How Do I Backup an External Hard Drive For FREE?

October 15, 2023,

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Do you have an external hard drive, and take it with you? You may have sensitive company data and presentations you show to customers. Or you are just taking your holiday photos and videos around to Grannie’s.

Anything can happen to that drive, meaning your data is irretrievably lost or stolen. Daily reported problems are theft of the drive, data corruption and hardware failure from bumps and shock, stolen data, and a ransom attack on the data, rendering it unreadable.

It is straightforward to back up your external drives and disks; we cover the options in this article.

How Do I Backup My External Drive?

You can backup your external drive to your main PC’s hard drive or to another external drive if you have one.

You can also back up to the cloud. Cloud-based solutions might be too expensive to host your backups, especially if you plan to save large files from your external hard drive. However, many free plans are provided by most cloud storage providers. Your definition of a lot of data might be small when compared to the free storage you can get.

Our experience tells us it is never worth taking the risk with your data. It isn’t if but when you will lose your data.

Choosing the Correct Backup Software

You need to consider the following when selecting backup software for your external hard drive:

  • Backup Location: Most backup software providers link their data centres to cloud storage. However, you should always keep an offline copy of your data in a physical hard drive in case a cloud outage occurs. 
  • Cost: Some backup software may charge a premium fee to store your data. Depending on your preferred backup software, you must factor in recurring costs (or one-time payments).
  • Backup Speed: Quicker backups make getting a safe copy of your external hard drive onto a server easy. 
  • Ease of Recovery: Your preferred backup software should offer a complete and straightforward restore process to recover stored data, images, and photos to your external hard drive. Some software options may not be efficient if you need to recover all files from your last backup on their servers.

Setting Up a Backup Schedule

Your backups should be automatic and should based on a schedule. Automated backups are more reliable and eliminate human error in storing copies of your data from an external hard drive. 

Setting up a backup schedule involves determining three vital points – frequency, scalability, and security. It could be challenging to set up an efficient backup schedule without considering these points:

  • FrequencySeveral factors should determine the number of times an external hard drive backup becomes necessary. Some of these elements include:
    • The size of the data,
    • Assigned value to data,
    • Required resources to store such data, etc.

You must run daily and weekly backups if you are storing sensitive data on an external hard drive. Daily hard drive backups may also be necessary to handle large volumes of data on your external storage devices. 

  • ScalabilityYour backup options might change when the data you need to handle on your external device grows in size. The backup schedule you choose must be able to handle growing data volumes. Consider the available backup servers, data centres, and backup software added to your storage schedule.  
  • SecurityYour backup schedule must consider the security of your data during transit and at rest. The backup destination you choose must prioritise security to keep your data safe from unauthorised access.  

How to Backup Your External Hard Drive

There are a variety of options when you decide which backup software to use and how to deploy it.

Method #1: Backup to Another External Hard Drive

Of course, External hard drives are the first and foremost primary source of data storage devices. 

External hard drives are ideal as a local backup device. Data can be accessed at any time without much trouble. You can also transfer data from one storage device to another if you want to make extra backup copies. 

Data is backed up either through a manual backup or an automated backup process.

Option #1: Manual Backup Process using Windows Explorer

  • Plug both external hard drives into your computer. 
  • The source and destination drive will show up on your computer system.
  • Select the source files you want to back up from the source drive. 
  • Drag and drop, or copy and paste the files from the source to the destination.

Option #2: Use Xcopy or RoboCopy to Backup External Hard Drive

Using command-line tools such as Xcopy and Robocopy to back up your external hard to your backup location will simplify the process and remove most human error. 

Xcopy and Robocopy are powerful tools that come as built-in software in Windows. Compared to Xcopy, Robocopy offers more features, such as control during the copy, including hidden files, compression, backup only modifed files, and encryption.

You must have some basic technical skills to utilise these tools effectively. Both tools can be accessed through the Windows operating system’s command prompt without installing additional software.

Option #3: Using Third Party Backup Software

Third-party backup applications (there are a gazillion of them) can make backing up your data even more straightforward for you. 

There are great free software applications like Microsoft OneDrive, DropBox or Google Drive within a specified storage limit.

This backup software can sync all the data of one external hard to the other. This software can do fullincremental or differential backup processes of your data, such as files and folders. 

Method #2: Backup to the Cloud

Cloud storage is the most reliable locations for storing data. It has been a lucrative business for companies such as Google, which prides itself on “Google Drive” as a cloud storage service. Usually, cloud computing services are meant to provide user comfort for the masses and are managed by the service provider. 

Cloud data storage is handled by physical data centres that run the virtual storage space. These data centres have various servers, giving users good space to store their data. These services, which allow the user to store data online on a platform, are cloud storage services. 

In a cloud storage service, users are provided with limited space, which can be increased with a paid plan. Through this space, users can upload data from anywhere, whether on computers or mobile devices. 

Cloud storage’s most significant feature is that it is digital and can maintain data more efficiently than physical storage devices, which are prone to data loss due to damage. Cloud storage is also cost-effective, so you don’t need to buy costly external hard drives to maintain data. 

Backing up data from your external hard drive to the cloud is technically impossible as the data from the external hard drive must first be transferred to a computer system. Therefore, if you want to back up your data, you can transfer data from your computer to the cloud storage service of your choice.

Method #3: Using Third Party Devices

While the above methods are commonplace, other options still exist. You can use USB flash drives or NAS (Network Attached Storage). These methods are less efficient than the ones mentioned above because you mist remember to backup.

USB flash drives can act as external hard drives. These can be cost-effective when compared to external hard drives. USB flash drives are also easier to carry around due to being compact in size. However, USB’s storage space is limited compared to an external hard drive. 

Therefore, while a USB flash drive can serve as a secondary storage device, it may only be able to store some of the critical data you may want. But if you wish only to back up specific data, then a USB is it because it is portable and cheap. 

On the other hand, users may try out Network Attached Storage (NAS). This is connected through an Ethernet connection. By this, the user can share data without having an internet connection. The stored data is easily accessible to multiple people. However, the cost of getting a NAS installed can be complicated and costly, but the possibility of data loss may be reduced along with the data being manageable offsite.

Securing Your Backup Data

Security is essential to consider while performing an external hard drive backup. You must implement encryption and password protection for all backups to strengthen the integrity and safety of stored information. Data admins can implement effective encryption and password-key protection along with the following steps:

  • Security key rotation – consider switching access keys to your data and prevent unauthorised access in the event of a breach. Key rotation isn’t a standard feature and is usually available in high-end cloud storage or NAS systems.
  • Asymmetric encryption – you can improve data security with asymmetric encryption of backed-up data. Two keys are needed to access data secured through asymmetric encryption. Anyone who seeks access to data backed up from an external hard drive or other devices must possess the public and private keys.

Best Practices for External Hard Drive Maintenance

Engaging best practices to maintain your external storage involves way more than regular hard drive backups. Use the tips below to maintain your storage devices and prevent data loss after an external hard drive backup:  

Tips to Prolong the Lifespan of Your External Hard Drive

  • Be gentle! – if you travel with your external disk, consider keeping it in a foam-lined box. None of us like to be bashed around, and your disk is the same.
  • Don’t use it in extreme weather – extreme heat and humidity can damage an external hard drive.
  • Handle carefully – improper handling of your external hard drive can result in irreversible data loss. Always place the hard drive on a flat, balanced surface.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Data Loss

  • Engage a disaster recovery plan – The plan outlines steps you should take if potential data loss is imminent on any of your storage devices
  • Apply common preventive steps – You can follow common steps to prevent data loss on your external hard drive by:
    • Storing your external hard drive in a safe environment free from contact with dust or liquids
    • Saving data from your hard drive backup in different locations
    • Preventing unauthorised access to backed-up data through software encryption, etc. 
  • Install a reliable antivirus or firewall – Data admins can install functional antivirus software to prevent malicious access to data stored on an external backup device. Firewalls installed on backup hard drives can help prevent unauthorised breaches of essential data. 
  • Use an emergency power supply source – A power surge or outage could disrupt the smooth flow of data to a backup device. Use an emergency power backup device like an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to complete the storage of your data image. You can easily prevent data loss during a backup with a UPS connected to your computer or transfer device.


Backing up data from your external hard drive is an intelligent way to manage stored information and make recovery easy.

Data backups from an external hard drive help protect against hardware failures, malicious attacks, disasters, human mistakes, power surges or outages, etc.

Storing data securely in two or more backup locations provides vital safeguards to keep your information accessible.

Restoring essential information after a security breach, natural disaster or accident is more straightforward with the correct data backup architecture.

Following the steps outlined in this guide gives you everything you need to back up your external hard drive at no cost.

You can use these tips to keep your data security high. Security measures described above can also help you prevent unauthorised access to vital information stored on your external drives.

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