Someday, you'll boot your PC, and the only thing you'll see on the screen is the message 'disk error'. Don't worry, I've got your backup. And since I know you're in a hurry (who isn't?), I'll make sure the process doesn't keep you tapping your foot impatiently.
Backups in a Blink
The Hassle: I want to back up everything stored on my hard drive to an external USB drive, but the backups seem to take forever.
The Fix: I feel your pain. Used to, anyway. Now I back up to an external eSATA drive that's blazingly fast. Compare it: eSATA's throughput is 300 megabytes per second (MBps); USB tops out at a paltry 60 MBps. In the real world, that speed boost means I can back up 100GB of files in about 5 minutes instead of 25.
External eSATA drives are available from many different vendors; just make sure you purchase one that uses a Silicon Image SteelVine Storage Processor. LaCie's d2 eSATA II 500GB Hard Drive costs only $150, but I prefer Iomega's $220 500GB UltraMax Desktop Hard Drive (shown at left), which contains FireWire 800, FireWire 400, and USB 2.0 connections along with its eSATA port. That versatility makes the UltraMax perfect for backing up other systems that don't have an eSATA connection. Note that if your PC doesn't already have one, you'll need to purchase an eSATA card (priced at about $70) and install it in one of your system board's open slots.
Bump-Proof Your Laptop's Drive
The Hassle: How can I reduce the likelihood that my notebook's hard drive will receive a hard knock and expire at a crucial moment?
The Fix: Besides keeping it in bubble wrap? Seriously, you can make your notebook less susceptible to jarring by swapping out its hard drive and replacing it with a $30 Addonics Embedded IDE-CF Adapter, which accommodates two Compact Flash cards.
The benefits are that flash memory is faster than your notebook's older 5400-rpm hard drive and that flash is definitely less fragile. The negatives are limited capacity and high cost: You're stuck with 32GB of storage (each card stores a maximum of 16GB), and the cards will set you back more than $600, which is roughly $200 more than the cost of a new hard drive.
To learn about hybrid drives, which combine traditional hard-disk and flash-memory technologies, browse to "Tested: New Hybrid Hard Drives From Samsung and Seagate."
Revive a Failing Drive
The Hassle: You keep harping about backups. But if my drive ever does fail, why can't I just use the restore CDs that came with my PC?
The Fix: It sounds ideal, but if your hard drive goes south, the last thing you'll want to use to bring it back are those "restore" CDs. That's because the discs return your PC to its factory state, destroying all of your files and settings, and wiping out any new apps that you don't have CDs for. So instead, use a program that will attempt to pry this data loose from a drive gone bad. The utility that I recommend has pulled my drives out of the ditch more than once (I won't reveal exactly how often because it's too embarrassing). That's why I don't flinch at the price, though it may startle you: It's DiskInternals' $140 Partition Recovery.
The program restores damaged, missing, or deleted files, even on reformatted partitions. It supports drives formatted as FAT or as NTFS. If your PC isn't bootable, download Partition Recovery on a buddy's machine, and then download the free BartPE tool, burn it onto a CD, and boot the sick PC from that CD long enough to install and use Partition Recovery.