Backup to External Hard Disk or USB Flash Drive

A simple, transparent way to backup a personal computer is with an external hard drive or USB flash drive.

You don't need special software to do this - just copy the files.

The real issue is getting your files organized so all your documents are saved to the disk in one simple motion. (See organizing your files.)

Also, if you're a data-completist, you'll want to save the settings files (the .dotfiles in unix, and the hidden Application Settings in Windows).

If you wish to automate the process, some of the best software to use is "sync" software that compares the copies to the originals, and updates the copies automatically. The program I use is Allway Sync. There are others as well, but I found the interface to Allway Sync easiest to comprehend.

External hard disks have two risks. One is that the power adapter may fail. Another is that, because the drive is in a mobile case, you can drop the disk and have a head crash.

USB flash disks are less prone to damage, but it's possible to put them in your pocket, forget about them, and toss your pants into the washing machine, destroying the device.

USB flash drives also tend to be fragile because they stick out of the USB port. If you want to install it permanently, get a cheap usb extension cord at the dollar store, and tape the disk to your case.

A good backup solution for someone who isn't computer savvy is sync software, a USB flash memory drive, and the aforementioned extension cord. Set it up for them, and tell them to store their documents in only one folder.