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Best backup methods

If your hard drive crashes, you're screwed without a backup. We'll give you your best options for keeping data safe.

You buy MP3s, take photos, write long love letters to Cloris Leachman, and you keep it all on your hard drive. If that hard drive crashes, you're done for. Unless you backed up. But what's the best way to back up? There are several ways to do this. We're going to discuss three. You can see some of them in action in our video.

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  1. External Hard drive
  2. Network Attached Storage
  3. Online service

Let's start with the external hard drive. Obviously, you don't want to back up to the same hard drive where the original files are. That's just silly.

The simplest method is to buy an external hard drive and back up to that. Our favorite here at CNET is the ClickFree portable backup. It makes the process of backing up as simple as you can imagine. The software is stored on the drive, so you just plug it in and tell it what to back up.

You can also do it yourself. If you have an old hard drive lying around, say from upgrading a notebook, just put it in a case. We show how to do it in this video on upgrading your hard drive.

The Drobo is an excellent way to use multiple spare hard drives to create a large RAID that gives you redundancy. That means if your computer hard drive AND one of your backup hard drives fail, your data is still safe on one of the other drives in the Drobo.

If you have OS X, you can use Time Machine or the built-in backup software to handle the backing up. For Windows, Cobian is a free and open-source piece of software, or just use the built-in function in Vista.

The next step up is Network-attached storage.

This is a large hard drive, usually attached to your router, which multiple computers can back up to. Apple users can get the Time Capsule, which works in tandem with Time Machine to do network backups.

There's a little dongle from Addonics that costs about $60 and can turn any external drive into a networked drive. You just plug in the Ethernet cable to the router and the USB from the drive into the dongle and you have instant Network-attached storage (NAS).

If you got the Drobo as an external drive, there's an attachment that will turn it into a network drive.

And our favorite NAS solution is the Synology Disk Station. You put the hard drive in it yourself, and it becomes a network-attached drive. It also has the capability to communicate with the XBox 360 and the PS3. We've reviewed many other options, many of which come with a drive built in.

But the easiest option, if you have the Internet capacity to handle it, is online backup.

Apple offers MobileMe for its users. It can sync contacts, settings, etc, but it maxes out at 60GB, and it's expensive. Carbonite is a favorite. For $50 a year it backs up whatever you want, working away quietly in the background.

For file backups with some options for sharing, look at Dropbox and Both have free options and give you more capacity if you pay a little extra.

Microsoft offers a couple of good options, too. Microsoft Mesh is in beta at this writing, and so freely offers to sync your folders. It's limited to 5GB, but can keep several computers synced up. Microsoft's Sky Drive gives you 25 free gigabytes and uses ActiveSync to back up documents from one computer to the sky. It supports Macs, too!

One last option I like is Jungle Disk. They charge you 15 cents per gigabyte with no monthly fee. That's the one I use and I love it.

So, there you go people. You have no excuse now not to back up!