If you have a personal computer of any kind, then you probably have data stored either on that computer or on external storage. That could be anything from a simple text document to thousands of photos and hundreds of videos. Whatever it is, your media is preserved.
The only problem with media preservation is that it does not last. Your media storage could be the internal HDD or SSD in your computer, a USB stick, or DVD & Blu-ray discs (I sure hope you’re not using floppy discs still). Whatever you are using has a lifespan.
Long-term data storage sounds good, but how long will your videos, music, photos, and files actually last? Data is eventually lost, and storage methods are continually being replaced. How long before you need to transfer your data to new storage?
Let’s take a little look at what factors you should consider.
Backups vs. Archiving: What Is The Difference?
Backing up and archiving are the same thing, aren’t they?
While they may seem similar, they serve very different purposes. The main difference is that backups are copies of the media which you regularly access. This would be stuff like documents and files you are working on. Backups are easy to make and fast to access.
Archives are for media which you are not going to access regularly. This could be media such as old photos, finished documents, and anything else which you want to keep rather than delete. The data can be accessed but may take a little longer than backed-up data.
The main reason to use one over the other depends on the data. They both do pretty much the same thing, but archived files will not need to be a part of your regular backup schedule. When you come to backup your data, you only need to backup the data which is being used regularly, or you are working on. Everything else can be archived.
Backed-up data will be overwritten and saved somewhere while archived data will (mostly) be saved once and left as it is. By combining the two, you can save yourself time and probably some headaches too.
Which Media To Use For Archiving Data?
When you are archiving data, you want the data to last for a long time. Different storage mediums will last for varying amounts of time, so it is vital to choose wisely.
Your archiving solution will also depend on how much data you need to archive. If you are storing lots of videos, music, photos, and other files, the size of the data can soon add up, and you can end up spending a lot of money. You may want to opt for cheaper options depending on how much you need to archive.
When it comes to cost vs. longevity, you may need to make some compromises. There are pros and cons for each storage option. Thankfully, though, there are options.
External Hard Drives
When you think of archiving (and backing up) your data, your mind probably wanders to external hard drives. Even if you know little about saving data and files, you have probably heard of external hard drives.
This option is cost-effective, and, going by the name, you should be able to deduce that they do pretty much the same thing as your internal hard drive. They range anywhere from between $18-$23 per terabyte, and you can fit a lot onto them.
They are cheap when it comes to storage, but they can be bulky. They also have delicate moving parts inside, so they need to be treated with care.
Quality external hard drives can last for 15 years or more. You can make sure that they continue this long by powering them up every year to get the parts moving.
The best external hard drives are made by WD, Samsung, Seagate and SanDisk.
External SSDs are a little more expensive than external hard drives but benefit from having no moving parts on the inside. The advantage over hard drives is that there is less chance of something going wrong. With no moving parts, they are rugged and shock-proof.
However, SSD’s use semiconductor cells to store data, and these NAND cells are basically electron traps. Unfortunately, the electrons will leak over time (that’s how SSD’s wear down), but they will leak much faster is your store your SSD unpowered.
In other words, an SSD with no power will lose data fast.
SSD’s aren’t the best option for long-term backups but, if that’s all you’ve got, then refresh the data every year and replace the SSD every 10 years (or sooner).
The best external SSDs are made by Samsung, Seagate, Adata and WD.
SSD drives are a type of flash storage, as are USB flash drives and memory cards. The main difference between SSD & USB flash drives and memory cards is that the latter two use non-volatile flash memory.
Compared to SSDs, USB flash drives and memory cards can permanently store information even if there is no power applied for long periods.
Data written on non-volatile flash memory can last for 10 years at a minimum and possibly longer.
Related Article: 7 Best Rugged & Waterproof USB Flash Drives
As technology progresses, 128 GB and 512 GB flash drives are becoming more prevalent and affordable. But compared to hard drives, they are still costly. On average, they cost 10x more per terabyte (about $230).
If you don’t need to back up or archive terabytes of data, then USB flash storage may be an excellent option for you.
The best USB flash drives are made by SanDisk, Samsung, Kingston and Corsair.
CD, DVD or Blu-ray Disc
For long-term data storage, these are a step up from the old floppy discs which some of us used to use. They are small and cheap and can hold a decent amount of data, but you still need multiple discs to store a lot of archived data.
One of the most significant benefits of CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray is that they last for a long, long time. These discs can last up to 50 years with proper storage. Of course, if you have ever tried to get an optical drive to read a CD only for it to not work, then you know that this medium can come with its problems. If the disc cannot be read, then you are just out of luck.
Many computers now do not come with a CD or DVD drive, and these mediums are going the same way as floppy disc drives.
They may be cheap and easy to use, but there is a chance that they will not be used at all in a few years.
Optical media is growing in capacity, and is exceptionally cheap.
One of the main benefits of this type of storage is that whatever you store on your computer can be automatically copied to the cloud.
Even if your storage device (HDD or SSD) fails, your files will remain safely stored in the cloud, which is then accessible from anywhere where an internet connection is available.
Most cloud services will give you anywhere from 2GB to 15GB of storage space for free. If that’s not enough for you, you can upgrade anytime for an additional cost.
My favorite cloud storage service is pCloud. They’re a relatively new service, based in Switzerland, but they are gaining on popularity and I’ve been using them for the past 3 years without any issues.
What makes them unique is that they offer a lifetime plan which, at the moment, costs $175 for 500 GB and $350 for 2 TB of online storage. For comparison, Dropbox would charge you $120 per year for the same amount of storage.
Also, compared to other cloud services, you can use pCloud as a virtual hard drive on your personal computer. Just drop a file on your virtual hard drive, and it will sync it to the cloud while being accessible at all times on your computer. Plus, it won’t take up any space at all on your physical hard drive or SSD drive. How cool is that?
When you purchase your own storage options, you are limited to the quality of the device, and transferring that data to new devices. With cloud storage, large companies are trusted with your, and numerous other’s, data. They do not want to lose the data, so they often use the very best storage options.
The downside is that someone else has your data, and you have to trust them with this.
Your upload and download speeds are also determined by your connection speed. You do not have instant access to your data like you would if you were storing your own data. There is also the cost, often in monthly fees, to contend with. Also, if your network is down, or you cannot connect for any other reason, then you cannot get your data.
Storing in the cloud is the safest and longest-lasting method for most people but does come with its own problems.
Best Free Backup Software
I have been backing up and archiving my own data and files for over two decades now. I know that there is a chance that something will go wrong at some point, and I risk losing my videos, music, photos, and files. For that reason, I use backup software.
There are many options when it comes to the physical storage options (both your own and the cloud) but how do you get the files there. If you are storing a few photos or movies, you can easily connect your storage device and drag the files over, but this can get complicated and time-consuming if you have a lot of files to backup and archive, and if you backup regularly.
There are several software solutions at your disposal, which will help you to manage your archives and backups. Let’s take a look at some of the best free options out there.
EaseUS Todo Backup Free
This is one of the best options for most users when it comes to backing up your data. There are options for backing up single files, folders, entire drives, partitions, and full systems. They also offer a ‘smart’ choice where the software will backup commonly used files, folders, and locations automatically.
You can schedule your backups as required, and you also have access to cloud storage should you need it.
The free version of the software comes with all of the main functionality of the paid version, and basic users will not miss the added functionality.
The software is easy to use, has backup scheduling, and will automatically backup your data for you.
If you are experienced in backing up and archiving your data, this free software could be a powerful ally. New users may struggle a little as there is no wizard to guide you through but, with a bit of knowledge, you can configure this powerful tool to do your bidding.
You can create multiple backup schedules, and your data can be transferred to various backup locations simultaneously. You can also compress that data to store more on a single device, and encrypt your data for added security.
When it comes to restoring your data, you have to decrypt, decompress, and transfer the data manually. Again, this is not one for the most basic user.
You need to do a little work with this one, but it does give you a lot of power.
Paragon Backup & Recovery
This is a powerful backup tool which is aimed at experienced users and beginners. There is a backup wizard ready to help you out, and you can backup select files, folders, partitions, and entire drives.
Like the other software choices, you can schedule these backups, having them triggered by specific parameters, and let the software do the rest.
Along with the backup options, you also have recovery options, standing this software apart from the others. If you lose your data, you can quickly recover it, even if you cannot boot Windows (or your operating system). So, if your entire computer is corrupted, you can still recover your data.
This software is not as powerful at backing up as the others, but the recovery option makes it one to try.
Understanding Backup Types
We have talked a lot about backing up your data, and have mentioned the types of backups which you can do, but what does it all mean?
Let’s take a look at the backup types.
An image is an exact copy of your entire drive or partition, bit by bit. This will include any programs, files, folders, etc. on the drive. If you lose everything, you can boot your computer from the image, and you will not need to reinstall your operating system and then install and configure all of your apps and programs.
Images are large and take a long time to create. You may do this every so often, but it is not something which you will do every day or week.
For regular backups, you will only want to store important things, like your videos, music, photos, and files. There are several ways to do this.
- A full backup takes all of the selected files, folders, and data, and copies them all.
- A differential backup will store a copy of any data which has changed since the last full backup.
- An incremental backup will store a copy of any data which has changed since the last backup (full, incremental, or any other).
Differential backups become larger over time. They are related to the last full backup and, if you are restoring your system, you only need the previous differential backup and your full backup.
Incremental backups are smaller but, as they refer to all previous backups, you need all incremental backups, along with your full backup, to restore the system.
You will likely use all three types of backup: a full backup every once in a while to backup everything, differential backups every so often to stay on top of things, and incremental backups to store the important things which you are working on.
Use all three as needed, and be sure to choose the storage option which works for you. You can never have too many backups when it comes to your essential data.