backing up data on a laptop

How To Preserve Your Digital Photos, Videos, and Files for Decades?

Last Updated: January 2021

If you have a personal computer of any kind, then you probably have data stored either on that computer or 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 that 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 back up your data, you only need to back up 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

external wd passport hdd (black)

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 $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

external ssd in a black case

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 if 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.

Flash Storage

blue sony 16gb flash drive

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

Pack of Verbatim CD-RW discs

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.

Cloud Backup Services for Large Files

person holding up a piece of paper towards the sky

More and more people are moving over to the cloud for their long-term data storage.

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.

If disaster strikes, you could lose your main computer and backup drive at the same time. Flood and fire can take both out, or you could have both stolen. Cloud backups are the perfect way to negate this.

Today’s cloud backup services are suitable even for large video files or entire media libraries.

These are some of the most popular cloud backup services available.

iDrive

Free Tier: 5 GB | Price / year: from $52.12 | Storage limit: 5 TB | Devices per account: Unlimited | Platforms: Mac, PC, Mobile

You get speed with iDrive, and that is important when you are dealing with large files. You also have a lot of control, more so than other cloud services, and you can easily pair the service with multiple platforms such as iOS, Windows, Linux, and mobile.

With the free plan, you get 5GB as standard, and a paid personal plan gets you 5TB.

The cloud service will automatically backup your entire drive, including all folders, files, settings, apps, content, and structures, and you can schedule these backups and exclude certain files.

All files are encrypted in transit and storage, and you will be given a personal encryption key to help keep your data safe and secure.

Backblaze

Free Tier: none | Price / year: from $60 | Storage limit: Unlimited | Devices per account: 1 | Platforms: Mac, PC

Backblaze centers itself on being simple and easy to use. There are no fancy features and settings, only unlimited storage and straightforward backups.

While you do get unlimited storage, that is limited to only one device per account. The backups of that device are continuous, but you can create a schedule if that fits better.

When you backup, all the user generated data is saved, excluding system files, program files, apps, or temporary files, but you do have the benefit of external data being included in the backup, and you can specify exactly what data you want to be backed-up. Upgrade to the business plan and you can perform network backups too.

Your data will be encrypted in transit and storage, plus there is two-factor authentication for extra security.

Carbonite

Free Tier: none | Price / year: from $72 | Storage limit: Unlimited | Devices per account: 1 | Platforms: Mac, PC

With unlimited and automatic data backup, you can set up this cloud storage and forget all about it (if you want to). It’s the easiest-to-use cloud storage on our list.

One advanced feature that comes in handy is how you view and manage your saved files. You can choose to use the desktop application or the web interface, allowing for data management at home or on the go.

The Carbonite basic plan includes unlimited storage, but this is limited to only one device. As standard, the system will back up your data continually, but you can schedule it instead if needed. The only obstacle are files over 4GB – you will have to add them manually. Upgrade your plan and you can also backup from external drives.

All of your data is encrypted and you will be supplied with a personal key and two-factor authentication.

Understanding Backup Types

We have talked a lot about backing up your data, and have mentioned the types of backups that you can do, but what does it all mean?

Let’s take a look at the backup types.

Image

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.

Backups

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 that 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.