Backing Up Multiple Computers

Category: Backup

I have three computers in my house, and only one external hard drive. How can I create backups for all three computers, and still keep the data separate? I've thought about using an online backup service, but the amount of data I have would make it difficult. What do you recommend for a multiple computer backup solution?

How to Backup Several Computers

If you have more than one computer, you may wonder what the best strategy is for making backup copies. There are several ways to back up multiple machines. Each has its pros and cons.

You could add a backup storage device (such as an external hard drive) and backup software to each machine. If the backup software is configured to run automatically at a specified time, this could be an ideal solution. But it's rather expensive in terms of hardware and software.

Instead, you could store backup data from all of your computers on one large external storage device. A 1 Terabyte external hard drive could hold backup data for multiple computers. Each computer's backups would be stored in a subfolder on the drive. But how should you connect the external drive to all of those computers?
Backup Multiple Computers

You could carry the drive from one machine to another, plugging it into a USB port on each machine. But that is rather tedious. If your computers are connected on a home network, there's no reason your backup storage device has to be moved.

Connect the backup storage device to one computer which is left on most of the time, or at least during the time period in which you wish to make backups. From the computer to which the backup device is attached, make the backup device a shared network resource. Then every computer on your network will be able to use the backup device.

Configuring Your Backups

Next, you must configure your backup software to create backups of each machine on the network and place the backup copies on the backup storage device. Windows 7 has the ability to back up multiple machines on a network to a shared device, and so do third-party backup programs such as Acronis True Image, Norton Ghost, and SyncBack Pro.

You'll probably want the ability to backup and restore the data for each computer separately, so make sure that your backup software doesn't combine the data from all your computers into one backup image. Create a folder on your backup drive for each computer, and point your backup software to the appropriate folder for each computer.

However, If you do want to backup and sync files across multiple computers, check out Dropbox. Just install the Dropbox "client" on all the computers that you want to sync. Any files you put in your Dropbox folder will automatically sync with all the computers where you've got Dropbox installed. You can even access your dropbox from the web. Dropbox is free, and gives you up to 2GB of storage.

Online remote backup services such as Mozy, Carbonite, and LiveDrive can be used just like a local networked drive to back up multiple computers. Carbonite does not charge a fee for each additional computer you wish to back up, but only for the total amount of data that you store on its servers. Mozy charges $4 per month extra for the ability to use up to 3 computers on your account. LiveDrive has different price tiers for one, up to three, or an unlimited number of computers, but offers unlimited storage space. You should review the pricing plans of these and other online backup services carefully to see which one makes the most financial sense for you.

Oh, and if you're using an online backup service, you probably don't want to backup your entire hard drive. See my related article Should I Backup ALL of My files? ( to learn about backup strategies, and which files you definitely DO need to include in a backup.

Let's close by recapping some of the pros and cons. A separate, always-connected backup device for each computer you own is the fastest, most reliable, and most secure method. Making backups over a network is slower, and online backup is slowest. Network performance will be degraded while backups are in progress, so they should be scheduled to avoid conflicts with users. Online backups store your backup copies off-site, so they won't be lost in a local disaster.

What's YOUR strategy for backing up multiple computers? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Backing Up Multiple Computers"

Posted by:

Tom S.
27 May 2011

I have 4 computers through my house but only worry abut the data on one of them, which I only backup important data and not the complete hard drive. I do however keep track of the programs that are on each p.c. so that in case of a failure I at least know what has to be reinstalled. As a former p.c. tech I can restore a computer to its original condition within an hour and a half (tops!!), so to make multiple backups is just a waste of time.

Posted by:

27 May 2011

Or buy a home server or what is called a NAS Box for Network Attached Storage. ( A NAS box is attached to your router (or switch) and backs up multiple PCs or macs via your network. The NAS box is recognized as a local disk drive on each machine

Posted by:

28 May 2011

All the documents I have on my hard drives (2 putrs, a desktop and a notebook) are filed onto thumbdrives or external hard drive and also "to the cloud" which is Google documents.

I no longer use backup software, cuz 1) I found that I was spending more time actually backing up and not restoring, so I forgot how to restore; and 2) Just about every kind of backup software that I happened to try would not be compatible whenever I upgraded one of my systems.

Posted by:

Randall Granaas
28 May 2011


I just learned a few days ago that only Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate will allow auto-backups to networked devices ( ). I thought I was doing something wrong (and spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what that was) when the Windows 7 auto-backup software on my wife's laptop didn't list the external HDD attached to my desktop computer....

Posted by:

Bob Milligan
28 May 2011

The backup method I use for all my backups is Macrium Reflect. It comes as a freeware program and as a purchased version also. It works great. It is the only package that I have found to make a SUCCESSFULL image copy.

Posted by:

28 May 2011

Hi Bob,

Good article on a tricky topic!

After using NTBACKUP for several years to make full backups on an external 500GB HDD, I saw an advert for a USB device called the ClickFree Transformer.

It's a small device with a USB plug at one end and a USB socket at the other. When you connect it to your PC and plug an external hard disk into the USB socket, it scans your PC for data files, including mail folders, and creates a full backup. The next time you connect it, it performs the scan again but only backs up new and modified files, which takes much less time.

Files are stored on the hard disk in their original form, rather than in an archive file.

It will also install a small app on your PC if you wish which reminds you when to do the next backup.

It can also cope with multiple PCs.

I should add that I have no connection to the company which makes it!


Posted by:

Bill Hatco
28 May 2011

We have three computers. My wife and I each have a PC and my wife has a laptop which she uses for genealogy research. All are backed up to an external 500Gb RAID drive by D-Link, fed through the wireless router. We each have a shortcut to this "Z drive". If the house catches fire, we would grab the Z drive and a handful of flash drives and run, having saved all our photos, her research, game saves, bank records, scans of documents, insurance data, etc. Works well and works fast.

Posted by:

Joseph Kiron
29 May 2011

I have used Carbonite for six months on two computers. It is not true (unless something changed and nobody told me) that they don't charge by computer, they sure do. You cannot back up separate computers across the network.

However, I am paying them about the same for two units as I would for a network at Dropbox (which seems better for most people but probably not for my setup with multiple professional programs keeping data inside them rather than in My Documents). Carbonite was horrendous at first, with lousy customer support, but after a month it all seemed to click into gear and I'm staying with them.

Posted by:

29 May 2011

just get dropbox, all my files are backed up online, and can be accessed from anywhere

Posted by:

03 Jun 2011

I have a 2TB WD20EARS that is used to backup many computers. I keep it in an external HDD enclosure, I use eSATA when possible for speed, or USB if I can't. I have 2TB of space divided in four partitions, two ext4 and two NTFS ones so I can back up GNU/Linux computers or Windows computers. I don't trust cheap backup software, I copy my files directly. On GNU/Linux, I trust rsync. These backups have saved me from some trouble. I often just move my backup hard drive to whatever computer I want to back up because the network here isn't that great, and local transfer is more trustworthy.

You're only as good as your last backup.

Posted by:

10 Jun 2011


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