Lost, stolen, or broken: keeping music, videos, photos and other personal data on a single PC, laptop, phone or tablet is a risky business.
Many of us have ripped CDs and DVDs to our computers and thrown out or sold the originals to make room, but it’s risky if you’ve only got them stored in one place.
The solution is to get some backup storage, but should you get a hard disc to connect to your router – a server – or upload your data to a professional online service – cloud storage?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both choices, depending on how much you’d like to spend, how much storage you want and how much security or flexibility you’re looking for.
News stories for Personal Data StorageWe’re going to look at a few of the options available, and see how they pan out, before reaching a conclusion. We’re also keeping tabs here on any news in the personal data storage arena – follow the link on the right.
At its most basic, a home server is just a hard disc connected to your home network router – most routers have a USB port to which you can attach a USB-powered hard disc drive and automatically access it from any device.
USB – at least in its common 2.0 flavour – isn’t very speedy, so you’re better off buying a network hard disc or NAS (Network Attached Storage), which is essentially a mini-computer with an Ethernet port so you get a high speed two-way connection to the network.
NAS drives are fairly easy to set up if you use Windows 7 or 8, or Mac OSX, but on Windows XP or Vista you’ll need to use the software supplied by the manufacturer to set up the drive and assign a drive letter so your software can access it – that’s essential if you’re going to make it where your iTunes music library will live.
It’s also a good tip to give your NAS drive a name, so it’s easy to find on your network (you can do the same for all your computers as well). You can use anything from your pets’ names to favourite film characters.
Whatever you choose, the most important thing is to get the biggest hard disc you can afford, because they inevitably fill up. A couple of Terabytes (2,000,000MB) may sound like a lot, but if you’re tempted to rip your entire Blu-ray collection to a server, it’ll soon fill up.
What to look for:
- Gigabit Ethernet: If your router has a Gigabit Ethernet port, get a NAS with one as well – it will allow connections at up to 100 times normal Ethernet speeds, which is useful if lots of people are using it.
- iTunes and DLNA media servers: Your life will be a lot easier if your NAS has a built-in DLNA and iTunes music server, such as Twonky Media. This will automatically index your music, photo and video files so they can accessed by DLNA-compatible devices from smartphones to smart TVs.
- RAID mirroring: A mirrored RAID hard disc has two hard discs, one of which makes a copy of the other on the fly, so if the first disc fails there’s always a back up. It’s unlikely with today’s technology, but you’ll kick yourself if those wedding pictures and videos are lost forever. Post-crash data recovery is expensive and unreliable.
- Cloud backup: Several NAS manufacturers also provide limited free online storage (and you can pay for more. It’s only a few Gigabytes compared to Terabytes at home, but it could be worth it for your key data.
- Remote access: Many NAS drives can be accessed via your broadband connection with a secure login, so you can always pick up important files or access music and data you couldn’t fit on your tablet or phone.
- HDMI playback: Increasing numbers of NAS devices have an HDMI port so you can watch videos on your TV as though it was a Blu-ray player, which is less complicated than DLNA playback, and you can even take it to a friend’s house.
The Cloud is essentially the bit of the internet or World Wide Web where you store things, as opposed to blogging, watching videos, or shopping.
Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, Dropbox, and Sugarsync are the best-known cloud storage service, each giving away several Gigabytes free, with the choice to upgrade to as much as 16 Terabytes.
Apple’s iCloud is just music to start with, but if you have the iWork apps you can also add documents like spreadsheets, while an iTunes Match subscription lets you add you your entire music collection and stream it anywhere.
Many devices, such as Asus laptops and phones, also come with Cloud storage.
Some Cloud services, like Yahoo’s Flickr photo gallery, Google Music and Evernote, to which you can attach all sorts of files, may be useful for specific kinds of storage – but we’re not claiming to be comprehensive here.
Cloud services are certainly useful for storing important documents, but if you’ve got a lot of data you could end up paying heavily to keep it in the cloud – and you can never stop.
As you can see below, many cloud storage services just charge in US Dollars, so you’re subject to changing exchange rates. We’ve also rounded up any daft “.99” prices above £10 or $10.
The Cloud’s biggest floaters
- Amazon Cloud Drive: 5GB free, 20GB £6/month, 50GB £16/year, 100GB £32/year, 200GB £64/year, 500GB £160/year, 1TB £32/year
- Google Drive: Google Drive & Google+ Photos 5GB free, (25GB $2.49/month, 100GB $4.99/month, 1TB $50/month, 16TB $800/month – also upgrades mail storage to same), Google Music 20,000 songs, Gmail 10GB
- Microsoft Skydrive: 7GB free, +20GB $10/year, +50GB $25/year, +100GB $50/year
- Apple iCloud: 5GB photos only without iWork apps, +10GB £14/year, +20GB £28/year, +50GB £70/year, iTunes Match £21.99/year
- Evernote: 60MB/month free, 1GB/month @ £4/month or £35/year, max filesize 100MB each
- Flickr (Yahoo): 300MB/month free (max 30MB/photo, view 200 photos, 10 groups, low-res download only, 2 videos/month), Flickr Pro unlimited uploads/downloads (60 groups, ad-free) $7 for 3 months, $25/year, $45 for 2 years
- Dropbox: 2GB free, 100GB $99/year, 200GB $200/year, 500GB $500/year, +500MB per referral max 18GB, teams 1TB $795/year for 5 users + $125/year per user
- Sugarsync: 5GB free, 30-day free trial with 30GB then $4.99/month ($50/year), 60GB $9.99/month ($100/year), 100GB $15/month ($150/month), 250GB $25/month ($250/year), 500GB $40/month ($400/year)
Recombu Digital’s verdict
Our ultimate solution would be to mix a home media server with several online providers for different types of data.
Spread yourself around and most people won’t need to pay anything but you’ll still have the security of your data being with a major corporation who can’t afford to lose customer information.