In addition to the dangers of loss, theft and performance issues, laptops are prime candidates for hard drive failure. In fact such a failure is not an uncommon hardware problem for any type of computer system.
A hard drive failure can result in the total loss of data files and possibly the loss of the machine's functionality altogether. When one's work product data files - class notes, research papers or address books - are saved to that hard drive, the files will be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to recover. Thus, the importance of backing up all one's significant files.
Fortunately there is nothing difficult or even time-consuming about helping yourself dependable, backup protection. (Complications regarding backups generally trace to the various contexts in which backups may be needed.)
The context addressed here is the common and simple case of a user creating work product files and saving those files to a laptop or desktop computer. The well being of non-work product files, especially operating system or software files, will not addressed.
This backup information assumes use of a Microsoft Windows operating system although the concept or approach outlined here is equally applicable to an Apple/Macintosh or Unix computing.
Backups will be made much easier if the work product data files are well organized. Especially on a laptop always save files within the My Documents folder.Within the My Documents folder, build an organized folder structure relevant to your work and interests. We in Computing Services can advise on the use of My Computer or Windows Explorer for creating an organizational file structure or for the purpose of efficiently copying many files/folders at once.
Always backup to an exterior drive. Do not rely upon file backups residing on a second partition on the same machine. Copying significant files to some other medium (for example, a flash drive) or another computer system (for example, as an attachment to an email account) will dramatically increase your data security.
Some care taking of that exterior drive including being able to find it if and when one needs it -- these are important considerations.
Desirability of frequency of backup will vary by person and by period of personal productivity. As long as one takes the matter of backups seriously and follows through on one's own generation of significant files, one can be confident in feeling secure. Multiple backups to the multiple media described below should be carried out whenever one's work product may be rated especially valuable.
USB Drive (AKA, Flash or Jump, Keychain Drives) -- stores upwards of 60 gigabytes (GB) of data files including an entire file and folder structure
Email files to yourself as attachments. If file(s) especially important, email it to more email accounts even to the account of a friend or family member
UGA Skydrive -- web access to 7 gigabytes (GB) of space; available through your UGA mail or via a downloadable client. More information here.