Part I — The Hardware
Most of you have data (pictures, documents, songs, and videos) that are important to you. You want this stuff backed up. In addition to any possible online backup / sync services you might be using, the foundation of your backup scheme should be a local, USB connected external hard drive. These drives are cheap and compact in size. You should have at least one and possibly more than external hard drive to back up to.
You can’t go wrong with the Western Digital My Passport drives. Here is an Amazon link for easy ordering. http://amzn.to/2DgHXyE A 1 TB drive will cover basic needs. Get a 2 TB or larger if you have a lot of data to back up. These backup drives should be replaced every 2 to 3 years. If its been that long, order yourself one or more.
Part II — The Software
Windows does not have great backup software built into the operating system. Mac users have a built in app called Time Machine from Apple. However, there are some great utilities for Windows that are available at no cost should you want a 0 dollar option.
First, you have to decide if you want to do a CLONE BACKUP or SYNC BACKUP. You may want to do both. Let me explain. A clone is an exact copy of your hard drive. A clone can be restored from if your computer crashes or dies. Your computer can be fully restored to its last backed up state from a clone backup. It is possible to restore just a folder or a file from a clone backup, but it takes a couple of steps. The main purpose of a clone backup is to restore the entire computer. My baseline for clone backup software is Macrium Reflect. Despite the “Mac” in the name, they are a Windows product. This is the backup software I have installed on many of your computers right now. The free version works nicely for many. Some of my clients have opted for the added benefits of the paid version. https://www.macrium.com/reflectfree
A SYNC BACKUP is going to compare files and folders between your computer’s internal hard drive and external hard drive and make sure they are identical. For example, if you have a folder called Documents on your computer with 300 documents and sync it to the external drive drive you will also get a folder called Documents with 300 documents. Future synchronizations will only update the changes that you’ve made. Sync backups are very accessible to you. You can simply go into your external drive in File Explorer at any time to drag files out or work with them on the drive. You can easily restore individual files and folders from a sync backup. It is a drag and drop process. A sync backup is not meant to be used to restore your entire computer. You could also take your external drive with the sync backup and easily use it on another computer. My favorite utility for sync backups (Mac and Windows versions available) is called Free File Sync. https://www.freefilesync.org/
Whether you use one or more backup drives, do a clone backup, sync backup, or both — please back up to an external drive. Buy new drives regularly. Get professional help should you need it.