the process much easier and faster. This article will discuss how to back up a computer and perform a hard disk recovery if your data is ever lost.
What is hard disk backup?
While the definition of a backup is simple enough, this is where the simplicity ends for many consumers. A backup is essentially just a copy of the data stored on your hard drive, and it's relatively easy to create one using various methods. Therefore, it's essential to understand what a backup is, what one does, and – perhaps just as important – what a backup is not. Backup data from a computer hard disk can generally be saved to any one of several mediums, including:
- Other external drives (local drives or ones on a network - external SSD, portable hard drive)
- External storage devices (USB flash drives or USB hard drives)
- Online or cloud storage accounts
- Another hard drive partition (a disk partition is a separate and distinct section on the same hard drive)
Backup data – a repetitive process
As mentioned above, a backup is a copy of data created from a computer or device. Nonetheless, a backup is just a copy of data at a particular point in time. A backup must be repeated or recreated to preserve or record any changes to the data since the last copy was made. While many backups are automated processes that create copies of existing data on your hard disk, even automation requires effective scheduling to keep saved or backed-up data current. If a manual or scheduled backup is not run, new or changed files are not saved or archived to external storage.
What a backup is not?
There are many ways to approach hard disk backup. For instance, you can copy data from one drive to another, which would be considered a backup for all intents and purposes. Likewise, you can store a copy of your data online or in the cloud, which is also a type of backup. Finally, if you save important files to a USB drive or an external hard drive, that would also be a backup, although the backup process for USB drives grants limited results.
About cloud storage
As we see, there are many ways to approach hard disk backup. Still, some methods or processes considered to be backups actually are not. For instance, if you use an application from a cloud storage solution, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, to synchronize files in a specific folder with your cloud account, that would not be considered a true backup. Now, it is easy to think of synchronized files saved in an online storage account as "a cloud backup"– after all, it stores data off-site and on an external server. Nevertheless, there is only one version of the files. As soon as you update a file in the synchronized folder, the file on the cloud storage site changes as well.
Syncing files deletes previous versions
Because synchronization updates files both on your hard disk and on the cloud, you may or may not have access to a previous file version. Some cloud storage solutions do retain a few previous data versions after synchronization, but many do not. This is a significantly different approach from that of a true backup. File versions in true hard disk backup do not change whenever you create a new backup – unless you overwrite and delete the previous backup with the new one. Hence, keeping several data copies simultaneously helps you revert to previous file versions if needed.
Why hard drive backup is essential?
It's common knowledge that hard disk backup is important for protecting valuable data and files stored on the machine. Yet, countless people still fail to realize just how important it is to keep good backups and why. Thus, it's important to understand why backups are crucial.
Lost effort, time, and money
If time is money, then all the time spent creating data files on your PC is a tremendous waste of money if you ever lose them – not to mention the wasted effort and lost productivity. When you lose important documents and media, expenditures in terms of time and effort literally double because of the need to create the lost data from scratch. Unless you have a backup disk available for recovery. Here, a simple backup task can save you tremendous time, effort, and, ultimately, money.
Hard drive recovery is expensive
Nothing lasts forever; the same applies to computer hardware, especially hard drives.
In many computers, the hard disk is the only mechanical device in the entire system (traditional hard drives have motors and platters). And just like any other mechanical device, a hard disk will fail eventually. Even if you've never experienced a hard disk crash, chances are you know someone who has.
If your hard drive fails, there is a chance that you can recover your data. Depending on the type of drive problem (such as a drive failure or deleted partitions), you may be able to use hard drive recovery tools and software or enlist a data recovery service. It's important to note that good hard disk recovery software is not cheap, and a recovery service can cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. A reliable hard disk backup could save you considerably if your drive does fail.
Backup hard drive to an external drive
To avoid a costly hard drive recovery, you can back data to an external hard drive. Even if that sounds like a simple backup task, there are some guidelines to follow and ensure a healthy backup scheme.
Windows users can have two native Windows operating system options to perform a partial or a full backup.
1. Partial hard drive backup for Windows
- Connect your preferred external drive to the PC. (here, you can use an HDD or rely on solid state drives (SSD); the latter offer fast performance and higher write speeds, but their high capacity comes at a higher price)
- Open the "Start" menu
For Windows 11 - type "File History" and select the option
For Windows 10 - type "backup" and choose "Backup settings"
- Select "Add a drive" to select the external disk you wish to use for the backup task
- In the "Select a drive" pop-up, you'll see all connected external drives to your PC; select the drive you wish to use for the backup
- You will see the "Automatically back up my files" option enabled
The option will use a default file and folder list most commonly backed-up by users. To add or remove options from it, select "More options".
Review the folders under "Back up these folders". If any are missing, choose "Add a folder" and browse to select them.
Once done with the configuration, Windows File History will create a regular backup as long as the backup disk is connected to the PC.
2. Full system backup for Windows
If you want to create a full backup rather than a partial disk image, you'd go for a "system image". This backup scheme will comprise your entire Windows system - files, folders, operating system settings, and more.
- Type "control panel" in the Search bar and select the "Control Panel" app
- Choose "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)"
- Select "Create a system image" from the left menu pane
- You'll see a "Create a system image" pop-up window -> select your preferred external drive from the "On a hard disk" drop-down list
- In the following window, you'll see a list of system partitions ready for backup as part of the system backup on the external drive; select "Start backup" to start the process
- Depending on your Windows system size, the entire backup may take a while to complete. Once it's complete, you can safely disconnect the external drive and store it in a secure location
External hard drive backup for Mac users
Mac users can use Time Machine, the native Mac feature, to automatically back up personal data and media.
- Connect an external backup device to your Mac. (HDD, SSD, USB-C)
If you want to use a USB type A, but your Mac doesn't have such a port, you'd need a USB type C connector.
- Open "Time Machine" from the "Time Machine" menu
- In the "Time Machine" settings, select the external storage device and the backup destination
On macOS Ventura (or later): click the (+) button -> follow the onscreen instructions
On earlier macOS versions: click "Select Backup Disk" -> follow the onscreen instructions
- If the storage media stores previous backup(s) from another Mac, you'd need to either delete them or claim them as part of your current Mac backup; You can also choose to start a new backup
- To do so manually, select "Back Up Now" from the "Time Machine" menu
You can also wait for the automatic backup to kick in. This will be every hour for the last 24 hours, with daily backups for the past month and weekly copies for previous months. Once the storage space is full, Time Machine will delete the oldest data copies.
Some data is just irreplaceable
Although annoying and time-consuming, recreating many types of data is possible. Still, there are specific files you may never be able to replace if you don't back up the computer. Consider all the photos, videos, important emails, and other personal files you have that would be impossible to replace. With some file types, a lack of a hard disk backup is just an expensive inconvenience. With some files, though, data loss is much more personal and painful – and permanent.
What should you backup
By now, you should be convinced of how important it is to create a hard disk backup. (at least once in a while)
However, you may wonder what files on your computer hard drive you need to back up. In a perfect world, you would back up everything on your PC whenever you create a new file or change your data. In most cases, though, this is neither practical nor necessary.
Complete system backups
Depending on the size of the hard drive in your computer and the amount of data you have, a complete system backup can take a long time. And if you're backing up to an online backup service, it could take even longer – especially if you don't have a fast internet connection. While complete system backups can be time-consuming, you should still perform them occasionally. Whether you have a Windows PC or laptop, or a Mac computer or MacBook, it's a good idea to create a complete system backup as soon as you buy the machine. Creating a backup on a new computer (or operating system installation) enables you to quickly recover your hard drive to factory default settings by restoring the machine with the backup. Even if you can't back up a new machine, you should create at least one full backup as soon as possible.
Essential files and folders backup
In some cases, creating complete system backups of your computer's hard disk may not be practical or even feasible. If you have limited space for your backups, or need to store data copies online with a slow internet connection, creating complete system backups may not be convenient or possible. When full-system is not an option, regularly creating an incremental backup of important files and folders is wise. If you get in the habit of saving important data files in a few select folders, creating quick backups of your essential data should be relatively quick and painless. When determining which files to back up, select crucial documents, photos, or any other files that would be difficult or impossible to reproduce or replace.
Available backup options
When creating a hard disk backup, a quick Google search will reveal that you have countless options and possibilities for applications, platforms, and storage media. However, not all backups are created equal, and some are definitely easier to work with than others. To help you understand some of the options you have, let's cover a few of the most popular hard drive backup methods.
Local SSD/Hard drive backup
One of the easiest and quickest ways to protect your data is to back it up to another hard disk. If you have multiple drives in or attached to your system, you can back up data to a secondary drive, a USB flash, or external drives or even to a drive in a PC connected to the same network. Depending on the type of local drive you use, the steps used to back up the device may vary. But local hard disk backup usually requires little more than moving files from your primary drive to a backup hard drive or a recovery partition.
Pros and cons of local backups
Creating a local hard disk backup is very convenient because you always have backup data nearby and can restore it anytime, quickly and easily. A problem with local backups is that backup data can be lost if a disaster, theft, or other event renders the local backup drive inaccessible.
Cloud hard drive backup
If you have a relatively fast broadband internet connection, hard disk backup to the cloud can be an excellent option – especially if local disk drive space for backups is limited. Better online hard disk backup solutions (like Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office) provide a simple way of creating full or partial backups of your computer hard drive and then transferring them to the cloud for storage on encrypted, secure servers.
Advantages and Disadvantages of off-site and cloud backups
Backing up your local hard disk to an off-site or cloud location offers one obvious and significant advantage. If you lose access to the primary system hard drive due to hacking, theft, fire, or another type of disaster, you can always download backups from the cloud or off-site server to recover your data or reinstall onto new hardware. Conversely, the downside of off-site and cloud backups is that you must place your drive backup in the hands of others. With the best online backup services, this should not be an issue, as they protect your data with hardened security and encryption. However, as with anything else, security protocols used by online backup services are not all created equal – and some service providers ensure better data protection than others.
SSD & hard drive cloning
Although not used as commonly as external hard drives or cloud backups, disk cloning is another effective method of ensuring you always have access to the data on your hard drive. A clone hard drive is essentially a second drive that contains an exact mirror disk image of the original (or source) drive. Years ago, disk image cloning was only possible using expensive hard drive duplicators. However, in recent years, leading backup software companies like Acronis have developed desktop cloning software that makes creating exact duplicates of the system drive (or other local drives) as easy as a few mouse clicks. With Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office, you can create a mirror-image copy of any hard drive. With partitioning backup software such as Acronis Disk Director, or Windows Disk Management, you can even create a clone partition on the same hard drive (as long as you use two different drive letters and volumes).
The 3-2-1 backup strategy
With many backup options and choices available, you may wonder which one is right for you. The truth is that you should never settle on just one type of backup. An excellent backup approach should include multiple backup options and storage locations. At Acronis, we refer to this wise, efficient backup method as the 3-2-1 rule. The 3-2-1 rule states that you should:
- Create three copies of your data so that it can never be wiped out by a single event.
- Use two formats to back up your hard drive (such as a local drive backup and a cloud or external hard drive backup).
- Store one backup copy off-site to protect against physical disasters such as fires, floods, theft, etc.
When planning a personal backup strategy, you should assume that a data loss event will occur eventually. Using the simple Acronis 3-2-1 rule and backup strategy, you can ensure your data is always protected – no matter what happens.
How to back up your computer hard drive
With some backup software, configuring, running, and managing backups can be tedious and time-consuming. But with Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office, creating a backup couldn't be easier. Check out the quick tutorial below to see how easy it is to create a backup using our backup software.
Local and cloud backup
Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office lets you configure and run quick and efficient hard drive backup. Whether you want to back up your computer hard disk locally or to the secure Acronis Cloud, you can do either with just a few mouse clicks. This quick walkthrough will show you everything you need to do to create a quick backup with Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office.
Step 1 – Launch Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office on your computer. After the application opens, click "Backup" on the left side of the program window.
Step 2 – Hover your mouse cursor over the monitor image labeled "Entire PC". After the text changes, click "Change Source". The Backup Source window appears.
Step 3 – Select the source of the files you want to back up. If you're going to back up your whole system (including the operating system), click the "Entire PC" option. In this example, we will back up only a select folder, so click "Files and Folders", choose items for backup, and click "OK". The selected folder now appears in the main backup window.
Step 4 - Hover your mouse cursor over the "Acronis Cloud" image. After the text changes, click "Change Destination." The Backup Destination window appears. Click the destination drive you want to use to store the backup. In this example, we will use a local external hard drive, but the process for storing to the Acronis Cloud is the same.
Step 5 – Click the "OK" button, and then click "Back up Now". Wait for Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office to back up the selected items. After the backup finishes, a green check mark appears in the main backup window. The backup is now present on the selected destination drive (or in the Acronis Cloud if you selected that option.)
How to restore data from a backup with Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office?
While creating accurate, thorough backups quickly is important, backup software is only as good as its ability to let you restore your data easily. With Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office, you can restore backup quickly and confidently with only a few mouse clicks.
Step 1 – Launch Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office on your computer. After the application opens, click "Backup" on the left side of the program window.
Step 2 – Select the backup name on the left side of the main backup window. Use the checkboxes to select the items that you want to restore. If you wish to recover all items in the backup set, click the checkbox next to the "Name" label. Click the "Next" button.
Step 3 – Select the recovery destination folder or drive. By default, Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office selects the backup source location as the recovery destination. Click the "Recover Now" button. Wait for Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office to restore the backup to the selected destination. After a successful recovery, a green check mark appears in the main backup window.
Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office — integrated computer security software with backup features
Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office (formerly Acronis True Image) offers everything you need to safeguard your device and backed up data from all of today’s threats — from disk failures to ransomware attacks. Thanks to its unique integration of backup and cybersecurity in one, it saves you time and reduces the cost, complexity, and risk caused by managing multiple solutions.
Acronis is a Swiss company, founded in Singapore. Celebrating two decades of innovation, Acronis has more than 2,000 employees in 45 locations. Acronis Cyber Protect solution is available in 26 languages in over 150 countries and is used by 18,000 service providers to protect over 750,000 businesses.