The horror of losing my laptop would have been a lot worse 3 or 4 months ago, before I got this thing:
That's just a cheap Seagate 1TB Expansion drive. I had a premonition a while back that something bad was going to happen (and it did!), so I had finally just upgraded my backup system. Before this, I was using a random hodge-podge of DVD-R's and old hard drives that were all too small, so I'd have a few things here, a few things there and of course I never bothered to update any of it. This thing changed all that.
I only lost 3 weeks worth of data when my laptop was stolen. And I was pissed enough about that (I'd been meaning to back up again literally that same night), but really it ended up being far worse just knowing all my data is now out there somewhere. I didn't actually lose much of it myself. If I'd lost my data, I think I'd probably be in a straitjacket in a padded room somewhere right now. (I would really like my original edited videos and project files of KERA model Re:NO back, though, dammit!)
First, back up! Duh.
Second, I don't use the backup utility that came with Windows or my hard drive; in fact, I think actual "backup" is not what most people really want to do. I searched all around looking for a good backup app and I couldn't figure out why none of them worked the way I expected, and I eventually realized that what I wanted was "sync", not "backup". I think this is probably going to be common for most home users, and even a lot of people backing up for work.
What's the difference? With "backup", you get a big giant file that's a compressed ball of data. That ball of data is useless unless you need to restore the whole thing. If something happens, you "restore the backup" and off you go, but that backup is going to totally put your system back to the way it was on whatever date.
With "sync", you're just mirroring files and folders, and you have a lot more options. So you end up not with a big, mostly useless file, but an exact duplicate of whatever folders you choose to sync. I think this is better because you can always just connect your backup drive and pull files back individually, if, say, you delete something by mistake, or you corrupt some files but not others. You just have your actual files in two separate places. It also makes backing up *much* faster, because there's no compression involved - it's basically just glorified file copying. And that, again, makes it easier to actually do it, because it just takes a few minutes once you have the initial sync done. (The initial sync copies *all* your specified files; after that, only changes and new files are copied.)
I found a great free, open source tool called "FreeFileSync" that does exactly what I want and costs nothing. You just specify which folders you want to link up on each drive (for example, "My Documents" on your computer with "My Documents" on the backup drive), you specify how the app handles conflicts or leave it default, and then you let it go. Once it's initially set up, for later syncs you just connect, press the compare and then sync buttons, and boom, done.
Now you can't blame me anymore if you lose all your data! I've told you what saved me.