Cool Tech: The Most Important Tech Investment You’ll Ever Make

Cullen MacDonald
April 17, 2015

For this week’s “Cool Tech for Your Commission Check” post, we have some slightly less “cool” tech to feature, but it’s arguably the most important tech purchase you will make. If you do anything on your computer––store family photos, personal finance info, that half-finished novel you’re going to get back to some day, or a music library that reflects every musical phase you’ve gone through since 2003––you will ultimately need the thing we're going to talk about. The question is, will you wait until its too late? Ominous... You’ve probably guessed what it is I’m talking about by now––backup tools. Backing up our data is one of those things that we all know we probably should do, but never actually get around to doing. It’s a symptom of “It’ll never happen to me” syndrome, common among those who’ve never experienced the gut-wrenching feeling of losing all of one’s data in one fell swoop. Believe me, the chances of spilling your morning coffee on your computer, getting your laptop stolen while traveling, or frying your hard drive––they’re all way more likely than you think. If any of that were to happen to you, you should ideally be in a position to say, “That really sucks. But I still have my data.” If you want to make sure your data stays safe and sound (and who wouldn’t?), here are a few backup tools to choose from.

Backup Tools

Option 1: Dropbox/Cloud Storage

Dropbox is a popular cloud storage platform that offers 1TB of storage for $9.99/month. It can sync anytime you’re on a computer, and you can access all your files from any device with an internet connection, whether it’s from Dropbox’s website, the mobile app (iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Blackberry), or the desktop application (Mac, Windows, and Linux). Similar services include Box and Google Drive. Pros: Because it’s a cloud storage platform, you can save and access files from anywhere, anytime, on any device. It’s pretty easy to use, and doesn’t require any additional hardware. It also provides for easy file sharing, which is especially convenient if you want to share larger files that can’t be sent via email. Cons: With your files somewhere in the “cloud,” you don’t own your backup. You also won’t be able to access many of your files in the cloud without an internet connection (Dropbox allows you to “favorite” certain files for offline reading, but this feature has its limits). And don't forget those monthly fees.

Option 2: External Hard Drive

For an external hard drive, there are a lot of different models to choose from. Whatever size/brand works for you, these devices can help you both back up files and expand your computer’s capacity (by allowing you to move data that you’re not using as often off your laptop entirely). Pros: Your backup is your own, and you can choose what to back up and where (you can backup multiple computers separately, for instance). You don’t need an internet connection to backup files, and there’s also the major pro of being able to pay for it once, without any need to pay ongoing fees. If you need more storage, you can just go out and buy another one. Cons: You can only backup files when you are physically next to the hard drive. In other words, it is another thing to carry around and keep track of. It’s also susceptible to damage and theft.

Option 3: Time Capsule

Apple’s Time Capsule is 2TB or 3TB hard drive that works with Time Machine in OS X to automatically and wirelessly backup the contents of your computer (no matter how you have your files organized). Pros: If you’re using an Apple computer, it’s a convenient option. Backups occur wirelessly and automatically, and they are stored on a device that you own. There’s also the added bonus that it can act as a wireless router. Cons: This device is only useful to people who have an Apple computer, and at $299 (2TB) to $399 (3TB), it’s a very expensive up-front investment. Like any regular external hard drive, this device is also susceptible to damage and theft.

Option 4: Arq or Cloudberry

Arq (for Mac Users) and Cloudberry (for Windows Users) are cloud backup services similar to Dropbox, but they also allow you to backup data on a server that you own. Pros: Backups happen automatically whenever you’re connected to the Internet. It will backup your entire computer, regardless of how you have your files organized. Cons: These services are a bit more complex to set up.

Setting Up Your Data Safety Net

While backup tools may not be as obviously cool as remote controlled quadricopters, they’re way more important. It’s crucial to note, however, that although these are all great options, they’re by no means bullet-proof on their own. Dropbox is known to lose files or even drop backups entirely in extreme situations. Your external hard drive could get stolen or just break in the most mundane of scenarios, and an Arq backup might end up getting corrupted. Before you give up entirely, hear this: the best way to ensure that all of your files remain safe is to set up a two or even three-tiered system for backing up the things that mean the most to you. I use Dropbox for files shared between friends and coworkers, hourly Time Machine backups, and Arq for backups every 3 hours. I also clone my entire hard drive to an external backup drive once a week. You might think all of this is overly complicated or even unnecessary, but let me know how you feel about the subject when everything on your computer is wiped out and you have no backups at all. With these backup tools, you have no excuse not to backup your computer or at least some of your most important files a few times a week. You’ll be glad that you did. Now go forth and save your data!