To make backing up your hard drive as easy as possible, you should set up a backup profile. Most PCs with Microsoft Windows XP have a program called Windows XP Back Up installed as a useful application. Once you open the application, you can follow the instructions from the backup wizard and decide what exactly you wish to back up. If your computer's hard drive is split into separate drives or partitioned, you can chose to copy back to the original drive. This should safely store your data and be retrievable should your hard drive crash -- though if you have corrupted data, this option may not be as helpful.
Macintosh computers with Mac OS 10.5 or later have a similar application called Time Machine. This application allows you to back up data and set up a profile that will allow you to save it on the machine or export it to an external hard drive. We'll get to those in the next section.
Both of these applications give you the option of setting up a schedule to perform backups. This allows you to back up data regularly should you forget. What's more, these applications can send you e-mail alerts when performing backups if the system experiences a malfunction. You don't have to use either of these programs, however; there are lots of off-the-shelf backup solutions available for both Windows and Mac, though they come at an additional cost, of course.
Once you've mastered how to back up data on your computer, you've taken a big step toward protecting your important information. Now let's look into some external places you can store that important data to be able to retrieve it even if you do lose your primary hard drive. In the next section, we'll explore some devices and methods you can use in your defense against the unknown mysteries of hard drive failures.