What is the best backup strategy for a hard drive?

Having a solid backup strategy is crucial for protecting your important data. Hard drives can fail unexpectedly, so making regular backups is essential to avoid losing files. But with so many backup options available, how do you know which one is right for your needs? We’ll walk through the pros and cons of various backup strategies to help you determine the best approach for your situation.

Should you use cloud backups or local backups?

One of the first decisions to make is whether you want to use cloud-based backups or local backups stored on external drives. Here are some things to consider:

  • Cloud backups: These backups store your data on remote servers maintained by a backup service provider. They happen automatically in the background as long as you’re connected to the internet. Pros are that your data is offsite and protected from local disasters. Cons are ongoing subscription costs and slower restore times.
  • Local backups: These backups store your data on an external device you manage, such as an external hard drive or NAS device. Pros are they don’t require an internet connection, have faster restores, and give you full control. Cons are that data is only as secure as your physical backup drive.

For many, a good solution is to use local backups for quick restores and cloud backups for offsite protection in case of disaster. It’s smart to have both for comprehensive coverage.

How often should you back up your computer?

The frequency of backups depends on how much data you generate and how tolerant you are of potential data loss. Here are some typical backup frequencies:

  • Daily: Backing up daily covers you from smaller potential data losses. But it can be time consuming for large amounts of data or consume internet bandwidth for cloud backups.
  • Weekly: Weekly backups strike a balance for many users, providing reasonably frequent protection without as much backup overhead. Most data created over a week can typically be reproduced if needed.
  • Monthly: Backups monthly work for users with less critical data or who are prepared to recreate up to a month’s worth of work if needed. But there is more risk of losing substantial data compared to more frequent backups.

For most home users, daily or weekly backups tend to provide the best balance of protection vs effort. But assess your own needs – for example, even daily backups may be insufficient for a graphic designer with constant work-in-progress design files.

What backup software should you use?

The right software makes backups quick and easy. Here are some top options to consider:

Backup Software Good For
Apple Time Machine Easy automated Mac backups to external drives
Windows Backup & Restore Built-in Windows backup utility
Acronis True Image Advanced full disk imaging for Windows & Mac
Carbonite Encrypted cloud backup service with mobile apps
Backblaze Unlimited cloud backups for Mac & PC

Look for software that makes backing up simple, has encryption options for security, and fits your budget. Read reviews and compare features when selecting backup software.

Should you perform full backups or incremental backups?

Backup software will give you choices on the backup types to use. Two main options are:

  • Full backups – A full copy of all your data. Gives you a complete snapshot but takes more storage space.
  • Incremental backups – Only backs up files changed since the last backup. Saves space but you may need multiple backups to completely restore data.

Using full and incremental backups together provides advantages. A common approach is:

  • Weekly full backup to capture the full state of your data
  • Daily incremental backups to capture changes between full backups

This gives you reasonably frequent backups while optimizing storage requirements. Just make sure your backup software handles incrementals correctly for reliable restores.

How should you structure your backup drive?

When backing up locally, the way you setup your backup disk can optimize performance, organization and fault tolerance. Here are some tips:

  • Use an external hard drive or RAID array sufficiently sized for your backup data.
  • Structure with separate partitions for:
    • An OS partition if backing up a bootable image
    • The backup software application
    • The backup image files
  • Schedule regular fresh backups – don’t just rely on incrementals indefinitely.
  • Consider a mirrored RAID setup for redundancy against drive failure.

A well structured backup disk simplifies usage and protects against disk failures. Partition wisely when setting up your backup target.

Should you encrypt your backup data?

Encryption provides an important security layer for backups, preventing unauthorized access to your data. Options include:

  • Backup software encryption – Many backup tools like Time Machine support encryption.
  • Drive encryption – You can enable encryption such as BitLocker on the entire backup drive.
  • Encrypted disk image – Store backups in an encrypted disk image for security.

Balance encryption strength against the convenience of accessing backups easily for restores. At minimum, consider encrypting particularly sensitive data.

Where should you store backup drives?

Storing backup drives properly helps keep your data secure. Some guidelines:

  • Keep backups in a different physical location than your computers to protect against local disasters like fire or theft. Use a bank deposit box or trusted location.
  • If relying on online cloud backups, ensure your internet connection and account are secure.
  • Always keep at least one backup copy offline and disconnected from computers for malware protection.
  • Regularly check backup integrity and test restores.

Think about physical security and separation when choosing where to store backup drives. Offsite or cloud backups provide protection if disaster strikes your home or office.

How long should you keep backup data?

Determining retention periods for backups involves tradeoffs between storage space and history:

  • Keep daily backups for 1-4 weeks to protect from small data losses.
  • Keep weekly backups for 1-3 months to be able to restore lost files or previous versions.
  • Keep monthly or yearly backups for longer term archiving of historical data.

Balance your need to be able to restore old data against the storage cost. Keeping everything indefinitely isn’t practical. Have a plan to archive then delete old backups you no longer need quick access to.

How can you automate the backup process?

Automating your backup workflow is highly recommended to ensure backups consistently happen on schedule. Options to automate include:

  • Letting backup software handle scheduling of backups.
  • Using built-in OS tools like Windows Task Scheduler.
  • Scripting backups with command line tools and batch files.
  • Using a dedicated backup automation tool.

Automation removes the risk of forgetting backups and simplifies the process. Set it and forget it as much as possible.

How can you test and verify your backups?

A backup system you haven’t tested gives you a false sense of security. Try these tips to validate your backups:

  • Do a full end-to-end test restore to a test location on a regular basis.
  • Verify key files are included in backup sets.
  • Check backup logs for errors or issues.
  • Ensure sufficient free space for backups.
  • Test that encryption passwords/keys work.

Take the time to thoroughly test and audit your backups. Putting the effort into verifying backups now can save you from a painful loss later.


Protecting your important data requires an effective backup strategy tailored to your specific needs. The right combination of backup types, software, storage media and processes can make safeguarding your files seamless. With some planning upfront to implement automatic, redundant and secure backups, you can defend against data loss and disasters down the road.