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How I Back up My Personal Files

A friend of mine sent me a question about backing up personal files. She said this:

What is the best way to buy long-term cloud storage that is private, secure, resistant to destruction? Archival storage for personal files… maybe 1TB total, more if it’s affordable

I don’t think I’ve written about this much, but this is actually something I care about a lot, and I did a fair bit of research on this a couple of years ago.

The main tool I use is Arq, which is a desktop app for Mac and Windows. I’m going to go over the main points of this software:

Basic Setup

When you set up Arq, you choose which folders you want to have backed up. I just have back up my Photos folder, and the Developer folder where I keep all my code stuff. Arq runs in the background on my computer, and whenever I add anything to these folders, or edit something, it backs up the new file. In my experience, it’s extremely convenient, and doesn’t require any work after the initial setup (which is obviously vitally important to keeping regular backups).


Possibly the most important thing about Arq is that it lets you choose where your files are stored. You can send your files to Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, AWS, OneDrive, an SFTP server, or an NAS. More importantly, you can set up multiple services, and you can decide what goes where. So maybe you want your most important files to be backed up to both Dropbox and Google Drive, but since your photos take so much space, you just want them to go to Amazon – that’s easy to set up. This redundancy accomplishes the resistant to destruction part of the request.

These storage choices have similar prices, and most of them have free levels. Google Drive, for example, comes with 15GB of free storage and then costs $10/month for 1TB. Arq has a chart on this page that you can use to compare.


Arq encrypts all your data on your computer before it ever reaches any of the cloud servers. This is why it’s safe to send your data to a bunch of servers. You do need to set a passphrase, and always remember that phrase, or else your backups will be useless to you.


Arq costs $50. I’ve been using it since late 2014 and there’s been 1 major upgrade (to version 5) that cost $25. I was happy to pay that.

In my opinion, buying Arq is completely worth it, and a great deal. I tried a couple of backup services before Arq, like Crashplan for instance, and I hated them. Their software was extremely, extremely crappy, and the upload speeds were terrible. I never had to download backups from them, but I have a strong feeling it would have been a nightmare. Arq just feels like a modern, good piece of software.

On top of what you pay for Arq, you need to pay a monthly fee to the cloud server places, as mentioned above. If you have a small amount of data to back up, this might be free, or close to free, but otherwise it’ll probably cost between $7 and $10/month per terabyte.

Other Thoughts

I like the possibility of setting up a cheap VPS (virtual private server) somewhere like Digital Ocean or Chunkhost and running an SFTP server on it. Pricing for a setup like that is going to start at $5/month for 20GB of space though (as of this writing at both those companies), so it’s not the most economical choice. This option would be a good add-on if you have a small amount of data to store. It’d also be good for someone who doesn’t want to use Google, Amazon, Dropbox or Microsoft.

As I mentioned earlier, I tried a couple of other services before settling on Arq. I forget which ones I tried exactly, but I know I tried Crashplan for a month and it was horrible. The software was some terrible Java garbage that ran insanely slow, and was confusing to use. Their network was also extremely slow, and to upload all my photos, it said it was going to take literally several months hahaha. Holy moly. I think it wound up taking a few days using Arq and Google Drive.

I actually just searched to see if Crashplan still gets a lot of complaints for being slow, and judging from the “CrashPlan is Slow” twitter account, it’s just as bad as it was when I used them. This is off-topic, but wow, if you want to see some horror stories, read through all the stuff that account retweets, yikes.

Photos and Videos

If you have a lot of photos or videos to back up, I would highly recommend using Google Photos in addition to Arq. I don’t think there’s any downloading tool, so I wouldn’t use it as my only backup tool, but it’s free, and it makes a nice last-ditch backup choice. It’s an incredibly well designed product, which makes sorting, searching and browsing your photos very easy, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Worth noting is that anything you upload to Google Photos is a lot less private and secure than what you upload using Arq, since theoretically, Google could look at your photos/movies at will (or anyone who broke into your Google account). So obviously avoid this choice for any photos you wouldn’t want the public to see.

So I hope this is useful information. If you have any feedback, or other suggestions, leave a comment. This might sound like an ad for Arq or something, but it’s not, I don’t even have a lowly affiliate code to paste in (although I did with the Digital Ocean link above). If there are newer, better options, I’d love to hear them.

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