By Dan Tynan
These days external hard drives have such generous capacity and are so cheap they've become the backup medium of choice. A number of vendors have taken an extra step and loaded their software right onto the drives themselves; some of the top examples include: Clickfree Portable Backup Drive ($90 to $220, depending on capacity), HP SimpleSave ($120 to $330), SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Flash Drive ($50 to $280), Seagate's Replica ($130 to $200), and Toshiba's Canvio external hard drive ($110-$200).
Plug the drive into the USB port on your Windows PC, and it automatically installs the software and starts backing up your files. Most let you back up multiple computers to a single drive, so you can walk around the house and plug it into each machine. Aside from that, each drive offers something slightly different. For example, keep the Seagate Replica drive connected, and it will continuously back up your data as your files change. Clickfree also sells the Transformer, a USB connector that turns any external drive into a backup device ($60), as well as the Traveler, a credit card-size backup drive for laptops ($70 to $220). The SanDisk USB drive adds powerful data encryption, keeping your files safe from prying eyes if the drive is lost or stolen.
Upside: Easy to use and store; highly portable.
Downside: You have to remember to do the backups, especially if you're using it with multiple computers. Some drives only back up data, not software or your operating system. And there's no easy way to store backup sets off-site.
Best for: Families with multiple computers and the stick-to-it-iveness to actually plug in the drive regularly.
Your best solution is likely some combination of online and local storage, says Backblaze CEO Gleb Budman. That way you can rest assured your digital stuff is safe no matter what happens.
"Data gets lost fairly frequently, probably a lot more often than you'd think," says Budman. "One piece of dust making its way into a hard drive can wipe out every single photo you have stored. Families really should back up data continuously." In other words, think like Nike: Just do it.