How to use Google Drive as a backup tool

It's an easy matter to sync your critical data to Google Drive, and now it's insanely cheap, too.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
2 min read


Now that Google Drive storage is stupid-cheap (e.g., two bucks per month for 100GB), you might be wondering about its viability as a backup tool.

It's viable. Though you can't use it to clone an entire hard drive (not a good idea with any cloud-storage service), you can use it for the next best thing: preserving your important data.

All you need is Google's desktop sync utility, which, not unlike Dropbox, adds a special folder to your hard drive that acts as a two-way conduit. Any files or folders you put there will get synced to your Google Drive, and any files or folders you add to your Google Drive will get synced back to that special folder on your PC. Here's how to get started.

Step one: Download and install the Google Drive utility (available for Windows and Mac). For purposes of this tutorial, I loaded the Windows version. Certain aspects may be a bit different for Mac users, but fundamentally it's all the same.

One quick sign-in is all it takes to connect your desktop and online Google Drives.
One quick sign-in is all it takes to connect your desktop and online Google Drives. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Step two: Run the program, then sign into your Google account. Click through the various setup screens (which provide a few details on using the tool), then click Done when you get to the "You're all set!" page.

What Google Drive looks like on your desktop.
What Google Drive looks like on your desktop. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Step three: Your Google Drive will open immediately within an Explorer window, allowing you to peruse all the documents currently stored there. Indeed, Google Drive is now accessible as a folder on your hard drive, available under your username (within the Explorer hierarchy) and in your Explorer Favorites list.

Now, as noted above, you can drag any files or folders to this Google Drive folder to have them "backed up" to your Drive account. So, for example, if you currently save all your Word files to, say, Documents > Word Docs, you would simply drag Word Docs to Google Drive. Just remember, though, that the next time you start Word, you'll need to access your files via Google Drive > Word Docs, not the previous location. And make sure you save new documents there as well so they get synced to Google Drive.

Needless to say, this can require a bit of fiddling with your regular workflow. Google Drive isn't a backup tool in the traditional sense, though its simple syncing makes it just as effective as the likes of Dropbox. And it's definitely a whole lot cheaper.

Save to Google Drive extension for Chrome.
Save to Google Drive extension for Chrome. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

By the way, if you're a Google Chrome user, consider installing the Save to Google Drive extension. With it, you can quick-save documents, images, videos, and other files you find online. It's not a backup as we've come to know that process, but it does give you an easy way to archive files from the Web. Just right-click any suitable link, then choose Save to Google Drive.

Are you using (or planning to use) Google Drive for backup purposes? If so, got any tips to share? List 'em in the comments!