PC users might at last have an affordable ‘plan b' should their hard drive crash. Storage company Freecom says it will try to recover the data from a broken drive for a fixed fee.

The deal with the Data Recovery Service is pretty straightforward. Users register the drive they wish to use with the service, which can be en internal or external drive of any brand and not just Freecom's own.

Should the drive malfunction, it can be shipped to Freecom using a supplied label where technicians create a diagnostic report of all recoverable files, which are then sent back to the user on removable media within a fortnight.

Only a single drive is covered, so users wishing to protect more drives will need to buy a separate package for each one. Despite this limitation, many users will still see the service as a useful form of data insurance at a price of £24.95 (approx $37 or 29.95 euros) for a three- year period, which includes all postage costs.

How much data will be recoverable will vary from drive to drive depending on how the drive came to crash. A problem in the drive electronics would leave the data unscathed while a head crash or physical damage to the drive might have more impact on the surface of the drive itself.

The company reckons that half of hard drives fail due to hardware problems, 28 percent because of human error (i.e are dropped), 14 percent are damaged by software, and only 1 percent due to major disasters such as flooding or fire.

"Our first piece of advice would be to back up all this information in multiple locations to be extra sure you won't lose it all," said Freecom's managing director, Axel Lucassen. "Many people want even greater assurance though and this is where our Data Recovery Service fits in."

Affordable drive recovery is unheard of in the consumer space, especially one sold as a boxed product in large computer retailers as the Freecom Data Recovery Service will be. Like insurance of any kind, it's the sort of thing people might buy hoping they never have to use it.

The appearance of the Freecom service might be the first obvious change brought about after the company's acquisition last September by the Japanese company, Mitsubishi Kagaku Media (MKM), which also owns consumables giant Verbatim.