Deciding Where to Save Backups on a Windows 7 Home Network

By Lawrence C. Miller

You can save your Windows 7 home network backups on several different types of media using Windows Backup. These include hard drives, CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, and network shares. With Windows 7 offering so many mediums for backups, it’s important to consider all the options.

Backing up to hard drives

Here are the advantages to using hard drives for saving your backup:

  • Large capacity: Hard drives have the largest capacity of all the possible backup media choices in Windows Backup.

  • Relatively inexpensive: The cost per gigabyte of storage space is low, compared to other storage media such as CDs or DVDs.

  • Portability (external only): External hard drives are fairly portable and many can be easily connected to your computer via a USB port.

  • Speedy: Internal hard drives are more efficient than external hard drives or flash drives that connect to the computer via a USB port, and both types of hard drive are more efficient than writeable CD/DVD drives.

The disadvantages for using hard drives include:

  • Difficult to install (internal): An internal hard drive can be difficult to install.

  • Susceptible to damage: A hard drive, unlike your other storage options, has moving parts — very fast moving parts — which are susceptible to physical damage (particularly external hard drives) and crashes.

  • Not portable (internal only): Regularly removing an internal hard drive to store it in a fireproof safe or other secure location isn’t practical.

Backing up to writeable CDs or DVDs

Advantages of using writeable CDs or DVDs to save your backup are:

  • Convenience: You can buy CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RW discs just about anywhere.

  • Cost: CDs and DVDs are relatively inexpensive.

  • Portability: CDs and DVDs can be easily transported and stored in a secure location, such as a fireproof safe.

  • Durability: Although they are not indestructible, CDs and DVDs do not have any moving parts, and are less susceptible to physical damage than hard drives, including water damage.

Disadvantages of using writeable CDs or DVDs are as follows:

  • No scheduled system images: You can’t save a scheduled system image backup to a CD or DVD.

  • Limited capacity: CDs and DVDs have relatively limited capacity, meaning it may take numerous discs to do a backup. You’ll need to store all of those discs and label them correctly in order to keep track of them.

  • Can’t erase and can only write once: You can’t erase a CD-R or DVD-R and you can burn data to it only once. After you’ve written data to it, it’s there forever. You have to destroy the disc to get rid of the data, and you’ll eventually end up with a large (and perhaps unmanageable) stack of discs. CD-RW and DVD-RW discs do not have these limitations.

Backing up to USB flash drives

The advantages of using USB flash drives for saving your backup include:

  • Convenience: You can buy USB flash drives just about anywhere.

  • Cost: USB flash drives are relatively inexpensive.

  • Portability: USB flash drives can be easily transported and stored in a secure location, such as a fireproof safe.

  • Relatively durable: Although they are not indestructible, USB flash drives do not have any moving parts and are less susceptible to physical damage than hard drives or CDs and DVDs.

The disadvantages for using a USB flash drive are:

  • No system images: You can’t save a system image on a USB flash drive.

  • Easily lost: USB flash drives may be too compact and convenient for some people. Because of their small size, USB flash drives can be easily lost . . . or perhaps left in a pocket and run through the laundry!

  • Limited capacity: Although storage capacities are increasing, USB flash drives still have relatively limited capacity and are more expensive per gigabyte than other storage options.

Backing up to network shares

A network share is just a hard drive located on your network, so it has all the same advantages and disadvantages as a computer hard drive.

In addition to the same disadvantages as a hard drive, network shares have the following disadvantages:

  • Version support: You can save your backup to a network location only if you are using Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise.

  • Security: Other people who have access to the network location may also have access to your backups.

  • Most recent system image only: When you create a system image on a network share, Windows keeps only the most recent version.

Another option for backing up your critical data is to forgo Windows Backup altogether and instead use an online backup service for a small monthly fee.