Tech Talk: The hard realities

A portable hard drive like this can be had for around �50
A portable hard drive like this can be had for around �50
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THE size of the hard drive inside the average PC has increased exponentially over the last few years – from something like 60 gigabytes at the start of the century to around 20 times that now.

Since the hard drive is where your important documents, pictures, videos and other files are stored, that’s both good and bad news: good because you can store more of them and bad because you have much more to lose if things go wrong.

The hard drive is almost the only part of your PC that still contains moving parts – to wit, a metal disk spinning around 7,200 times a minute. But the problem with fast-moving parts, as any car mechanic or washing machine engineer will tell you, is that they have a habit of wearing out – and when that happens inside a hard disk, the data on it is rendered useless.

So, it makes sense to back up your work somewhere else. But the old standbys of USB sticks and recordable DVDs are nowhere near big enough to carry all the files your hard drive now holds. So the only practical solution is to buy a second hard disk.

A portable drive with 500 gigabytes of space can be had for around £50 on the high street or online and plugs into one of your computer’s USB ports. You can leave it there permanently or pick it up at will and plug it into another machine, which makes it ideal for sharing documents as well as backing them up.

That’s the easy bit; the process of actually backing up the files is an administrative nightmare, made still worse by the absence of worthwhile built-in functionality in the Windows operating system. At its simplest, backing-up files is just a matter of dragging them from one location to another at regular intervals. But what you really need is software that will identify the files that need backing up and get on with the job while you take care of something more productive.

ToDo Backup ( is one of several packages which do this and, unusually, comes in a basic, free version – though you’ll have to scour their website to find it. Setting it up isn’t as straightforward as it could be, but at least you only have to do it once. The trick is to filter out all the files created by Windows which you won’t need in the event of a disk failure. This is a royal pain in the neck – but if the disk suddenly stops spinning, you’ll be glad you suffered.