The importance of backing up can't be overstated, but choosing the right tool for the job can be tricky at the best of times. In this roundup, we've not simply looked at 10 tools that do similar things, but dug deep to find a selection of programs that back up different parts of your system, whether it's protecting your email and browser settings or taking an exact byte-for-byte copy of everything on your hard drive. Whatever you need to back up, we've got the perfect tool for you.
The most comprehensive file-based backup tool out there
File-based backups are ten a penny, but what lifts COMODO Backup above the opposition is the sheer amount of control you have over your backups. For starters, it'll back up just about anywhere (untick 'Install cCloud' during installation if you don't want to use its paid-for cloud storage).
Then there's the choice of what to back up: files and folders (use Smart Profiles to quickly target specific file types), disks or partitions, selected email, internet and instant messaging data and even Registry files and entries are all supported. Schedule your backups, choose between full, differential and incremental backup types COMODO Backup has it all for those who want full control over protecting their data.
Macrium Reflect Free
Take an exact copy of your hard drive for maximum protection
Drive-imaging tools take an exact byte-for-byte copy of a hard drive or partition for backup purposes. They're essential in protecting your main system drive from failure, and when it comes to complete drive backups, Macrium Reflect Free is by far the daddy of free imaging tools.
Not only can you image partitions or drives – including an option to automatically select the key partitions required to back up Windows – Macrium also lets you browse your backups to retrieve individual files. It also allows you to verify your images to make sure they won't let you down should you need them, and provides an essential rescue disc creation tool to cover you in a crisis.
Back up, sync or encrypt data from any Windows PC
If you need to sync, backup or even encrypt your data from anywhere, you need Toucan Portable. Add it to your portable USB toolkit and it'll cover you on any Windows PC. Set up jobs for each of your tasks, then use rules to determine what to include or exclude from your backup.
Compress your backups to save space (critical if you're backing up to your USB flash drive) and make sure you tick 'Test After Creation' to ensure your backup isn't corrupt. Finally, visit Settings and click Help for access to the program's documentation.
Create your own personal secure cloud with friends and family
Cloud services offer a secure, remote place for your data, but they can be expensive. If you and some friends have lots of spare drive space to hand, why not swap it so you can store each other's backups far away from your original files?
BuddyBackup allows you to set aside unused drive space for others to back up to, which in turn allows you to store that amount of data remotely with your "buddies". It's simple to set up and use, encrypts your data for security and allows you to back up locally too, for those times when your buddies aren't switched on and connected.
Keep two folders up to date and synced with FreeFileSync
FreeFileSync's main use is – as its title suggests – keeping a pair of folders in sync. It's especially suited for syncing files between an internal drive and an external one, such as a USB flash drive, but by switching the sync setting to Mirror or Update, you can also use it to quickly back up a select folder too.
The Overview pane is a nice extra too, giving you an at-a-glance view of how much data needs to be copied, as well as breaking it down by type.
Turn a second PC into a dedicated backup tool for your entire network
This solution will appeal to those who want to convert a 64-bit PC with lots of RAM into an industrial-strength NAS. FreeNAS is a complete OS, and one key advantage over simply using Windows or Linux is that it's designed to be 'headless', meaning you can administer it remotely via your browser.
FreeNAS's big selling point for backups is that it uses ZFS Snapshots to take regular system backups – so long as space permits, you can then roll back your PC or access older files quickly and easily. You can even upload media files like movies to your NAS and it will serve as a home entertainment centre, allowing anyone on the network to connect and watch films from any room in the house.
Back up all your browser data and settings effortlessly and easily
While web browsers are adding sync tools to their armoury, there's still no substitute for a good old-fashioned backup and restore tool for your browser. And why limit yourself to a platform-specific tool when FavBackup can handle all major browsers – including the big three of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome – at once?
It's a little old now, but still works out of the box with IE and Firefox; Chrome users may need to manually select their profile location (get this info by typing chrome://version into your browser and checking the Profile Path entry). Sadly, the Opera option only works with Opera 12 or earlier (but see KLS Mail Backup, below).
Back up your Registry every time you start your PC
There was a time when a corrupt Registry would render your PC unbootable – these days Windows is more robust, but there are still occasions when a screwed up Registry could spell disaster. ERUNT is a small and simple program that can back up the Registry every time Windows starts successfully to ensure you have a working version you can roll back should you need to.
Some caveats to consider: ERUNT should be left to save the backup in your Windows folder; this allows ease of access to the ERDNT restore utility from the command line if necessary. Second, its age means it's not optimised to work with User Account Control by default: before running it for the first time, right-click the program shortcut and choose Properties > Compatibility Mode, then tick 'Run this program as an administrator' before clicking OK. It should now function properly, but you'll see the UAC prompt appear every time Windows starts if you've configured it to back up automatically.
Dust Signs File Copier
Back up and potentially recover corrupt files
Backup tools are great if they're able to access a pristine copy of your files, but if you discover certain files have become corrupt before you're able to back them up, Dust Signs File Copier could be your saviour.
After launching, switch to the Settings tab and experiment with the 'Error concealment' options before attempting to recover files – you may find one setting works better than others. While there's no guarantee it'll be able to recover all your corrupt files, you may be pleasantly surprised at what it is able to back up.
KLS Mail Backup
Email backup is a cinch with KLS Mail Backup
If you're looking for a tool to back up your offline email accounts, settings, contacts and messages, this is the one for you. KLS Mail Backup handles all the popular email programs – including Thunderbird, Windows Mail/Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail and Opera – and even supports selected browsers (IE, Firefox and Opera) as well as general folders and files.
Everything's handled in a user-friendly interface and, crucially, it's as easy to restore your backups as take them in the first place.