I'm looking for a cheap and efficient strategy to keep my personal computers and laptops backed up.

For example, currently I take a snapshot of my desktop once a week with Ghost and place the image on my external hard drive. Is this enough? Do you have any other suggestions?

  • How many computers? How many users? – Jay Bazuzi Apr 30 '09 at 14:41
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    Which operating systems? – ptman Dec 2 '10 at 15:36

19 Answers 19


This may not qualify as "cheap" and is windows specific but the Windows Home Server is working very well for me. I'm backing up several machines and I have 3 months of back ups to choose from if things go wrong. I have the HP Media Smart version and I'm extremely happy with it. Here is a link to a review by Scott Hanselman.

Prior to getting the home server I was taking snapshots and ghosts and had a bunch of scripts that kept data redundant. All of this was very prone to human or otherwise error.

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    If you're any all Windows environment, this seems like the easiest strategy. I would also use Jungle Disk running on WHS to keep the "can't lose it" stuff online. – Brett Veenstra Apr 30 '09 at 12:30
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    The highest complement I can pay to WHS is that it has an almost Apple like level of simplicity. It's easy to set up and after that it just works. It really keeps out of your way. – Chris Upchurch Apr 30 '09 at 13:33
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    If you are in a windows only environment there is no better home solution than this - I have 2 desktops and 3 laptops getting nightly imaged. Have restored several times with a perfect record – EvilBobby Apr 30 '09 at 15:39
  • the acer WHS offering is just insane - i stuffed mine full for about $600 and didn't look back. I set up filezilla on it and run syncback at work to upload svn repositories to my home machine every couple of days. i agree with the apple-like easy setup. plug in drives, turn it on. – MikeJ Jun 2 '09 at 4:01

In general I think making backups as automatic as possible will ensure that you always get the level of backup you need. You also want some level of redundancy both on-site and off-site. If the data doesn't exist in two places at once, then it really doesn't exist.

I would recommend the following approaches for maximum redundancy:

Duplicate your important data locally

This can be done using a couple of methods

  1. Mirror your drive(s) automatically with RAID-1
  2. Automatically clone your drive(s) using an rsync style backup script, or other application (TimeMachine, Carbon Copy Cloner, etc). I would also prefer a backup application which does rolling snapshots (like Apple's Time Machine or rsnapshot)
  3. Store all your important data on a dedicated NAS with some sort of dynamically expandable RAID (like a Drobo, or a NetGear ReadyNAS. Use an application (like those listed in method 2) to automatically copy data from your various systems and drives to the NAS on at least a daily basis

Backup your important data offsite

I would recommend using a 'cloud' based backup solution that is automatic. These include:

  1. Mozy
  2. Carbonite
  3. Backblaze

These services automatically upload unlimited data to their servers for $4.95 a month. Some of these services even give you 30 days of snapshots so you can get back to data you accidentally deleted.

Mirror your system drive

If you really want to get crazy paranoid about losing your data, I would also mirror your system drive daily using a mirroring tool like TrueImage, CarbonCopyCloner, SuperDuper. This will give you an exact copy of your system drive, so if your drive fails, you can just pop in the cloned drive and pick up where you left off. No time wasted rebuilding your system, installing old applications, etc.

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    "If the data doesn't exist in <strike>two</strike>**three** places at once, then it really doesn't exist." You need three places because if the main or backup dies, then you will only have 1 backup, which may die. I've personally had it happen, since the hard drive I was using as a backup soon died under the heavy load of restoring... – ninjagecko May 25 '11 at 17:56

Here's my home backup strategy:

  • Most files are stored on a Linux file server that my Windows machines connect to.
  • All my music, video, & images live on a Windows machine that gets backed up to the Linux file server.
  • The Linux file server is backed up to an external hard drive
  • About 75% of my data is backed up remotely using Jungle Disk.
  • All of my remote websites & databases are backed up to my home machines using rsync & mysqldump over ssh.

All of the above happens twice a day.

The end result is that any of my computers can die, my webhost can disappear, or my house can burn down and I'll suffer minimal to no permanent data loss.

The important thing to think is "If this thing dies/breaks/goes away, what will I lose?". Then think it about every source of data you have.

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    How much data are you backing up with Jungle Disk? And how much does that cost? Any tricks to minimize the bandwidth costs? – TREE Apr 30 '09 at 15:35
  • I think I'm storing between 15-20gb and that usually runs right around $5/month. It took a long time to do the initial upload. Things are much faster now that I'm doing incremental backups. – Mark Biek Apr 30 '09 at 18:10
  • I too use Jungle Disk, with Amazon S3. Now that JD is owned my Rackspace, it's also an option to use Rackspace as your storage. This option has no bandwidth charges, and 0.15 per GB-Month of storage used. – Rob Thomas May 1 '09 at 1:35
  • Do any of these provide incremental backups? If not and you lose something and your backups happily blow away the backup copy twice a day for several days before you notice, then what? – Rog Jun 2 '09 at 3:50
  • My apologies, just saw your follow up comment that you do incremental backups. – Rog Jun 2 '09 at 3:51

Of course 'cheap' depends on the readers' view...

I'm using a Dlink DNS-323 NAS (equipped with 2x 1TB drives in RAID1) in combination with BackupPc, which is actually a 'gui' around Rsync.

  • I'm using the same setup, sans BackupPc. Works beautifully. – Head Geek Apr 30 '09 at 13:40
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    BackupPC is much much more than just a 'gui' around rsync, it's a complete backup solution that compresses the files, supports many methods for copying data, stores only one copy of duplicate files, has a backup history and so on – Vinko Vrsalovic May 22 '09 at 7:26
  • yes, and except for the compressing part this is a wrapper around rsync... – gimpf Sep 8 '09 at 8:28
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    @gimpf: it manages several computers, backs them up when they are on the network, sends mail if they haven't been backed up recently. Lots and lots of stuff that isn't in rsync. Choosing to librsync for the mirroring part was a smart move, but backuppc is much more than a wrapper – ptman Dec 2 '10 at 15:38

You could also backup the ghost image to a on-line backup service. There are several companies, some which offer free accounts as a starting point.

  • Are these really cost-effective for home users? – TREE Apr 30 '09 at 15:39
  • It depends how critical your data is. IDrive basic is free for 2GB of space. idrive.com/pricing.htm – stukelly Apr 30 '09 at 15:53
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    without an off-site backup your house becomes the single point of failure. If the roof falls down on your computer room or your gear gets stolen then you will wish you had it offsite. Of course, if your ISP limits bandwidth you will have to consider that as a cost. – jqa Jul 9 '11 at 0:23

This isn't a strategy for backing up a whole computer (I use WHS and Time Machine for that), but for critical files, I use Dropbox. It automatically synchronizes files across different computers, plus they get backed up and versioned online. Free for up to 2 gigs, pay for up to 50GB. This is the first online file sych tool or service I've found that just works. Simple, no hassles, set it up and you're done. I love it.


I'd recommend setting up freenas on an old machine with lots of disk space and using an automated rsync program.

Using rsync you are only copying changes between the last version and current over the network, so it's pretty fast.


Home backup strategy:

  • Photos, Music, Scans on Main Desktop are backed up using Time Machine connected to External USB Hard Drive
  • Videos and large files (e.g. MSDN Downloads) are kept on 1TB RAID5 NAS (NAS will send alert if hard drive is lost)
  • Photos, Music, Scans on Main Desktop are backed up a few times a week using Jungle Disk Plus.

I recently had my Main Desktop HDD die and was able to bring everything back in about a day.


Mozy works at home or at work, but I've found the best part is that my gf doesn't have to do anything to get it to work. I installed it and now I know her compy is being backed up all the time.


I have a linux machine and two windows machines that I need to be backed up. I have two 500GB external hard drives formatted to an ext3 file system and have the linux machine run a script that mounts the drive, runs rsnapshot, and unmounts the drive.

Rsnapshot is basically a smart way of using rsync to do efficient backups. I have an rsync daemon running as a service on each of the windows machines (thanks to cygwin) and the rsnapshot process on the linux box connects to that.

You could probably do the same thing using a windows machine as the backup device (rsnapshot is available via cygwin) however rsnapshot makes heavy use of hard links, which is something I'm not confident of with an NTFS file system. YMMV.


My home backup strategy utilises a set of daily or weekly backups using backupninja and rdiff-backup to an external disk to keep 60 days worth of incremental backups.

I have another disk offsite that I occasionally bring home and rsync with off the onsite backup disk.

I also use unison to sync various directories between my desktop and laptop. Not a backup as such, but a useful extra copy to have.


I have a Mac and a PC on the same network. I periodically run Folder Synchronizer (by SoftoBe) on my Mac, which talks to the shared drives on my PC, and copies the data. Time Machine does the rest.

I consider Time Machine my "house on fire" drive. All I need to take with me is that external drive. (Well... the wife and kid too.)


My personal strategy is to run a full system backup and store the data on a portable USB hard drive every couple of weeks. I let the backup run overnight, and the portable drive is taken to work with me and put in a secure location there so it is off-site from my home computer. If the house burns down or the computer is stolen, the data is still safe. The other key to any backup solutions is to make sure you can actually restore files. Periodically test this to ensure your data is recoverable. Once a month I select a handful of random files to restore just to make sure the data is recoverable. If you don't mind a monthly fee, there are a large number of online backup providers who will keep your files synchronized with their service in near real-time to ensure everything is always as up-to-date as possible. I prefer having my own copy around where I can get at it any time, and I prefer the files to not be in a live state all the time in case I need to roll back a week or so.

  • what software do you use for a full system backup? or just a simple copy ?! – s.mihai May 27 '09 at 19:02
  • For my personal computer I just use the Windows backup utility that ships with the OS. Clean, simple, and meets my needs for the home computer. At work we use Veritas Backup Exec to manage our server backups. – Justin Scott May 28 '09 at 15:08

Similar to Huppie, I use a RAID 1 on two 1 TB disks in a "toaster enclosure", which allows for the possibility of off-site storage.

I also encrypt my backup, using cryptsetup in my case. On top of that, I also use LVM volumes; this allows each computer's backup to be on a separate volume. (Each computer can then back up to the volume that concerns them, and avoid the possibility of clobbering other computers' backups.)

The actual backup process is a simple rsync (rsync -av --delete --inplace ...).


For photos and video specifically I see flickr as an off-site backup.

I have nearly 40 GB of personal photos and videos, the largest part of my home backups. For off-site backups, my flickr pro account is very cost effective. ($25/year)

Still looking for a cost-effective off-site solution for "regular" backups.


I have a lot of data and its in terms of videos and audio data and best way of backing up to me is to have 2 hard disk backups and 1 dvd backup of the most important data. And 1 hard disk back and 1 dvd backup of lesser important data

I use Acronis True Image instead of Norton Ghost as i find it to be a much better interface and its a more reliable software to use as i have faced corruption of backups with Norton Ghost but this is from my own personal experience.

Its not a very cheap solution but then ultimately its the data that counts, alternatively you could also buy a cheap unlimited hosting account and store your data there too, but then the security of the server is up to you, though i wouldn't trust my important data online


I backup a Hyper-V server. Because the machine is a Dell Vostro, it lacks RAID drives etc.

What I do is use backupassist to backup the host and all VMs (I'm adding more VMs to the server, but some aren't too critical so soon it will be some of the entire VMs) to my USB drive (I lack ESATA, too).

I'm also deploying the same VMs to a cloud server service, so I will have two layers of protection (both the VMs at home and on the cloud service are synced).


Mine is setup as follows:

I have a webserver with about 8 websites on a shared server with GoDaddy, my laptop, wifes laptop, and a spare laptop.

Spare laptop uses Server2003 (previously XP Pro) and is always on. It has logmein installed so i can access files if i dont have my laptop.

  1. I do not save any work on my laptop and I am slowly convincing my wife to do the same
  2. Other option is to use EverydayAutobackup to backup both wifes and my laptop to SpareLaptop - problem is they are not always on - maybe I can run it when logging on?
  3. All work/pics/etc is saved in MyDocuments on the Spare W2003 Laptop.
  4. This is backed up every six hours using EverydayAutoBackup
  5. Backup goes to F: on Spare Laptop (USB HD)
  6. Thinking of buying a second USB HD called G: and will mirror F: > G: every alternative 6 hours so if either breaks suddenly, we can immediately recover data and buy new USB HD to replace broken.
  7. W2003 laptop backs up my websites' databases every day using a scheduled task on a batch file - mysqldump to a location im mydocuments (which will plug into my system and be backed up to F: and mirrored to G..eventually)


  1. Backup the files on webserver to My docs on home laptop - any ideas? Can i schedule an ssh task?
  2. Either buy another USB HD called G: OR mirror F: to an offsite location (or both)
  3. Both sounds good so offsite location is only for extreme circumstances.
  4. Also need to think of security...What happens if someone takes F or G and plugs into their PC - are there any secure USB HDs out there?

I personaly use Paragon Software Drive Backup, now called Backup & Recovery 10 Suite.

It allows for hotfiles backup, that is, files that are currently in use are also backed up while you're working! So no data loss!

It also can backup the whole partition live partition while working, if working, and make it pretty simple to recover in case of data loss or other problems with your computer.

It's available for both Windows and Mac (they have different names for Mac, thought: Software for MAC

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