I learned an important lesson in data backup not long ago.

I had taken along my personal laptop on a trip to Accounting Today’s annual Growth & Profitability Summit in Orlando. I toted the HP laptop around to various sessions at the conference, including our Best Firms to Work For awards presentation, but I also frequently brought it back to my hotel room at the Hilton Orlando so I could work on articles and edit our Web site.

On the last night of the conference, I left the laptop on the desk in my room plugged into a power outlet and went out to dinner with my colleagues.

When I got back to my hotel room, I went to sleep, still leaving the laptop plugged in, but not giving that much thought, since it’s usually plugged in at home. But then when I awoke early to work on articles for the site and to compile our daily newsletter, I turned on the computer and saw smoke streaming out of it. The computer wouldn’t go on and there was a noxious odor.

I quickly turned off the computer and unplugged it, but when I tried to turn it on again, smoke was still coming out, but from the part of the computer where the battery was located. Apparently there had been a power spike overnight and it had fried the power system in the computer.

The hotel’s security people came up to my room and checked out the computer, and they later sent up an engineer who examined the outlet. He claimed the electrical outlet was working fine and there hadn’t been a power spike. My iPhone, which I had plugged into a nearby outlet, was still working, but I suspect the power spike had come sometime before I got back to my room for the night and plugged in the phone. In any case, the insurers for the hotel cited this as a reason for refusing to pay the claim.

But I was left with a broken laptop, and a newsletter and some articles I still had to write. The hotel allowed me to use the computer in their business lounge, so with some scrambling, I was able to eventually get the articles and the newsletter together that morning.

When I arrived back in New York, I was able to get a Lenovo laptop from our company, which substituted it for my desktop computer, and it’s easy enough to take the office laptop home with me whenever I need to work from home. But while my work files are regularly backed up to our company’s server, that still left me with a lot of the files from my old laptop that had never been backed up.

I had been testing a portable hard drive from a company called Apricorn, which specializes in making secure hard drives. But unfortunately I had only backed up a handful of files to the Apricorn drive, the Aegis Portable 3.0, but not the contents of my hard drive.

I brought back the HP laptop, which had always worked very reliably since I bought it back around 2008, to the Best Buy store where I had purchased it, hoping their Geek Squad service could fix it or at least recover the files. Unfortunately they told me about a week later that the laptop was too old, and they weren’t able to procure spare parts for it anymore. They were able to back up the files, though. I thought that would be a good test for the Aegis Portable, and indeed Best Buy’s Geek Squad backed up the full contents of the My Documents folder to the Aegis Portable, and I was able to transfer the ones I needed to my work laptop. It was simply a matter of plug and play after I plugged the drive into the USB slot on the computers. Then I could just drag and drop files from the Aegis to the laptop and vice versa.

I was ready to buy a new laptop because I didn’t want to transfer many of my personal files to the work computer, but the Geek Squad service employee advised me to wait until Black Friday in November, when they would have some good sales.

By the time Black Friday rolled around, I was more than ready for a new laptop. I still had a very old Dell laptop at home that is barely working, but can be used for word processing and a little Web surfing when necessary. I didn’t like taking the office laptop home with me too often, since it’s a little bit heavy and I recently moved to an apartment that’s up a steep hill. The salesman was right about the Black Friday sales, and I was able to buy an inexpensive Asus X200CA laptop. I found there’s a bit more of a learning curve with Windows 8 than I had expected, but the laptop has been working surprisingly well for a $250 computer. I was also able to transfer all of the files from the Aegis Portable 3.0 to the Asus laptop without a problem. Again it was just a matter of plugging the external drive into my laptop and dragging and dropping files. I even found that I eventually liked Windows 8, once I got more accustomed to the tile interface.

I also asked the folks at Apricorn if I could try out another of their hard drives, since the Aegis Portable 3.0 works so automatically and seamlessly that there really isn’t a lot to review about it. Their line of secure hard drives is probably more apt for accountants anyway since they include a keypad that allows you to password protect the drive and keep client files protected.

The Aegis Padlock Fortress is the one they sent me to test. With this drive, you plug it into the USB port and set a PIN number using the alphanumeric keypad. The drive uses a series of red, green and blue LED lights to indicate when you have successfully set up a PIN number and when it’s been entered correctly. It’s fairly easy to set up, but you have to make sure you remember the PIN number to access the files. When the PIN is incorrect, the LED will turn red and will remain inoperable until the right PIN is input. It can ensure that your confidential client files remain backed up so you don’t lose them, while still keeping them safe and secure from any prying eyes.

And you’ll have the comfort of knowing that if your computer gets damaged or fried by a power spike, your files will be in a safe place, ready to be transferred to your computer again once it’s been fixed or replaced.