You ask whether it would be better to use cloning software or an external hard drive to backup your system. If you clone, it must be stored somewhere, and an external hard drive is a viable option. An external hard drive will require backup software, and ?cloning? is, IMHO, the best way to go. If you just copy files over to the external drive, you will not have the recovery capabilities of a cloning program in case your system drive dies completely.

Both Acronis True Image 8.0 and Norton Ghost 9.0 support your OS and most external drives. With Ghost you will need a bootable recovery disk that contains the drivers for the external disk. True Image claims to have the capability to recover without a bootable disk; you just hit F11 during the PC startup. I have not used True Image, so I cannot vouch for it, but most who do use it give it high marks.

Have you considered putting a second internal HD in your machine? I have two or three drives in all my personal systems. This should be a little cheaper than an external drive, and probably faster. The downside to this is that if your entire system got fried, as in a lightning strike, you probably would loose both the system and it?s clone. But this could also happen with an external drive unless it were disconnected from the system. You should, therefore, make periodic clones to CD/DVD for safety.

One suggestion ? partition your drive so that the OS and related items are on one partition and your data on another. The OS partition only needs to be cloned whenever there is a significant change, as when downloading Win Updates. Your data partition can be backed up as often as needed.

Hope this provides some leads