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How to Back Up Your Digital Life

How to Back Up Your Digital Life

The hardest thing about this step is figuring out which hard drive to buy. If you want something small, see our guide to portable hard drives (which don’t require external power). Backblaze, a backup company that currently stores more than 1 exabyte of data, and therefore has considerable experience with hard drives, periodically publishes its drive statistics, which have some helpful numbers to consider.

Unfortunately, what really jumps out of that data is that longevity varies more by model than by manufacturer. That said, I suggest sticking with known names like Seagate, Western Digital, and Hitachi. Still, even brand-name drives fail. I had a big brand-name drive fail on me recently, and it was only four months old. What you get by sticking with the brand names is good customer service. In my case, the company replaced the drive without question.

Even within brand names, though, some drives are better than others. Several of us here on the Gear team have had good luck with Western Digital hard drives. I like this 5-terabyte model ($108 at Amazon, $108 at Best Buy), which will back up this very article later tonight (it’s backed up to the cloud as I type, more on that in a minute). If you don’t mind a larger form factor, there’s a Western Digital 6-terabyte “desktop” version that’s not much more ($140 at Amazon). 

One nice thing about buying a drive for backing up your data is that you don’t need to worry about drive speed. Even a slow 5,400-rpm drive is fine. These slower drives are cheaper, and since the backup software runs in the background, you probably won’t notice the slower speed.

Get the largest backup drive you can afford. Incremental backups—which is how all good backup software works—save disk space by backing up only the files that have changed since the last backup. But even so, you need a larger drive for backups than whatever is on your PC. A good rule of thumb is to get a backup drive that’s two, or even three, times the size of the drive in your computer.

Set It and Forget It

A good backup system runs without you needing to do a thing. If you have to make a backup, you probably won’t. These days there is software that can automate all of your backup tasks.

Mac users should use Time Machine. It’s a wonderfully simple piece of software and possibly the best reason to buy a Mac. Apple has good instructions on how to set up Time Machine so it will make daily backups to your external hard drive. Time Machine is smart too; it will only back up files that have changed, so it won’t eat up all your disk space.

Windows 11 offers Windows backup, which will back up most of your personal data to your Microsoft account, but it isn’t intended to fully restore your system, should a hard drive fail. A WIRED reader tipped me off to the File History features in Windows, which performs automatic incremental backups on any folder you designate. While File History works quite well in my testing, and can take the place of something like Time Machine if you go through and set it up for every folder you need to back up, Windows still doesn’t really have a utility like Time Machine. 

The Best USB Hubs and Docks for Connecting All Your Gadgets

The Best USB Hubs and Docks for Connecting All Your Gadgets

Your laptop never has enough ports–especially if it’s the Macbook Air this guide was written on. That forces you to carry an array of dongles so you can plug everything in. Fortunately, there’s a better way. USB hubs can expand the number and kind of ports available, and USB docks let you turn a laptop into a full-blown workstation with one plug. After testing several different USB hubs and docks, these are the best we’ve found for different needs. 

Looking for other home office gizmos and gadgets? We’ve got a number of guides that can help, like our Best Work From Home Gear, Best USB Flash Drive, and Best Portable External Storage Drives roundups.

Update June 2022: We added the Plugable USB-C Triple Display dock, updated prices throughout.

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Do You Need a Hub or a Dock?

There’s a grey area between USB hubs and docks, since they technically do (mostly) the same thing: add more ports and connectors to your computer. However, there are some slight differences and it’s worth understanding them before you buy one.

USB hubs are smaller, cheaper dongles that can add extra USB ports, SD card readers, display outputs, or a headphone jack. These often don’t supply extra power, which means you might not be able to charge gadgets plugged into them. They’re also portable enough to throw in your laptop bag so you can use them at home and on the go.

USB docks are often larger, more expensive, and are designed to spend most of their time on your desk. They often come with their own power supply, so they can charge other devices, and have multiple monitor outputs and Ethernet connections. If you frequently use your laptop at a desk, a dock can let you quickly connect it to a keyboard, mouse, monitors, and any other peripherals you need all at once.

9 Laptops We’ve Tested and Love

9 Laptops We’ve Tested and Love

The Pixelbook Go is Google’s latest vision of what a Chromebook should be. Unlike previous efforts, the Go doesn’t shoot for the stars. Its price reflects that, and it starts at a full $350 less than its predecessor. However, if you like the original Pixelbook’s high-end specs, you can order a high-end Go with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, and a 4K display. 

The Go’s design is very much function over form, and an interesting ridged underside is the only thing that sets it apart from standard laptops. The base model uses the Intel Core M3 chip, but we recommend going for the Core i5. You’ll get 8 GB of RAM either way, which is plenty for average Chromebook use.

Chrome OS has progressed significantly in recent years and feels very mature. Support for Linux makes it decent for light development work too. Using Android apps on it can still be an exercise in frustration, but things have improved in recent releases.

Specs to look for: Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD

Another great Chromebook: Want something newer? Consider Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 (7/10, WIRED Recommends) for $700. It has a premium, all-aluminum build that’s lightweight, with a beautifully minimalist design. It also has a sharp, bright screen. The model I recommend has an Intel Core i3 and 8 gigabytes of RAM inside.

Shopping for a Router Sucks. Here’s What You Need to Know

Shopping for a Router Sucks. Here’s What You Need to Know

Everyone wants reliable and fast internet, and a good router can help. The trick is working out how the complicated mess of standards, confusing acronyms, and sci-fi-sounding features translate to better Wi-Fi in your home. Join us as we tear down the curtain to reveal the pertinent facts about Wi-Fi, routers, mesh systems, and other jargon. Hopefully, you’ll be better equipped to buy a router by the end. 

Updated February 2022: We added information on MoCA, linked to our Wi-Fi 6E explainer, and added an explanation of backhaul.

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Who Is Your Internet Service Provider?

Internet service providers (ISPs) connect your home to the internet, and they usually send you a modem and router (sometimes in a single device). The modem connects your home to the broader internet; the router hooks up to the modem, and you connect all your gadgets—with wires or wirelessly—to the router to access that connectivity. ISPs often charge you a rental fee for this equipment, and their routers are usually basic in terms of performance and features. The good news is that ISPs are by law no longer allowed to force you to use their equipment or charge you to use your own hardware, though you may still have to return their stuff to avoid charges.

We’re largely looking at using your own router in this guide and using your ISP’s modem. By using your own, you can potentially save money in the long term, but you can also enjoy faster Wi-Fi, better coverage, easier configuration, and extra features like parental controls and guest Wi-Fi networks. We will run through your router options, but whatever system you decide to go with, check compatibility with your ISP before buying. You can also search your ISP’s forums to find posts where people discuss using different routers and modems. A little research before you shop can save you a big headache down the line.

What Kind of Router Do You Need?

Vilo Mesh Routers
Photograph: Vilo

There are various ways to make your Wi-Fi faster, and buying a new router is one of the most obvious. To help you decide on the type of router to go for, calculate the rough square footage of your home before you begin.

Single Router

The simplest solution for most people is to choose a single router or a router and modem combo. Bear in mind that this device will have to plug into your existing socket or modem via Ethernet cable, which restricts where you can place it. The Wi-Fi signal will be strongest near the router and will gradually drop off and slow down the further away you get.

Routers should always state square footage for coverage, but certain types of construction—thick walls, insulation, and other devices—can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, so don’t expect to enjoy full-speed Wi-Fi at longer distances. Powerful routers with wide coverage are often large devices with multiple external antennas, but they’re usually very expensive.

Mesh Systems

If you have a larger home and want solid coverage in your garden, or you have thick walls and specific dead spots with your current setup, then mesh Wi-Fi could be the answer. Mesh systems consist of a central hub, which connects just like a single router, as well as additional satellites or nodes you can place around the home.

Devices connect to the internet through the nearest node, so you can achieve wider Wi-Fi coverage and a more reliable connection in different areas by adding a node. Just bear in mind that each node will need a power outlet. Mesh systems are more expensive than single-router setups (though not always), but they enhance coverage and reliability, and they often boast additional features and control options. They also tend to be smaller than regular routers and are typically designed to blend in with your decor harmoniously.

Alternatives to a New Router

ethernet cable
Photograph: Eskay Lim/Getty Images

If your issue is more about coverage and you have a single problem room where you want to improve Wi-Fi, or a particular device that needs a faster connection, you might not need to buy a new router. Try one of these alternatives. They each have their own technical challenges and potential issues. Even when successfully deployed, they won’t come close to matching the convenience of a good mesh system, but they are all much cheaper.

Wi-Fi Repeaters

You can use Wi-Fi repeaters to spread the Wi-Fi from a single router a bit further and potentially boost the signal in a dead spot. These devices are a good solution for some people, but they can be inefficient, prone to interference, and often create a secondary network with a different name from your regular Wi-Fi.

Power Line Adapters

Sold in pairs, power line adapters pass an internet signal through your electrical wiring. You plug one into a power outlet near your router and connect it with an Ethernet cable, while the other power line adapter plugs into a power outlet in the room where you want faster internet. They can be a good solution if you have a console or smart TV in your living room at the back of the house, but your router is in the front hall, for example. Unfortunately, effectiveness depends heavily on your electrical wiring.

MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance)

If your home already has coaxial cables installed (perhaps for cable TV), you can use them to create a reliable wired network that offers high speeds and low latency compared to Wi-Fi. You can buy routers, network adapters, or Wi-Fi extenders that support the MoCA standard. Much like power line adapters, this can be a great way to pass an internet signal to a smart TV, game console, or desktop that doesn’t get a strong Wi-Fi signal.

Access Points

If you don’t mind a challenge and have a spare old router lying around, you can look into configuring it as an access point or using it as a Wi-Fi extender. This can be particularly effective if you’re able to connect it to your main router via cabling, but configuration can prove tricky.

What Speed Do You Need?

kid sitting at gaming PC
Photograph: Getty Images

There’s plenty to consider when you’re trying to decide how fast your router should be. The maximum speed of your internet is determined by your ISP. Internet speeds are stated in Mbps (megabits per second). The median global fixed broadband speed is 58 Mbps for downloads and 24 Mbps for uploads, according to Ookla’s Speedtest. Most ISPs will state up to a certain speed or give you a range—like 300 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload—but what you actually get is often lower than the maximum (especially upload speeds), and it must be shared between all of your connected devices. 

You can check what download and upload speed you are getting by running a speed test in your browser. Simply type “speed test” into Google to find some options. To get a rough idea of how Mbps translates into internet use, we can refer to the FCC’s broadband speed guide, which suggests you need 3 to 4 Mbps to stream a standard-definition video, 5 to 8 Mbps for HD, and 25 Mbps for a single 4K stream. Generally speaking, if there are multiple people in the household streaming 4K video with several gadgets connected, you’ll want at least 200 Mbps, if not more. If you only have a few devices connected and are mostly just surfing the web, with some videos here and there, you’ll be fine with 50 or 100 Mbps. 

What Is Wi-Fi 6E and Do I Need It?

What Is Wi-Fi 6E and Do I Need It?

We collectively stream more movies and TV shows, play more online games, and make more video calls than ever before, and all this activity puts a serious strain on our Wi-Fi networks. We know the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard offers a range of benefits, including faster and more reliable access, but how does Wi-Fi 6E fit in?

“Wi-Fi 6E is the name for Wi-Fi 6 devices that operate in the 6-GHz band, a new swath of unlicensed spectrum that more than 58 countries across the Americas, EMEA, and APAC have made available for Wi-Fi to date,” explains Kevin Robinson, senior vice president of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance.

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Wi-Fi 6E Explained

Until now, our Wi-Fi operated on two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The Wi-Fi 6 standard employs various features to improve the efficiency and data throughput of your wireless network and reduce latency for those two bands.

“Wi-Fi 6E extends the capacity, efficiency, coverage, and performance benefits of Wi-Fi 6 into the 6-GHz band,” says Robinson. “With up to seven additional super-wide 160-MHz channels available, Wi-Fi 6E devices deliver greater network performance and support more Wi-Fi users at once, even in very dense and congested environments.”

Each band is a chunk of frequency. The 2.4-GHz band comprises 11 channels that are each 20 megahertz (MHz) wide. The 5-GHz band has 45 channels, but they can be fused to create 40-MHz or 80-MHz channels, enabling them to transmit more data at once. The 6-GHz band supports 60 channels that can be up to 160 MHz wide.

That’s a huge chunk of extra capacity. Think of it as going from a single-track road (2.4 GHz) to a three-lane highway (5 GHz) to a six-lane superhighway (6 GHz). The analogy works for coverage too. Higher frequencies have a tougher time penetrating solid walls and floors, so the single track 2.4-GHz roads reach further than the 5-GHz highways, which reach further than the 6-GHz superhighways.

Rebranding Standards

Wi-Fi standards have traditionally been quite confusing. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) establishes Wi-Fi standards, and those standards are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which currently has 866 member companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony, and many more.

The Wi-Fi Alliance realized (correctly) that a standard named IEEE 802.11ax might be easier to grasp if it was rebranded as Wi-Fi 6. This move retroactively makes the IEEE 802.11ac standard Wi-Fi 5, IEEE 802.11 becomes Wi-Fi 4, and so on. Each of these standards is an umbrella term for a range of new features and improvements.

To give one example, Wi-Fi 4 introduced MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) technology to allow for multiple simultaneous transmissions to and from a device. The second wave of Wi-Fi 5 products introduced MU-MIMO, (MU stands for multi-user), enabling multiple devices to connect simultaneously to send and receive data. Wi-Fi 6 improves MU-MIMO and introduces OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) enabling a single transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once.