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We've all heard the horror stories. Suddenly, for no reason you can comprehend, your hard drive crashes, and you can no longer access anything on it. These situations are rare, but so are lightning strikes, and you don't want to be the one to be hit. You can minimize the damage by routinely backing up your critical documents and email. Here are some key strategies.
An automatic backup system is an easy way to ensure that you back up your files completely and regularly, but it requires an external drive to back up to. These days, for roughly $100, you can get a decent 500 GB (gigabyte) or even 1 TB (terabyte) external disk; either size should provide sufficient backup space for most users.
On a Macintosh, we recommend using Time Machine to manage your backups. It's really easy to set up, and is thorough in what it saves.
Windows has a backup utility built in:
If you choose one of these automatic backups you don't need to know all the details that you do for a manual backup, as the system takes care of that for you.
Mac, Windows XP, Windows 7
Documents and other important settings are normally stored in the "Documents" folder on a Mac and the "My Documents" folder on a PC. If you store documents on your desktop, remember to include those.
Most people store at least some of their email locally through the use of "local folders." Even if you don't, backing up your email folder is a good idea because it contains all of the settings you use in email. Here's where to look for your locally stored mail:
At least as often as once each month, burn a CD or DVD of your most important documents. A CD will hold about 700MB of data, a single layer DVD will hold about 4.7 GB, and a dual layer DVD will hold about 8.5 GB. That means that a DVD has a capacity of about 6 CDs, and a dual layer DVD has twice again as much.
CD and DVD burning instructions »
How to connect to servers »
If you prefer, you can manually back up to an external drive instead of using an automated backup system. Copying documents from your computer to the external hard drive is as simple as dragging them from Windows Explorer or Mac Finder to the external hard drive.