Hard drives stop working sometimes. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

Sometimes a system can’t be started because files are damaged that Windows relies on. That can be inconvenient and expensive, but much of the time it’s not a disaster. The data on the drive can still be recovered without too much difficulty.

But hard drives are mechanical devices – thin metal platters whirling around at a high speed while metal sensors move around on top of them at a distance of less than the width of a hair. Sometimes they break.

Forget about the services like DriveSavers that can recover data from damaged drives. They are effective, trustworthy, and they can do miraculous things to recover data. It is also so expensive to have that kind of emergency work done that you will swoon. Pray you don’t ever need to call them.

I can’t describe all the ways to do backups, but let me suggest a relatively new possibility – cheap and effective.

A little background: USB connectors have been included on computers for years, but until recently they were based on the original specs for USB 1.1, a relatively slow way to move data around.

Computers built this year for the most part include USB 2.0 connectors, which permits data to be transferred at much higher speeds.

If your computer does not already support USB 2.0, it’s possible to add it cheaply and easily with a PCI card. Here’s an Adaptec card, for example, at $40. Off-brands will be slightly cheaper. Windows XP Service Pack 1 recognizes these cards immediately – no worries about drivers.

External hard drives connected with USB 2.0 work at the same speed as an internal hard drive. You can add storage to your PC by plugging it in – no effort, no knowledge required, no opening up the box and fiddling with cables. And external hard drives have been getting cheaper just like everything else.

Let’s use Maxtor external drives as an example. Here’s a Maxtor 80Gb drive for $180 (or an absolutely enormous Maxtor 250Gb drive for $300). Picture something roughly the size, shape, and weight of a brick.

The payoff is that the drive comes with backup software designed to make backups happen automatically. The drives are so big that you can back up your entire hard drive – no more worrying about whether you’ve included all your data when you do backups onto CDRs.

The software provided by Maxtor can be scheduled to run automatically – or it can be invoked by pushing a button on the front of the drive. A single click and you can sleep easier.

Don’t put off coming up with a backup solution! Make a copy of your data onto a CDR, or buy BackupMyPC, or buy an external hard drive, or call me. Redundancy is your friend!

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