In the event of a catastrophe, it's always good to have a backup of your data. I'm looking for a good hardware solution (i.e. not a cloud or other online-type backup—a physical backup that I can keep with me) that's not too expensive.

I have approximately 12GB of data that I'd like to keep backed up (probably ~20–30GB max). I'd like to make backups no less often than about once every 10 days or so, and I don't really care about keeping 3- to 4-month old backups around.

An ideal solution would have the following properties:

  • Very reliable (obviously, it's a backup); close to 0% failure rate.

  • Should last for at least 5 years.

  • Not too expensive. Cheaper is better, and the absolute maximum for me is probably somewhere in the ~$100 range.

  • 1TB of storage space at minimum. (Of course, more can't hurt, but this doesn't matter as much as the other factors above.)

  • Should be usable with my laptop (so ideally, over USB).

What's the best backup drive / other backup solution I can get with these criteria? Since I'm pretty clueless about these types of things (which is why I've decided I should probably start making backups soon, as in yesterday), what other thing should I be looking for in a backup drive as well?

  • Something else to consider - you would likely want your backup solution to be disconnected - to prevent certain advanced malware, like CryptoWall, from targeting your backups, thus ensuring they screw you completely. (Yes, the later versions DO in fact do precisely this.)
    – AviD
    Commented Nov 19, 2015 at 15:44
  • may i ask why not online ? Google Cloud Storage costs about 0.7 cents per GB/month . You don't get even close to this price with hardware solution. And IMHO you can consider google as reliable company
    – Michał G
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 10:23

7 Answers 7


Ballparking from your backup plan (12 GB working set, weekly backups, retention of three months), and assuming full backups rather than incremental backups, you need about 150 GB of storage, rather than the 1 TB you specify.

At this scale, you're looking for an external USB hard drive or solid-state drive. None of these is exceptionally reliable (five-year failure rates vary between 1% and 100%, depending on brand, batch, and luck), so standard practice is to use two of them. For protection against bad batches, I'd recommend getting different brands for your two drives.

I'm not recommending any particular brand, simply because predicting which ones are reliable or not is a fool's errand. Avoid drives with special "one-touch backup" or similar features (they're just another possible point of failure). Select two ordinary drives based on whatever minor criteria are important to you, such as color, physical size, presence (or absence) of an external power cord, etc.

  • 5
    1%-100% is any percent...
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 23:47
  • 2
    @Adam, there's a whole range of numbers between 0% and 1%, and for something as critical as data storage, I consider a 1% failure rate to be too high -- if I had to go with just a single drive for backup, I'd want a five-year failure rate of 0.01% or lower.
    – Mark
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 23:48
  • Why are you ruling out optical media? At 12GB, it's still workable. Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 23:56
  • 1
    @Gilles, cost and ease of use. A 12GB working set means Blu-Ray if you want each set to fit on a single disc. BD-R discs appear to be around $1 each; five years of weekly backups would be around $250. You could try saving money with BD-RE discs ($2.50 each, $35 for three-month retention), but my experience is that rewriteable discs don't come anywhere near the claimed durability. Additionally, you can find external hard drives that fit in your pocket; you can't do the same with optical media.
    – Mark
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 0:16
  • @Mark it easy enough to split most backups into 4~GB chunks (3 DVDs), and read-only (after first write) last for ages
    – Wilf
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 23:51

I've had good luck with Seagate Barracuda drives. You can get a 1TB bare drive for $50 on Amazon, or go all the way up to 5TB:

enter image description here

Note that there are reports that Barracuda drives could be unreliable. In that case, take whatever hard drive (or SSD) brand you like (some are better than others in general).

Now, get yourself an external drive mount. I've been using a Thermaltake BLACX N0028USU ($40, but a cheaper one should be just fine):

enter image description here

It'll take both 2.5" and 3.5" drives, and it's really nice on its own to have around - you can take a hard drive out of a dead computer and use it to get the data off the drive, for example. It's also nice and heavy and doesn't float around your desk.

With this combination in mind, your requirements:

Very reliable (obviously, it's a backup); close to 0% failure rate.

Well... 0%? Probably not. But mine hasn't broken yet...

Should last for at least 5 years.

I've had mine for 6.

Not too expensive. Cheaper is better, and the absolute maximum for me is probably somewhere in the ~$100 range.

You're in that range, and now you have the initial investment in the mount out of the way - hard drives to put in it are only going to get cheaper.

1TB of storage space at minimum. (Of course, more can't hurt, but this doesn't matter as much as the other factors above.)


Should be usable with my laptop (so ideally, over USB).

That BlacX one has a USB connection on it, can't speak for others (although USB is fairly universal)

The main ding against this setup is that it isn't terribly portable, although I've taken it on vacations before wrapped in clothes (the hard drives come with an ESD-resistant case, use it!) with no ill effects.

  • 2
    I've had very bad luck with Seagate Barracuda drives: five out of six drives have failed in the past two years.
    – Mark
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 23:46
  • @Mark That's interesting - I've never had one fail, although I'm not pushing them terribly hard. Were all of yours from the same production run or anything like that?
    – user1
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 0:03
  • Based on the serial numbers, I think the five that failed may have been.
    – Mark
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 0:05
  • And I am pretty sure I have had horrible results from a BlacX dock myself. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 22:01

For super portable backups, I always recommend a Western Digital Passport. They come in a few different capacities and colors and you can choose an optional "grip" to make it quieter when it's laying on a hard surface.

enter image description here

The one little setback with these is they are entirely USB-powered, which is great, but that means transfers won't be as fast as an external HDD with its own power source.

Still though, the Passport is very, very small and light. A fantastic buy for large backups with portability in mind.


You must consider the following possible scenarios that would lead to data-loss:

  1. hardware failure
  2. water (inundation)
  3. fire
  4. earthquake
  5. time degradation of backup medium

Consider this setup: 2x 1TB hard drives of different types and manufacturers, RAID / copy on both the same information.

  • Keep drives in separate locations (aka different homes). This should take care of problems 1,2 (if the inundation is localized aka in your home) and 3.

  • To protect from 4 you can either buy or build a very solid steel case or consider the backing up your crucial part online.

  • To protect from 5. you should consider backing up your data on Archival Paper. You can get 6 MiB / sheet of paper (two sides).

Paper is different. Do you remember the punched cards? EBCDIC and all this stuff. For years, cards were the main storage medium for the source code. I agree that 100K+ programs were... unhandly, but hey, only real programmers dared to write applications of this size. And used cards were good as notepads, too. Punched tapes were also common. And even the most weird codings, like CDC or EBCDIC, were readable by humans (I mean, by real programmers). http://ollydbg.de/Paperbak/

More here: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/134427-a-paper-based-backup-solution-not-as-stupid-as-it-sounds

  • 1
    The question specifies a 12GB working set. 6MB per sheet sounds like a lot, until you realize that's 2000 sheets of non-reusable paper every single week. Three-month retention means 1.3 meters of bookshelf space and 35 kg of paper.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 18:10
  • Nice answer... but number 5 was literally created as a joke/proof of concept :)
    – Wilf
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 1:56

There are plenty of good answers already. Let me sum up and add my experience:

  • use hard disks, not tapes
  • use actually magnetic HDDs no SSDs (not only a question of cost, but also long-term storage, see http://www.anandtech.com/show/9248/the-truth-about-ssd-data-retention)
  • it's debatable if server HDDs (build for 24/7, fewer spin up/down) or notebook HDDs (the complement) are better. If in doubt, use both types.
  • I encrypt my backup hard drives, so the data is not easy prey
  • use some kind of tray (internal or external) mechanism for easy swap
  • I use an internal bay to have good SATA connectivity, USB is slower, but if you do not have eSATA on your laptop of course go with USB.

You didn't mention if you need to backup Windows or Linux, or both, so it's hard to suggest a backup solution. Personally, I've been using http://rsnapshot.org/ for like 6 years which is ultra fast, the backups are ultra accessible (like you are used from your file system).

Another solution might be unison https://www.cis.upenn.edu/~bcpierce/unison/ which I use to sync remote servers. It might be overkill for the unidirectional way of a backup.

And last but not least: Keep your backups geographically distributed! You probably didn't mean "catastrophe" like in the movies, but in case you did, you do not want to have all of your backups in one city/country/continent.


DVDs come in various varieties*, for example DVD-R (RW) 4.7GB (4.4GiB). Using these for important data (backed up very week/month) alongside atleast 2 separate Hard Disks (possibly with at least storage medium one off site in case of disaster) can be effective method of ensuring your data is safe.


DVDs can be bought as 'spindles' (which in packs of 100 4.7GB discs can be bought for around $20 USD), which can also act as form of rudimentary storage. DVD Wallets are also available if you want storage with possibly more protection:

DVD wallet

Optical discs are much less susceptible to electrical damage, as data is written as physical dents in the structure (it is a form of non-volatile storage) - complex components needed to read the data are not attached to the disc, reducing (integrated) points of failure and in some way making them waterproof.

But they are usually thin and fragile so are easy to break or scratch (and otherwise corrupt the data). Also if kept in poor conditions, the glue holding them together could break down and make them easy to split, or the layers containing the data could be damaged (by oxidation etc). However many DVDs do come with a lifetime warranty, and (more expensive) archive quality discs are available.

Formatting shouldn't be as much of a problem (heavily depending on format - see below*) as along as your DVD and ODD both can use the same standards they should work. HDDs and SSDs (and USB drives, SD cards, etc) require a partition table and filesystem formatting, and support for different formats for varies across systems (e.g. Windows only really supports NTFS and FAT (and exFAT), and possibly BTRFS - it needs more drivers to access other filesystems).

*DVD Formats - They are A LOT of optical disc standards, and you need to bear in mind which format you are getting if you want to maintain compatibility (A DVD Multi with Read Write, Blu-ray, CD functionality may be able to read all of these):

Supported by Panasonic, Toshiba, Apple Computer, Hitachi, NEC, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp, also supported by the DVD Forum. Should be supported by most DVD-ROM equipment.:

  • DVD-R: Can record data only once and then the data becomes permanent on the disc.
  • DVD-RW: Read writeable (usually using phase transition), but may have shorter lifespan.
  • Also DVD-RAM

Supported by Philips, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Ricoh, Yamaha and others. In my experience, some systems may not support them out of the box.

  • DVD+R: Can record data only once and then the data becomes permanent on the disc
  • DVD+RW: Read writeable (usually using phase transition), but may have shorter lifespan.

Developed by Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Thomson, Hitachi, Matsushita, Pioneer and Philips, Mistubishi and LG Electronics.

  • Blu-ray: Not as compatible and more expensive per disc, but can store more data (25GB single layer, 50GB dual layer, other formats can support 100GB+. Data density is a lot higher due to using a smaller blue wavelength. BD-RE discs are read-writable. A similar format called HD DVD was available.


  • M-DISC: A hardware variation of DVD or Blu-ray standards that apparently should allow data to be stored for up to 1000 years due to resistance to temperature, humidity, ultraviolet and full-spectrum light etc. However requires a higher powered laser to be recorded too. See also Archival Disc (a similar archive orientated format by Sony and Panasonic designed for the disc to last at least 50 years).

Many of the above formats are also available with more than one layer (e.g. DL (Dual Layer), which are similar but can record more data. However, they are only supported by capable equipment (e.g. DL need Dual Layer support).

These standards vary because of manufacturers implementing there own standards, or by the use of different technologies. Other optical formats can be compared here

  • I might try and a cost comparison later... and split it into a more readable Pros/Cons.
    – Wilf
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 1:52
  • cannot write to DVD-R
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 18:49
  • @tuskiomi DVD-R RW is on the disks I use
    – Wilf
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 20:03
  • Yeah. just wanted to point out the start up cost to manufacturing DVD Rs is much higher than RWs.
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 20:13

For a MBP, about 2-3 years ago I got:

  • 2 very small external USB C enclosures, not docks. USB C means the drive can be powered through it. And it's fast. Enclosures means the drives get protected, unlike a dock. About $30 CAD, if I remember. Size of a pack of cigarettes. + a 6" USB C cable (10-15$?).

  • 2 small laptop 2.5" HDD drives that fit those enclosures. Not very expensive either. HDD because of price and reliability, had 2 brand-name SSDs die on me already in my laptops, never happened with HDD.

Rotate backups through them. That's using Time Machine, but really whatever software is appropriate in your case.

At home I try to keep them hidden in different spots. And I should really consider putting one in my car trunk. Consider the risks from fire or burglary (I know one case of each, where the person lost all their backups).

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