Back it up.
If you want to back up a lot of data at once, our favorite external hard drive is the Iomega eGo SuperSpeed USB 3.0 (starting at $109; www.iomega.com). The drive is backwards compatible with the USB 2.0 ports you’ll find on an older notebook. When you finally upgrade, your USB 3.0 drive will work with many brand-new models. Conveniently, the drive comes with Iomega’s QuikProtect suite, which includes software that creates a copy of the operating system, as well as your programs and settings. The drive also includes 2GB of free storage space with the backup service MozyHome (more on that in the next section).
Identify rarely used programs.
You might have software installed that you never, or seldom, use. Comb your list of applications and consider deleting ones you rarely open, or at least storing them on an external hard drive. Go to Control Panel > Programs and Features, right-click on the header bar, and click “Used.” You can also go to My Computer, right-click on the primary drive (typically “C”), highlight programs you don’t use and click “Uninstall.”
Cut the crap.
You probably won’t miss most of the programs that come pre-installed on your PC, known not-so-affectionately as “bloatware.” Keep an eye out for simple games, browser plug-ins and apps such as Google Desktop. Sometimes, bloatware includes software developed by laptop manufacturers. These run the gamut from network managers to power management utilities. Another culprit: photo organization software you might have installed along with your all-in-one printer. On the flip side, remember not to delete your security software.
Send your files to the cloud.
The online service Dropbox is best for syncing files between your PC and the web, or perhaps even another computer. But it’s not ideal for a backup where you are moving the files off of your hard drive. For that, there are services that will let you store documents and media files such as music and photos.
MozyHome (www.mozy.com), our reigning Editors’ Choice winner, is owned by storage giant EMC, which means the chances of the service folding abruptly are slim. Mozy offers 2GB for free, 50GB for $5.99 per month for one PC, and 125GB for $9.99 a month for three PCs. It’s Mac- and PC-compatible and conveniently backs up your files while your computer is idle. Be warned, though, that the service only saves versions of files for 30 days.
SOS Online Backup (www.sosonlinebackup.com) does store an unlimited number of file versions, though at $9.95 per month for 50GB, it’s more expensive. SOS is also compatible with PCs, iPads, and iPhones, but not with Mac computers.
Carbonite (www.carbonite.com), another popular service, offers unlimited backup for $54.95 per year, a boon for people who don’t want to keep tabs on their usage. Its Mac- and PC-friendly software is particularly easy for novices to use, though power users will find cherry-picking select files for backup to be a more painstaking process.
In each of these cases, you can schedule backups, and the software will be smart enough to only save changes to files you have already saved. That’s less time-consuming than saving each whole file over again.