In honor of World Backup Day: How to protect your data

First, you'll need a hard drive. Here's what to look for and which specific models have impressed us.

Happy World Backup Day, an occasion dedicated to encouraging you to make sure all your digital data is kept safe and secure. If you've procrastinated on implementing a backup strategy for your PC, why not mark the occasion by making backup copies of all your documents, digital photos, music, videos, and other invaluable files? We'll help you get started.

[ALSO: Storage managers demand simplicity]

What to look for in a backup drive

The main things to consider when shopping for a backup drive are capacity and connection options. If your computer has a 1TB hard drive bursting at its seams, don't purchase a 500GB model for a back-up. I'd suggest a drive with at least twice the capacity of the volume you're backing up. This will allow you to store copies of all of your data, and it will leave room for the new pictures, movies, and files you'll continue to add to your computer.

In terms of connections, USB 3.0 is speedy, inexpensive, and pervasive. Even if your PC doesn't support that newish standard, the USB 3.0 port on the back-up drive is backward compatible to the ubiquitous USB 2.0. Data transfers from a USB 2.0 PC will occur at pokey USB 2.0 speeds, but when you do upgrade your system, you'll be able to take full advantage of the drive's intrinsic performance. Thunderbolt is even faster, but that interface is relatively rare--at least on Windows PCs.

You might also consider moving up to a storage device that connects to your data network, instead of a USB or Thunderbolt port. A network-attached storage (NAS) box can support one or more client PCs, and some offer storage redundancy in the form of RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). RAID 1 creates a mirror image of your backups, so that your data will be preserved if one of the drives fails. A RAID 5 array requires a minimum of three hard drives, but if any one of them fails, your data can be recovered from the remaining drives, and the array can be rebuilt after you replace that drive.

The downside to RAID 1 and RAID 5 is that the capacity equivalent to one drive is not available for storage. RAID 1 built from two 2TB drives, for instance, gives you 2TB of storage, not 4TB. RAID 5 built from three 2TB drives gives you 4TB of storage, not 6TB.

If you want to protect your data further, you might want to look at having a couple of backups that you rotate through, keeping one offsite. If your backup drive is attached to your PC during a fire or robbery, it may be of no help in retrieving your lost data.

If you're ready to take that first step in protecting your valuable data, here's a list of PCWorld's favorite drives reviewed over the past 12 months.

Western Digital WD My Passport 2TB: You'd be hard pressed to find a better portable drive than the My Passport. It comes with a good software bundle, has plenty of capacity, and is a top-notch performer. (Read our full review of the Western Digital WD My Passport 2TB.)

Rocstor Lancer LX 500: With both USB 3.0 and FireWire interfaces, the Lancer LX works equally well on Windows PCs and Macs. It's large but rugged, and a good, if not great performer. (Read our full review of the Rocstor Lancer LX 500.)

Lenovo ThinkPad USB3 Secure Drive: This secure hard drive's high-flying USB 3.0 performance makes it a good choice for those who need to protect their backups. (Read our full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad USB3 Secure Drive.)

QNAP TS-269 Pro: While it's pricey, The QNAP's excellent performance, copious software features, and state-of-the-art connectivity render this two-bay NAS box a good deal for small offices and work groups. (Read our full review of the QNAP TS-269 Pro.)

QNAP TS-879 Pro: If you need to back up your important business data, the TS-879 Pro's eight drive bays and lightning speed highlight this NAS. By far, it's the fastest--and most expensive--box we've tested to date. (Read our full review of the QNAP TS-879 Pro.)

This story, "In honor of World Backup Day: How to protect your data" was originally published by PCWorld.

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