Your music, movies, and other media are no less important than your
contact database and business documents, yet we often forget to include
them in our backup plans. Even worse, many of us have no backup plan at
all. That's dangerous. As any seasoned computer jockey will tell you,
data loss is not a question of if but when. And if you think backups are a hassle, weigh it against the tragedy of losing all of your music, photos, and videos.
There are plenty of ways to archive all this stuff: optical media (CDs and DVDs), external or secondary hard drives, and even media-friendly online backup services such as Streamload. Which option should you use?The safest answer is at least two of them, as it's always a good idea to have a backup of your backup. Copying your valuable files to a safe place can be a hassle, but you can make it easier on yourself by establishing a consistent backup interval--say, once every one, three, or six months.
Let's start with Streamload. A free account nets you a whopping 25GB of online storage space. Just upload your files (be patient--uploads tend to be much slower than downloads) and presto: a safe offsite backup you can access from any PC. The only hitch with the free account is that your download bandwidth is limited to 100MB per month. If disaster strikes and you need to retrieve all your files, you'll probably need to upgrade to one of the fee-based accounts, which start at $4.95 per month for unlimited storage and a number of other options.
Backing up to a second hard drive is a fast and easy solution, especially if you use a utility that supports automatic, incremental backups; that is, at designated times, only those files that have changed or been added since the last backup will be copied to the drive. We recommend something along the lines of Second Copy, a favorite among Download.com users and a bargain at $29.95. Keep in mind, however, that a backup hard drive is just as susceptible to mechanical failure (and, for that matter, virus and spyware infections) as your primary drive--all the more reason to adopt more than one backup solution.
Finally, you can take advantage of the CD and/or DVD burner you already own. Blank media is cheap, especially in bulk, and a single CD can hold upward of 150 MP3s. Even if you have to span your files across multiple discs, it's still an easy way to create a physical (though not scratchproof) backup, since software can handle splitting up the files between the discs. The latest versions of Ahead Nero and Roxio Easy CD Creator include backup utilities for use with optical media. The aforementioned Second Copy works fine, too.