It doesn’t matter what kind of backup hard drive you use as long as you have one and use it on a regular basis. There are many choices in backup hard drives, here’s a few ideas to make your choice easy and reliable.

Backup Hard Drives are not an option if you value your data. I can’t tell you how many times I go on a service call (I’m in the computer repair business) and have a client tell me they have no current backup of important data. Either they never did a backup, or the backup they did was damaged, or they had an automated system that they never verified that it was actually backing up their data and it worked.

That just turned an inconvenience and small cost into a major emergency and dramatically increased the cost. Not to mention created a huge chore of trying to recover data that may or may not be there to recover. This scenario can be easily eliminated if you get a reliable backup hard drive and institute an automated backup method. And then test it every once in awhile to make double sure it is properly working and you can restore the data.

First things first, choosing the best backup hard drives to backup you data. Here’s a quick requirements list that will help:

Review your current data amount and double it – This will give you plenty of growing room.
Decide on interface – USB 2 is most common and regardless of what the specs say you get about 25 megs per second in real world. USB 3 was just released and gets at least double that and more if you want to add it (around $60) but your drive needs to be compatible too.
Stick to the major brands – Seagate, Western Digital, Hitachi, Toshiba, Samsung.
Decide on type – Desktop or Portable – Desktops are cheaper but hard to tote around.
Spinrate (RPM of spindle) may not matter – You won’t be accessing data, just copying.
Reliability and Warranty – Check user reviews and warranty length and replacement.
Automated Backup Software – Most of the free software that comes with many drives is junk. No matter what backup software you choose, test it!

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Alright, lets say you took a quick look and you have 39 gigs of data to backup. The smallest backup hard drive I would buy would be at least $160 due to cost verses value. So let’s take a look at the 160 Gig backup hard drives available from the major players.

Desktop Backup Hard Drives: Well, backup hard drives are getting bigger and cheaper so the Desktop version best buy would probably be the Western Digital Elements 2.0 that has 1TB of storage and goes for about $80. You could opt for the 500 Meg model for about $54 but for the extra few dollars the 1TB is probably worth it as far as value goes.

Portable Backup Hard Drives: Even though both Seagate and Toshiba have the two best selling units and prices, they also have the highest failure rates. Based on the user reviews, each has about a 10% reviewer failing account. This is not good for backup hard drives (actually this is not good for any hard drive!). Once again I’m going with a Western Digital WD Elements but this one is a 320 Gig model that is 5 X 3 X 1/2 inches and weighs about 7 ounces. The cost is about $60 and the only real issues mentioned is the backup software which we’ve already stated sucks.

About Hard Drive Failure Rates: In all fairness, all hard drives fail at some point. These small portable models are manufactured in high speed assembly lines somewhere in China or the orient and quality control is tough to maintain. There are several reasons for failure but most involve keeping costs down and production up.

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Another huge problem with many of the hard drive failures is the free software included with most hard drives. As I mentioned it sucks since it is totally unreliable, mostly uses proprietary compression methods, and may be the cause of hard drives being rendered useless. Like I’ve mentioned, I’m in the computer repair business and I’ve seen way too many problems with all of this software to ever trust it.

The hard drive failure rate is bad enough that I never rely on one backup hard drive due to it’s still a single point of failure. I’ve actually got a backup computer (never turned on except to backup to) that has operating system, software, and data backup ready to go. I also have two external backup hard drives. I do this stuff for living so I may be a little too paranoid but I have never lost one file.

One way you can make sure that you don’t have a single point of failure with any backup hard drives is to make a DVD or CD every once in awhile of any really important data. You can get about 4.5 Gigs on most DVDs and it only takes about 12 minutes a DVD. Might be worth the time and effort on irreplaceable information, photos, or accounting information.

Backup Software: OK, so the free stuff is not very good or reliable so what’s the alternative? There are a couple of very good, simple, and reliable free programs for backing up your data files. The one I like due to it’s ease of use, automation, and it allows you to keep the file usable (no compression) is available at www.karenware.com. It’s called Replicator and you can read more about on the website. Highly recommended. I use this myself. It’s only good for data, not operation systems.

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For doing an image (takes the whole hard drive bit by bit) backup this is my first choice, Acronis True Image Home 2010. Actually this software will do several different methods of backup and is very easy to use. It runs about $40 but worth every cent and far better than many of the well known and advertised backup programs. Just go to www.acronis.com and then to the TrueImage Home section to learn more. One word about image backups. You would have to do a new image everyday and that can be cumbersome for many users.

The two backup hard drives above are recommended due to the value and reliability on each one. There are many models and brands from $35 and up but these are my choices based on both user feedback and my own personal experience. Just remember that any hard drive can and will eventually fail. Never hurts to make a DVD or CD of any important data for an extra backup. And if your data is extremely important, you might also want to take a fresh copy offsite frequently for additional protection.