Backup options for PC
July 30, 2017 6:59 PM   Subscribe

I have a Frankenstein's monster of a desktop PC: 4 internal hard drives from computers over the years, and an external from an old laptop when I switched from HDD to SSD. I need to back all of this up before I move the last week of August. What are my best options?

I'm looking for both physical and cloud backup options, because I enjoy redundancy. My current backup drive isn't big enough to hold the entirety of my data now, so it's been distressing long since any of it was backed up at all. Several of the hard drives have remains of their OS from when they were the main C: drive in previous computers, but I really only need the current OS to be backed up. Obviously, all of my personal and program data, too. Should I look into a hard drive with a backup program that includes an online service? Or buy the hard drive/backup program/cloud service separately?

I initially figured I would just buy a massive physical drive (5-10 Tb) to just mirror the damn thing because I'm paranoid, but I suppose realistically that's overkill? One of these days (forever laughter) I'll clean and organize the drives, but for now I need to make sure my data is safe before my move. In terms of personal data, I'd say I'm at <1 Tb, but no more than 3 Tb including my laptop; I've no idea at this point.

If computer proficiency was like the CEFR, I'm comfortably around B2/C1, if that helps guide your advice. Thank you!
posted by lesser weasel to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've used (ie restored from) CrashPlan, and it's okay. The application is in Java and is a little hinky; it sat there for months not really accomplishing much until I went in and tweaked memory and backup frequency settings (the default spent all it's time backing up my most recent files, so my photo archive sat untouched while it backed up my save game files continuously). But, on the other hand, it was the Wirecutter pick and I have restored successfully so I can't be too hard on it.
However, if you want a cloud backup at the end of August, the first step is considering what your internet service provider will think of you pushing 3TB up their pipe in a month. My restore was a similar amount of data, it was around a month split over two billing/usage cycles and I still had a call from my ISP.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:28 PM on July 30, 2017

For local backup, it's affordable to just buy a USB 3.0 drive in the 4-5TB range. I use a program called SyncBack, the free version, to run 4 scheduled jobs to mirror my 4 hard drives to a single 5TB drive, which is this or something like it, and tell SyncBack turn them as a "group" of backup jobs, unattended. It'll open a browser to let me know what errors it encounters, which are typically locked logfiles and active OS files. My 3 storage drives all back up except for 1-2 files that're tied up (nothing I'd need to restore) and of course the OS drive has many many more errors, though the number varies depending on whether I'm actively using the computer when it runs. I run it weekly and then disconnect the HDD; this is intended to be my basic insurance against cryptolocker-type malware; if I catch cryptoware on my main PC, then I can wipe it, load linux, connect the external HDD, and remove any cryptoware files while they're inert on the HDD if present at all.

Looks like I have about 2600GB of files; it seems to take about 15 minutes as most of the files are media files that are unchanged from week to week. The first mirror, though, took a couple hours at least. Over time I've manually excluded this folder and that folder to reduce the number of uncopyable files as well as excluding stuff that I wouldn't want to restore (temp files, browser caches, recycle bin, etc.) following a system wipe.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:33 PM on July 30, 2017

I personally would just get a huge hard drive and put everything on it. You'll have your original drives and the giant hard drive, right? Or are you not moving with the originals? I'd keep all the original drives and copy them all onto a new drive. Anything SUPER important, I'd put in Dropbox or Google Drive or even email it to myself.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:27 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd say do both: first buy a 3Tb drive, duplicate the boot partition you would need to restore in full, and fill the rest of the drive with the remaining data to set your mind at ease, and then work out online automated incremental backups.
posted by XMLicious at 9:38 PM on July 30, 2017

This is for any solution using external drives. Once the backup is on the new drive(s) keep it/them and the computers in physically separate (how every you want to define that) locations so as to reduce or eliminate the chances that both are stolen, lost, in a fire, etc.
posted by Homer42 at 9:47 PM on July 30, 2017

In your situation I would not back up the OS or any installed programs, because you're not making a living from an online server that has to pick up exactly where it left off after a fire or explosion; any disaster that destroys your personal computer's OS installation during your move would probably be best thought of as an opportunity to reorganize the monster and start afresh rather than simply restoring the setup you have now.

So I'd start by making a list of folders that hold irreplaceable personal data, find the sizes of those folders and add them up, then go and buy two external USB3 drives each of which is big enough to hold at least that much.

I'd also buy a USB3 plugin card for my PC if it didn't already have some USB3 ports available. Moving terabytes of data around is already slow enough; no need to slow it down by another factor of at least four by imposing a 20MB/s USB2 bottleneck on the process.

Then I'd attach one of those new drives to my PC, reformat it with NTFS, then change its NTFS security settings by removing all the default access controls and adding one granting Full Control for Everyone. This step means that the drive will be capable of holding files of any size, rather than choking on anything over 4GiB the way a FAT32-formatted drive would do, but will not cause Access Denied grief when you try to restore stuff using a different OS installation from the one that made the backup.

Then I'd copy all my personal folders to it. Just doing this with Windows Explorer is not completely unreasonable, though it's not very quick and its error recovery isn't particularly graceful; for that reason I prefer FastCopy for this kind of work. Its user interface is a little idiosyncratic and all the documentation was machine-translated from Japanese, but once you get the hang of it it's quite easy and it sure is quick. FastCopy also supports adding new stuff to an existing backup incrementally, so you can use it for backup maintenance as well as initial creation.

Then I'd do the same things over again with the second external drive.

The main reason I like getting a bit hands-on with all this stuff, rather than trying to find some kind of fire-and-forget solution that does it all for me, is that over the years I've found that the best thing I can do for data I care about is actually pay it all a bit of personal attention. If something I care about doesn't actually make it from its origin to the backups, I'm far more likely to notice that if it happens right in front of me as I watch than if it's buried in some log that in fact I probably won't get around to combing through.
posted by flabdablet at 10:20 PM on July 30, 2017

You could also consider getting a NAS device. These are better than PCs for storing large amounts of data locally since their drives are redundant and built to a higher specification than those for most PCs. They can also do things like run virtual machines, act as media servers and so on. Here is a Wirecutter review of some. They are not supposed to be a substitute for a proper backup - but they will help you keep everything replicated locally to cover for you when one of your local drives fails.
posted by rongorongo at 1:42 AM on July 31, 2017

One of the nicest things about the simple USB external drive option is the fact that the backup drives spend most of their time disconnected from the computer they're backing up. That makes them impossible for ransomware to screw over. Same cannot be said of most NAS appliances, though there are some that allow for file versioning.

If you have a versioning NAS-based backup system with enough storage to hold at least one previous version of whatever you're backing up in addition to the most recently written version, and it provides no way at all to delete previous versions without some kind of secure login in to some kind of control interface beforehand, you might be almost as well placed to weather a ransomware attack as somebody who has gone the simpler route and just bought USB backup drives.

On the other hand, if your NAS's versioning system simply drops the oldest versions of things to make space when it starts to run out of room, ransomware can eventually kill your accessible backups just by repeatedly re-encrypting your original files.
posted by flabdablet at 7:56 AM on July 31, 2017

I'd mark best answers, but these are all fantastic ideas and things to consider for the short and long run, so thank you!
posted by lesser weasel at 6:54 PM on July 31, 2017

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