I wrote this in response to a question on a CNET post … I thought it would be pertinent here also.
Ben … first of all … don’t believe what they tell you … SIZE does matter!
You’d be surprised how fast that space fills up once you have it available.
Before I get to the recommendations I feel obligated to say that any backup solution should include off site storage … If your house burns down or you get burglarized .. you’ve got bupkiss! So, I suggest getting two 500gb usb external drives … if you’re a clever shopper you can find them around $100 each. The price difference for anything smaller is negligible. (you might even find 750gb’s for that amount. Take one to work with you and leave it there… then swap them out once a week.
I recommend Seagate, Maxtor or Western Digital … they are generally more reliable than off name brands. Also a note … stay away from “refurbished” or “Factory renewed” they will have a much shorter warranty and tend to break the week after the warranty has expired. Some drives may have some backup software included on the drive.. in my opinion that software sucks … (pardon my french).
As far as the backups I recommend doing 2 things.
Really what you want to save is you music, your videos, your email, and your documents. That is the important stuff! The best thing to do when you have a drive fail or a virus infect your system is to wipe the drive and reinstall the operating system and then copy your backed up data back on to it.
As a backup method … Microsoft has a free program called synctoy .. I’ve been using synctoy 2 beta .. which has been very stable for me (I heard Paul Thurrott recommend it). You select the folders in each location and the program synchronizes those 2 folders. There are several additional options you can choose.. you’ll understand once you see it. Once you have it set up you can also create a scheduled task to run daily or weekly etc. That’s it… like that Ronco Rotisserie Oven commercial “just set it and forget it”.
The second part is to make an exact image of your entire drive. Obviously this takes up more space on your storage and you should make a new updated image periodically. The advantage is that if something bad happens you pop in the boot Cd for the program and answer a few questions and in about 5 or 10 minutes your drive is back to exactly the way it was when you made the image . Ideally you would make one of these on a clean install with all the programs you normally use installed and the settings tweaked the way you like them … and Microsoft updates current. This saves a lot of time versus having to reinstall all your programs and settings again in the future. Acronis True Image or Norton Ghost are the programs I would recommend. Some of these programs will allow you to browse the image file as a hard drive and restore individual files or folders. Now if you use Vista its important to pay attention to which version you buy … older versions won’t work with Vista.
So that’s my opinion … and I think Leo Laporte would agree with me. Leo?