As wonderful as your computer may be, something’s going to go wrong with it. And, since Murphy’s Law tends to control a fair amount of the known universe, it’s going to happen at the worst time possible. Since your computer is a machine that uses heat, electricity, and moving parts (such as its hard drive, internal fans, and the like,) something will eventually go wrong.

Still, there are ways to be prepared. While it’s good to have either a backup drive attached to your computer or an online backup in place, you can’t go wrong with both. The moment your computer decides today isn’t your day is when redundant measures become critical. And, yes, while having both a local backup and an online backup may seem excessive, either one can save the day for a very low price.

Over the years, the cost of computer storage has decreased exponentially, and it’s a cinch to buy a one-terabyte external USB hard drive for between $40 and $60 at any major retailer such as Best Buy (www.bestbuy.com), Staples (www.staples.com), Office Depot (www.officedepot.com), Walmart (www.walmart.com), Target (www.target.com), or Amazon (www.amazon.com). Well-known manufacturers such as Western Digital or Seagate tend to make reliable external hard drives, and it’s easy enough to attach them to your Mac or Windows PC, turn the computer on, and have it recognize the external hard drive.

Once the external USB hard drive has been connected, it’s easy to set up the backup software, called Time Machine, on your Mac. Just search for “Apple Time Machine setup tutorial” on YouTube (www.youtube.com) for instructions. You can also go to YouTube and search for “Windows Backup setup“ to see how to set up the Windows Backup function on your Windows PC. Both programs consistently back up your computer’s data to the external hard drive, and while they’re not completely infallible, they provide steady protection for the cost of the external hard drive alone.

Online backups provide an additional level of protection, and both Apple and Microsoft provide free cloud-based systems. For Macs, you can set up an iCloud account to provide online backups for your photos, documents, music, and other files. Apple offers five gigabytes of free online storage space before you have to
 begin paying for more storage. For more information, you can go to www.apple.com/icloud and check the fine points for each account. Microsoft offers a similar package with its OneDrive cloud storage feature, offering a free five-gigabyte account with additional details available at www.microsoft.com/onedrive. Both iCloud and OneDrive tutorials can be found on YouTube.

Cloud-based services such as Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) and Google Drive (www.google.com/drive) also offer great solutions, and can provide additional layers of online backup security beyond what iCloud or OneDrive might offer. For both services, you can visit their respective websites, download the software, install it, create an account, and set it up. In the case of Dropbox, the service offers a free two-gigabyte account before moving into paid accounts, while Google Drive offers a free 15-gigabyte account before you’d have to pay. Both offer an excellent means of automatically backing up critical files such as documents, emails, photos, and music online, and can come through when other means of backing data up have failed.

Once you’ve set up your preferred backup method of choice, it’s time to test it out. Save some new files to your computer (such as documents, pictures and music), give the computer some time to back it up and make sure the data’s actually being copied to the backup locations. If you have problems, you can contact Apple or Microsoft for help with iCloud or OneDrive, and you can contact Dropbox or Google for help with Dropbox or Google Drive, respectively. In the event that these companies are busy or difficult to reach, you can also find help in user groups on Facebook or search the internet for users answering technical questions for each other.

It may take a little while to set these backup methods up, but in the event of a power surge, a computer component failure or internet outage, they could make all the difference as they continuously back up your data. Get these in order, make sure they work, and it’ll be one less thing to worry about in the long run.

Chris Barylick is the owner of East Bay Mac Menders (www.eastbaymacmenders.com) as well as a veteran technology writer since October, 2000. His work has appeared in Macworld, PC World, TechRadar, the Washington Post, Playboy, PC Gamer, and an assortment of other publications.

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Chris Barylick

Chris Barylick is the owner of East Bay Mac Menders (www.eastbaymacmenders.com) as well as a veteran technology writer since October, 2000. His work has appeared in Macworld, PC World, TechRadar, the Washington Post, Playboy, PC Gamer, and an assortment of other publications.