Storage options

Backing up is essential to protect your data, but which medium will you choose?
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01 .Introduction


It’s all well and good to have a backup plan for preserving your data, but where will you back up your files? And what type of storage solution will suit you best?

To answer this we’ve taken a look at the popular storage options and the pros and cons of each. Included in our comparison are CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, USB flash drives, external hard drives and online data storage.

The format you choose makes a big difference. CDs and DVDs are the cheapest options, but they don’t store as much as external hard drives. Flash-based solutions such as USB keys are portable but expensive for the amount of data they store.

Also, you need to consider how each backup device connects to your computer — you’ll need the right kind of burner to copy onto CDs and DVDs, whereas all modern computers come with USB ports built-in already.

Please note: this information was current as of February 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

In brief

  • CDs and DVDs are the cheapest storage options available.
  • Devices like USB keys have limited capacity, but are highly portable.
  • External hard drives and high definition disc formats hold the most data.
  • Ultimately, the best media for you depends on what you will be using it for. Optical discs are good for cheap portability; external hard drives for large volumes; and flash based solutions like USB keys for ease of use. Online is a more recent alternative, but keep in mind that you have little control over your remote data (sites could go down, you might lose internet access and so on).
  • Regardless of your preference, in most cases you’ll want to make more than one backup — what’s the use of a backup if the backup fails? Subscribe to CHOICE Computer

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One of the most common backup mediums today, CDs are cheap, widely supported, and almost all PCs come with optical drives that can read CDs.

Recordable CDs store up to 700MB of data and are available in two different formats: CD-R (recordable) which can only record data once, and CD-RW (rewriteable) which can erase and re-record data hundreds of times.

However, CDs can be fragile and need to be stored properly (in sleeves or CD cases) in order to avoid damage, as even small scratches can prevent parts of the disc from being read.

  • Cost: CD-R approx $1 per disc; CD-RW approx $1.50 per disc
  • Capacity: 700MB

Good points

  • Very cheap
  • Portable

Bad points

  • Limited capacity
  • Fragile


Standard DVD-/+R discs can hold 4.7GB of data while dual layered discs can hold up to 8.5GB. Like their CD-R counterparts, DVD-/+R discs can only be written to once, while DVD-/+RW discs can be erased and rewritten many times.

There’s also DVD-RAM (Random Access Memory) which allows data to be recorded and accessed much like a hard drive, however DVD-RAM discs are more costly.

As with CDs, DVDs can be fragile and should be stored in protective sleeves or cases when not being used.

  • Cost: DVD-/+R approx $1 per disc; DVD-/+RW approx $2.50 per disc; DVD-RAM approx $8 (single-sided), $15 (double sided)
  • Capacity: Single layer 4.7GB, Dual layer 8.5GB

Good points

  • Very cheap
  • Portable
  • Good capacity

Bad points

  • Fragile

Blu-Ray (BD-R/RE)

While still relatively new, Blu-ray also presents high-capacity optical storage options. BD-R and BD-RE (rewriteable) offer 25GB per layer, with 50GB of storage available on double-layer discs.

However, not only are Blu-ray writeable drives expensive, but so is the recordable media.

  • Cost: BD-R $34.95 (25GB), $59.95 (50GB); BD-RE $42.95 (25GB), $89.95 (50GB).
  • Capacity Blu-ray up to 50GB (dual-layer)

Good points

  • Large capacity
  • Portable

Bad points

  • Fragile
  • Expensive
  • Requires Blu-ray burner

What about HD DVD?

The high-definition storage war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD is effectively over. Toshiba announced in February that it would no longer develop, manufacture or market HD-DVD players and recorders. HD DVD-R/RW provided 15GB of space on a single layer disc or 30GB double layer (although double layer discs are not available in Australia).

USB flash drives

Flash memory is the technology used in USB keys (also called USB flash drives), as well as memory cards (such as those you might use with a digital camera).

USB flash drives appear as a removable drive when connected to your computer, allowing you to drag and drop files to and from the device. USB flash drives have become today’s equivalent of the floppy disk, with their small size allowing for easy portability.

Some MP3 players can also be used as data storage devices. While this may be a convenient solution, keep in mind such devices are designed to be portable media players, and not reliable backup devices.

While USB flash drives are available in sizes up to 32GB at time of publication, the common (and more affordable) sizes are between 1 and 8GB.

  • Cost: Approx $40 (1GB), $70 (2GB), $100 (4GB), $200 (8GB)
  • Capacity: Common sizes 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB

Good points

  • Highly portable
  • Easy to use

Bad points

  • Limited capacities
  • Expensive

External hard drives

External drives can be an easy way to expand your storage and make it easy to backup and restore data to one or more computers. External hard drives contain a hard drive in an enclosure that can be connected to a PC, usually via USB or FireWire. As with USB flash you can drag and drop data directly onto the device just like any other drive in your system.

Some external hard drives are NAS (Network Attached Storage) and connect independently to your network, allowing them to be accessed by multiple machines.

External hard drives are available in capacities up to 1 Terabyte (1000 GB) or more for units that include multiple disks. For more information, see our test report on external hard drives.

  • Cost: Varies. Usually around $300-$350 for 500GB
  • Capacity: Up to 1TB

Good points

  • Very large capacity
  • Easy to use

Bad points

  • Expensive
  • Not easily portable

The Online option

Data can also be stored online using a file hosting service. Storage limits range from 100MB to over 5GB of free space, or more if you sign up for paid accounts. File hosting services are useful for making data available to others if you so choose, but be aware you can’t guarantee the security of files hosted on a remote server. Finally, some sites will let files 'expire' -- that is, be deleted if you don’t login regularly.

Examples of sites that offer file hosting services include Megaupload (, YouSendIt ( and 4Shared ( among others. Search Google for 'online storage' to find more.

  • Cost: Free or paid
  • Capacity: Varies. 100MB to 5GB is not uncommon.

Good points

  • Convenient
  • Large capacities for paid services

Bad points

  • Limited capacity for free services
  • Requires internet access
  • Data can expire