Backup your Computer as Easy as 1-2-3

She said that she’s lost everything…  I’ll never forget the afternoon I helped a law student configure her new laptop. Most students are excited as they setup a new computer, but not this one. I asked her if she was happy with the new laptop, and she said she was, but that earlier in the week a fire in her basement suite has destroyed her 2 year old laptop along with all her digital photographs, mp3 music files, class notes, term papers, including the one she had been working on, and that was due the following week.  I gently asked if she had been backing up the data on her hard drive or not.  She said that she had started backing up at the beginning of the school year, but that the backup was on an external hard drive, and the external drive had been destroyed in the fire as well.  A very sad story.

So what did I recommend that she do to backup her new laptop?  Follow the 3-2-1 Backup rule:

  • Always have 3 copies of all your files…
  • Stored in at least 2 different formats…
  • With 1 of those formats being “off site” from where the computer is located.

How can you easily follow the 3-2-1 backup rule?

  1. Buy an external hard drive for your computer. In spite of what happened to the law student, having a backup on an external hard drive is a good thing to have.  It provides you with a second copy of your important files. An external hard drive will cost you some where between $80 and $160, and most come bundled with backup software.  Be sure to buy an external hard drive that is at least as large as the hard drive in your computer.
  2. Subscribe to an online backup service like, or  Using any one of these services in combination with the external hard drive will give you your third copy of your files, and that copy will be off site, safely away from any fire, flood or natural disaster.  These services are free for up to 2GB, and then cost between $5 and $10 per month for unlimited backups.  If my student friend had been using one of these services (even just the free 2GB service for her current paper), she would have been back up and running in just a couple of days.

Here are the slides from a recent presentation I gave to the Peninsula Friends on backing up home computers.

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