Performing a Basic Backup: Getting Started

Basic Windows backup methods

Basic Windows backup methods - Introduction

Before you can create a backup, you will benefit by taking a little time to get your personal documents and pictures in order. If possible, arrange your essential data files to be stored in one location (folder) - this is the folder known us "your user profile (name)"

Modern Windows has made this document grouping easier by allocating each user an account with its own personal user profile. This 'user profile' consists of a set of grouped sub-folders in the main "C:/Users" folder.

The User Profile stores your personal files; Contacts, Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Favourites, Music, Pictures, Video, also your mail messages, e-mail Address Book, and information about your program settings and preferences.

Backing Up your important Windows Data

Automatic Backups With Windows 10

Windows 10 has two different backup programs: File History and Windows Backup and Restore.

  • "File History" automatically saves multiple (dated) versions of a given file, so you can "go back in time" and restore a file before it was changed or deleted. This is useful for files that you change frequently.
  • "Backup and Restore tool" (Windows 7) creates a single backup of the latest version of your files and folders on a schedule. It can also create a "system image", which is a snapshot of your entire system (optional).

File History: Back Up Specific Files and Folders That Change Often

By default, Windows "File History" backs up all the folders in your user [profile] account folder (example C:/Users/[account-name]). This includes your desktop, documents, downloads, music, pictures and a few other folders. It will also back up your OneDrive folders. "File History" will monitor these folders for changes, and automatically back up any files that have been added or modified. This is very similar to Apple's OS X's Time Machine.

Set Up and Enable File History

  • Click the Windows button and enter in "File History" into the "Search programs and files". The menu should bring up "File History settings" automatically; click to open it.
  • Select Backup and click "Add a drive"
  • Select the external drive you wish to use for the File History backups.
Backup using File History - Add Drive
  • Next select "More options".
Backup using File History - More Options
  • Click the "Back up now" button to start the File History backup.

Adjust your preferences on how long File History's backups are kept:

  • The Windows 10 default is "Forever", which means File History will keep making and saving backups until your drive is full.
  • Select "Until space is needed" to have File History automatically remove the oldest versions of files it backs up when space gets low on your external backup drive.
  • Select "other timeframes" to use your own time frame. File History will delete the oldest versions when files reach your time setting.

File History will now operate automatically and silently in the background do backups as you selected.

Restoring from File History Backups that were previously created

Go to Control Panel > File History and click the "Restore personal files". You can browse by backup date and even preview files before you use the green button to restore the file to its previous location.

Backup using File History - Restore File

You can also restore previous versions of a file with a right mouse click on the file, then select Properties, and select the Previous Versions tab

Backup using File History - Restore Point with Previous Versions tab

Please remember that you need "File History" enabled for it to serve any "restore" purpose - as outlined above.

Note:In Windows 10 the (traditional) Backup and Restore control panel was returned to the operating system, known as "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)". More on this below...

Using the traditional "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)" - method applies to Windows 7 as well

In Windows 10, the traditonal feature is actually called "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)". An "yes", in addition to using the "File History" discussed above, it is a wise idea to also [learn to] use "Backup and Restore" to create a system image periodically on a different drive.

Set Up and Enable Backup and Restore (Windows 7)

  • Open "Backup and Restore" from the Control Panel rather than using the Windows 10 "Settings". However, it is often easier to just search for "backup and restore" in the Windows Menu Search.
  • Click on "Set up backup".
Backup and Restore (Windows 7) Setup
  • Select your backup drive.
Backup and Restore (Windows 7) Select Drive
  • Now choose if you want Windows to select what to back up or if you want to select the folders yourself - manually. By letting Windows choose, the backup will save the files on your desktop, in your user folder, and in your libraries as well as create a system image.
Backup and Restore (Windows 7) What to Backup
  • For the average user, the best choice is to let Windows choose the backup folders.
  • Now Click the "Save settings and run backup" button to create the backup.
Backup and Restore (Windows 7) Save settings and Run Backup
  • Optional backup schedule: The default is to automatically do a backup on Sunday at 7pm, by default. You can set this schedule to your own preference or even turn it off and do it manually.

Restore a System Image

To restore Windows from a previous system image, go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery and restart your computer in the "advanced startup" mode. At reaching that point, you will be able to select the system image you want to restore from.

Restore a System Image - Advanced Startup

If you only need to restore a range of folders or files from your "Backup and Restore" backup, go to Control Panel > System and Security > Backup and Restore (Windows 7) screen and use the "Restore my files" button.