- Keep in mind you should backup only your data. In most cases, you can get a pretty good estimate of the capacity you need to back up by opening the Computer window then on the C: drive, then to Users folder, and then to your own account – you probably will find your name listed. Now add up the sizes of your Documents, Pictures, Music and Video folders. Right-click on each and choose Properties to find the size. Do this for all users.
- You need an external hard drive. They come in all sorts of sizes and capacities and prices. Most of them are not well designed, and will over-heat and cook your data if you leave them running for more than about 2 hours. Buy something that has much larger capacity than what you need because over time, your needs will grow. An external hard drive is really just a housing that contains the electronics that interface between your computer and the hard drive inside the housing. The hard drive inside is really an ordinary hard drive like in your notebook computer (2.5″) or the larger one (3.5″) in a desktop computer. The larger one will last longer. You can get the best of all worlds by buying the housing and hard drive separately and assembling them. It is so easy to do.
- Hard drives come in two sizes: 2 1/2″ and 3 1/2″. Notebooks have a 2 1/2.” Desktop computers have the larger ones. The 3 ½” ones are actually about 20 times bigger and heavier, but are much longer living and reliable.
- 7200 rpm drives. Most drives run at 5400 rpm. That is because they are quieter. They also run 1/3 faster and that’s a big bonus. When you buy your own two components and assemble them, you can select a faster drive.
- Solid State Drives (SSD) or thumb drives. Do not even consider this for a backup. SSDs wear out on each write.
- Hard drives have two threats: Heat and vibration or shock. The 2 1/2″ such as in your notebook computer is much more delicate and is also much more likely to be shocked with a bump, a drop or vibration. If the housing is not well ventilated and designed to dissipate heat, it can over-heat and destroy the drive.
- Virtually all external drives use the USB connection to communicate. USB comes in 3 versions — 1.1, 2, and 3. Your computer is very likely capable of version 2 and will communicate with a 1.1 device if needs be. Version 2 is 10 times faster than 1.1. Version 3 is about twice as fast. Most external hard drives today have USB 3, but be careful to be sure the one you buy has it. Hopefully, an external drive you would buy today would last longer than your current computer and maybe the one after that. It would be a good bet to invest in one that was capable of Version 3 USB to take advantage of that when you have a computer that is USB Version 3 capable. You will need a USB 3 cable to connect your USB 3 external drive to a USB 3 port on your computer. The cable is different from the USB 2 or 1.1 one. Your new USB version 3 external drive will work on your Version 2 ports on your current computer.
- Drive connectors/adapters. Make certain the drive you buy comes with the adapters or cables you will need to connect your particular backup drive with your particular computer(s). There is a new type of connector called C. It is a different shape and is thinner. Most new notebooks and phones require the C type connector. So, when you buy new backup hardware, ensure it has a cable that is C compatible.
- Size is a big question: A few years ago a 40 gigabyte hard drive was on the edge of bigness. Most notebook computers you would buy today come with 500 and most desktops 500 or more. In the after-market where you buy hard drives, 1000 or 2000 gigabyte drives are pretty common. By the way, we call them 1 TB or Terabyte. One terabyte is equivalent to 1000 gigabytes. One gigabyte is equivalent to 1000 megabytes. Drives have an interesting price curve. Price and size are not on a 45 degree line. Today, you can buy a 2 TB drive for $100 on sale. A 0.5TB is $70. So, buying really big is actually much cheaper in terms of dollars per gigabyte than buying smaller.