Backing up ought to be compulsory, with a course that includes listening to the horror stories of data loss from others.

Likewise, a portable hard drive or network storage appliance should be an absolute must have.

But, while data recovery might be possible on the cheap, it's far better to protect your data now for peace of mind. It needn't cost you a penny, so read on and take action while you still can.

1. FBackup

Free back-up tools are ten-a-penny, but rely on you knowing where key folders and settings like your email are stored. FBackup lets you back up both files and settings using free plug-ins, with Outlook Express and Windows Mail included as standard.

2. Allway Sync

File-sync utilities offer a good way of backing up specified folders to remote locations. Allway Sync is free for personal use, and supports FTP and networked locations as well as external drives. It also features a built-in scheduler for automatic synchronising too.

WIDE SUPPORT: Allway Sync can sync your files to an external or networked hard drive

3. Mozy Free

Online backup gives you the opportunity of storing your files in a secure, remote location. Mozy Free offers 2GB of free online storage space for your files and key settings - other free services offer more, but only Mozy gives you access to a built-in app that backs up automatically as new files are added and existing ones changed.

4. Buddy Backup

Here's a neat alternative to a costly online backup service: Buddy Backup enables you to specify "buddies" - specific PCs you trust (such as those of friends and family), and then uses P2P technology to back up your files to those computers. Your files are encrypted for security, and multiple revisions are stored too. The biggest drawback: your buddies must be online for the backups to take place, and should you need to restore any files.

5. Macrium Reflect Free

This is one of the best free drive-imaging tools out there: user-friendly interface, support for a wide range of back-up media (including CD and DVD), rescue disc creation and the ability to mount your image as a drive letter in Windows for browsing and recovering individual files.

6. FileHamster Lite

This handy free tool can be set to watch specific folders for file changes, enabling you to store different versions of the same file - now if you accidentally make an unwanted revision, you can undo it quickly and painlessly.

7. NetSetMan

This tool ostensibly allows you to manage up to five network profiles for your laptop, but it effectively acts as a back-up tool for all your network settings too.

8. MozBackup

Back up and restore entire profiles for Mozilla-based apps, including Firefox, Thunderbird, Songbird and SeaMonkey. Backups are stored in your Documents folder by default, so pick another drive for greater security.

9. Foxmarks/X-Marks

A shiny new name for Foxmarks doesn't detract from the fact it's the perfect tool for backing up and synchronising your Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari bookmarks and passwords across multiple PCs.

10. DriverMax

While drivers are easily replaceable, it can be a bind having to reinstall them all singly. DriverMax enables you to back up and restore driver sets, plus identify unknown drivers and check for the latest updates online.

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Like this? Check out 10 essential tips for recovering lost files

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