Saving It

We spend billions of dollars on insurance to protect our cars and our homes but fewer than half of us do what it takes to protect the personal documents and photos on our computers.

Consumer Reports has been testing to find out what backup programs work best.

One data-recovery company gets some 12,000 calls a year from desperate computer owners. Their hard drives have crashed and they've lost all their data.

Data Recovery's Tim Margson says, "You can hear in the voice, the panic. Sometimes we have people crying on the phone."

The painstaking task of recovering the data could have been avoided if only the files had been backed up.

Consumer Reports says one of the best ways to back up your computer is with an external hard drive.

CR's Mike Gikas says, "They're small. Their prices have dropped. And the best are easy to use."

Consumer Reports tested 10 drives that cost between $180 and $300.

Gikas says, "You can find external hard drives for much less but typically they can't hold as much data and their software is not as easy to use."

For a drive to back up a single computer, Consumer Reports recommends the 250-gigabyte Iomega Black Series Triple Interface for $220. The software is easy to use and it works with both PCs and Macs.

Consumer reports also tested drives that can back up several computers on a home network, using either an ethernet or a wireless connection.

Gikas says, "Generally, backing up your data over a wireless network takes about 10 times longer than it does when you plug the hard drive directly into your PC."

Among network drives, Consumer Reports recommends the 250-gigabyte SimpleShare from SimpleTech for $300.

Back up regularly and you'll avoid the angst and expense of trying to recover lost, even irreplaceable data.

Consumer Reports says you should be aware that an external hard drive can't protect you against catastrophes like a fire or flood. That's why you should also routinely back up essential files onto something like a DVD and keep it at a different location.

Another option is using an online data service such as

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