Hardware eventually breaks down, like many other things. What matters is that your files survive the ordeal.
Making manual backups of your data is rather tedious, so we would just postpone the hassle... until Murphy strikes. A catastrophic event (a power spike, fire, spilling coffee on your keyboard?) or normal wear and tear will lead to losing several years of work. Maybe you were also in the middle of something and needed the data.
Beware of clacking noises from the hard disk during seeks (a tell-tale sign that the drive's controller is failing). One day your system may just not start because the boot sector has become unreadable.
Recovery should still be possible - after all, data has been recovered from drives destroyed by fire - but may be very expensive. If your data is of value to you store a copy on persistent media and avoid the grief.
If you find yourself in this situation, note that usually technicians' first move is to connect the drive to another disk and attempt a low-level data transferral using a specific (software) recovery tool.
The most efficient software for direct disk editing and recovery is WinHex(commercial product), it can edit the hard disk directly, make images of it, and recover files.
The other way is to make the image and edit it with your favorite hex-editor. An image can be made with SelfImage, an easy to use open-source utility.
CD/DVD-ROMs are a good choice for the home user (choose a good quality brand [Verbatim?] to avoid mischief like the CD's coating flaking off). A DVD is several Gigabytes worth but takes a long time to burn (each session must write at least 1GB of data; less than that will be padded with dummy values). Ah - you also need a DVD recorder ([some/all?] models can burn CDs too).
If you want to avoid "wasting" CD storage space you can use a few rewritable (RW) CD/DVDs for "minor" backup sessions and then make a contiguous copy on a write-once (R) medium.
- Disk imaging versus file backup?
A disk image is a snapshot of the filesystem's state, preserving file positions too. Frequently used with OEM PCs to restore a bundled Windows installation customized by the manufacturer (Note: you appear to get bundled software for free but it actually forms part of the retail price; if you want to use a Linux-like system try to return Windows and get refunded [how?]).
After creating a "master" image you can save "diffs" (changes to the file system) that usually take much less space. However defragmenting your files will change their positions on disk, so this
- What about tape/Zip drives (are they obsolete? if not state capacity & speed of both)
- Windows XP Professional has a backup utility. Is it usable/useful? What about XP Home edition? Any good (possibly open-source) third-party sw?