The last person who actually did a backup passed away in 1973. Or something.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years
Cheapskate's guide, Part 3: Backup drives
December 1, 2013
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard
Give a gift that keeps on saving. Give a backup drive.
Forget for a minute that nobody ever makes backups. Almost nobody, as far as I can tell. When I ask students in my classes how many of them make backups, a lot of eyes start staring at the floor.
Forget how much you think backup drives cost. Instead of giving your sister-in-law that faux Ming Dynasty saucer, give her an external hard drive. I searched the Internet discounter New Egg, at www.newegg.com, for portable hard drives and found at least five that cost just under $60.
I realize the idea of buying a hard drive is geeky-deeky enough as it is. Buying one as a gift has got to be the Last Thing in the World Anyone Would Want to Do. Officially. You'd be labeled as a tweeb or something.
But look at it this way. The last person who actually did a backup passed away in 1973. Or something. Even Microsoft says 90 percent of PC users don't have a clue about backing up. So you're doing your sister-in-law (or anybody else -- you know what I mean) a huge favor with this kind of gift.
(One more thing. You're not fooling me. I know what you're really going to do with this information. Forget your sister-in-law. You're going to give this gift to yourself. Back to that faux saucer, I guess.)
Backup drives are just like any other external drives, so don't start looking for something with "backup" engraved on its forehead. What you're looking for is a small USB drive with at least the capacity of the main drive in the Mac or PC it will be connected to.
In other words, if the computer has a 500GB (gigabyte) main drive, the backup drive has to have more than 500GB. (Why more? Because the drive has to have breathing room for temporary files.) You'll probably find out that 1,000GB (1 terabyte, or TB) doesn't cost much more than 500GB. Remember: You can never have enough horsepower, love or hard drive space. In that order.
While the recipient isn't watching (ahem, you know what I mean) check a Windows PC's drive capacity by right clicking the C: drive, clicking "Properties" and looking for the number to the right of "Capacity." (Look for the one that has "GB" after it. That's the size, also called the capacity.)
On a Mac, right click the disk icon at the top right and click "Get Info." The number of GB is shown to the right of "Capacity."
What you're looking for is a USB 3 drive in an external case. It won't be much bigger than a jumbo cellphone. USB 3 is just the latest version of USB, much faster than the previous version, called USB 2. (USB 3 drives work on USB 2 computers, too.)
What brand should you get? It doesn't matter. (Yes, I said it doesn't matter.) Cheap external drives are commodity items like potatoes. Production is farmed out to whatever factory in the Far East has the lowest production cost. Buying a name brand is fine, but don't assume you're getting more quality. Choose by capacity and then price.
Shop locally whenever possible. Check prices at a good discounter first so you'll know the markup locally. $10 to $15 more is not unreasonable. You might find you have no choice but to buy off the Internet. If so, New Egg is my overwhelming recommendation.