smart spending

Storing financial files digitally

3. External hard drives 

For those more concerned with storage capacity than size, an external hard drive can prove to be the perfect answer.

An external hard drive is a piece of equipment that sits outside of a computer case in its own enclosure. The device rests on a surface nearby a desktop or laptop computer and is connected via a high-speed interface cable, which enables the transfer of data.

Many of these devices allow for one-touch backup, and some come with a whopping one terabyte of storage space.

But buyer beware: As with any external storage device, external hard drives run the risk of being stolen or damaged.

4. CD-Rs and CD-RWs 

Just when you thought it was time to toss those circular discs in the trash, Schulz says there's still room for CD-Rs and CD-RWs in today's crowded personal storage market.

Sure, they look awfully antiquated next to pocket-sized USB flash drives and external hard drives. But they still serve an important storage role, particularly as backup storage, according to Schulz.

"If something is important enough to put into a digital safe-deposit box, you should have two copies," Schulz says.

For example, he says, if your Web-based online storage service is currently experiencing downtime, a CD-R can serve as an ideal "point-in-time picture of all your important files."

CD-R/RWs typically deliver upward of 80 minutes of audio and/or data storage space in a 1.2-mm thick disc. These recordable discs are cheap and easy to purchase from any office supply store.

However, a major drawback of CD-R/RWs is their lack of capacity, says Jablonski.

"DVDs are probably a lot better, or even the new Blu-rays," says Jablonski.

He's also not entirely convinced CD-R/RWs will stay functional over the long term.

"Essentially they haven't been around long enough to know whether if you put them in your attic for a long time, they're going to keep working," Jablonski says.

CD-R/RWs are vulnerable to getting lost, broken or scratched. Nevertheless, as a secondary source of backup, you won't find a faster or easier alternative.

5. Network-attached storage hard drives 

One format that may offer the capacity of an external hard drive with the convenience of networking is a network-attached storage hard drive, Jablonski says.

Big-name vendors such as Cisco, Linksys and Iomega offer these self-contained units known as "NAS drives." When connected to a desktop or laptop computer, NAS drives offer file-based data storage for an entire network.

NAS drives are perfect for sharing storage across multiple devices on a home network and typically offer up to one terabyte of backup capacity.

But, Jablonski cautions, just as with any hard drive, a NAS drive can still fail. He recommends finding a unit that can hold more than one hard drive to provide that holy grail of data security: redundancy, meaning you'll have at least one good copy of your files should one of the drives fail.

Bankrate reporter Claes Bell contributed to this report.

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