When Josh Smith's boss got his computer stolen out of his car, he simply went to the store, bought a new one, and plugged it into his backup drive.
"It even brought up the Web page he had looked at the day before," said Smith, editor of Notebooks.com, who lives in Findlay, Ohio.
Setting up a backup system is so easy you would think everyone does it, the way we sync our phones to the cloud so that our lives do not fall apart every time a device takes a dunk in a toilet. But most of us do not put these safeguards in place.
It only takes a little bit of preventive medicine to make sure your laptop or desktop computer can be restored if something happens to it. Here is what you need to know:
While the cloud is great for backing up data, Smith recommends a hard drive backup that you keep in your house — maybe even more than one, in case something happens to the first one. This will not only restore your data, but also your software programs and any other preferences, like web browsing bookmarks.
All it takes to get a backup going is to plug in a drive. On a recent-issue Apple machine, the computer will automatically ask if you want to run Time Machine. Depending on your Windows machine, you may need to identify your preinstalled backup application and start it.
Go with the automatic setup. "It's good to find a solution that's seamless," Smith said.
Basic 1-terabyte models start around $60. A 2-TB drive runs about $100, but drives can often be found with significant discounts.
As for cost savings, you might be able to avoid hiring somebody like a computer consultant to painstakingly rebuild your system. And you are also protected if any of the cloud services you are using goes out of business or changes hands and terms of service.
Most cloud storage services offer a certain amount of storage for free, and you can mix and match according to your needs. If you need additional storage, you can purchase monthly plans. Apple's iCloud is free for 5GB, 99 cents per month for 20 GB and $3.99 per month for 200 GB. With Google Drive, the first 15 GB are free, and it is $1.99 per month for 100 GB. Dropbox is free for 2GB and $9.99 per month for 1 TB.
Louis Ramirez, senior editor at DealNews.com, which aggregates retail bargains, finds iCloud to be seamless if you are an Apple device user. If you are on Android, he recommends Google Drive instead. For a list of hard drives recommended by Deal News, check out this link: (tinyurl.com/btcfts7).
For the really lazy
If you cannot manage buying a drive or implementing cloud storage because you simply cannot remember to sync, there are options for you. Smith says several services, like Backblaze and CrashPlan (code42.com/crashplan/), both for $5 a month for one computer, will backup your whole computer remotely.
Smith also says there are some router/drive combos that can create a wireless backup. You can also find some routers with a USB part that will connect to a hard drive.
Beth Pinsker writes for Reuters.