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Back up and protect your data
Your data is at risk - and recovery doesn't come cheap. Nick Peers reveals how to back it up easily, safely and automatically
The why and where of backing up
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Back up files and settings
Protect your irreplaceable documents, email, images and program preferences
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Back up to the internet
Discover which online tools offer the best value and features for your money
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More back-up tools, tips and techniques
Back up different versions of the same file and more
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Copy your hard drive
Drive imaging tools enable you to back up your entire Windows installation
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acking up should be compulsory. It doesn't matter how many times it's featured in magazines, who even go as far as to provide free, full software on the cover disc to help you back up your precious, irreplaceable files, email messages and more besides, we still find ourselves inundated with comments like "My mail folder has vanished with important work email in it, how do I get it back" or "I've lost a folder full of holiday snaps and my wife will kill me after 40 years of marriage if I don't find it".
   If you think it couldn't possibly happen to you, think again. Your data and settings are incredibly fragile - unlike a Windows installation that can be recreated from your recovery disc or a program that can be reinstalled, there's no product disc that contains your documents, pictures or emails. Sure, you could venture into the world of data recovery, but you'll be taking a huge risk with your data if you've reached that point in the road, and it could end up being a very expensive step.
Backing up is easy
Have we scared you enough yet? Good. In this feature, and armed with the right software (including tools built into Windows 7 and Vista), you're going to rectify the situation immediately. You'll discover how easy it is to back up everything from documents, emails and program preferences to your entire Windows installation. What's more, once set up, you can leave the back-up tool to get on with the job of updating your backup at a regular interval, so you're always protected.
   The most important thing you'll need to provide yourself is a suitable back-up device. Although you can back up to CD or DVD, this can result in a large number of discs being used and is not cost-effective in the long term. A better bet is some form of removable device that has enough capacity to store your backups on - an external hard drive is the obvious choice here. Prices start from as little as £35 for 160GB external drives from stores such as Amazon, which compares favourably to the hundreds of pounds you might find yourself spending on data recovery if you continue to live dangerously.
Sadly, even your backup isn't immune to failure - thankfully the tools in this feature can verify your backup's integrity so you know it should work, but it pays to be extra careful and create a second backup to a different device or location. You could, for example, archive documents and files that won't be edited like photos and correspondence to CD or DVD, or you could investigate an online back-up service - the box below reveals more.
   Now you've come to your senses and made the decision to back up your data use the links on the left to navigate the rest of the feature and find out how.


Back up online

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