Backup Your Files: Using Windows Backup

 Back Up Your Files

You probably have heard this phrase at least once if not a thousand times.  However if you are like a lot of people, you still haven’t taken the time to actually back up your files.  In this article I will show you how to set up a dead simple scheduled back up on your Windows PC.

Find an External Storage Device

This can be a USB flash drive, external hard drive or even your own home server/NAS(Network Attached Storage Device).  It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it has enough space to hold all of your current files and then some.  My PC currently has around 450GB of total space, and will be using a 500GB hard drive, which has only 465GB of usable space.  This is actually too small for what I need.  This is an old drive I already had and decided to use for this tutorial.  However if I were to buy a new drive I would purchase a 1-1.5TB drive.  This would ensure I could have every file saved on my computer as well as allow multiple versions saved as well.

Empty drive for backups
It’s best to have a drive that is dedicated to your file backups.

Ok, now that I have a dedicated device for my backups, it’s time to start Windows Backup to automate the entire process.

  1. Open Control Panel and locate the option to ‘Back up your computer’.  This is found under ‘System and Security’.
Control Panel - 'Back up your files'
With Windows default control panel view, you should see the option to back up your files under System and Security.
  1. Assuming you have never set up Windows Backup before, the next screen you should see is shown below.  The wizard will ask you where you want to store the files.  Select the correct drive and then click Next.
Choose Back Up Location
Windows will prompt you to select the location of your back up. be sure to select the proper drive.
  1. The next step will ask you what you want to back up.  Unless you only want to back up specific files, leave the default to ‘Let Windows choose’ selected.  This will back up all user data and files under your account and on your desktop.  This includes Application data that may be stored behinds the scenes that is unique to your profile, such as Thunderbird e-mails as well as Firefox and Chrome settings.  However applications change, so please verify the data is backed up before assuming that it was!

Select Backup Type
For most purposes, you will want to keep the default selection checked to ‘Let Windows choose’. This will save all your files and data for your user account.
  1. Review Settings – The next step will ask you to confirm your settings.  Here you can also change the schedule that the back up will run on.  By default its scheduled to run every Sunday at 7:00PM, this should be ok as long as you do not routinely add important files to your machine during the week.  If you do ever upload/create important files on your machine, run a manual back up(‘Back Up Now option shown later’) once the files are saved on the machine.

NOTE:  If you PC is off at this time the back up will not be run and will be skipped for that week.  If you miss a back up it is highly recommended you perform a manual back up as soon as possible after the time was missed.

Review Settings
Review settings window
  • Schedule Options Window:
    Allows you to choose options for Daily/Weekly and Monthly back ups.  Depending on what you choose the options will change from what is shown below.
Schedule Options
Schedule options window
  • System Repair Disk
    As shown in the Review Settings Window above, Windows is letting me know I may need a system repair disk to recover my files.  If you do not have one or know what one is, click the more information text link.  Basically, the Repair Disk allows you to reinstall Windows as well as its back ups in case something does happen to your PC that Windows stops working.  You should always have a repair disk ready for your PC/Laptop.
  1. After setting up the schedule and confirming the options, Windows will immediately back up all of your files.  Depending on the size and number of files you have as well as speed of the disk drives involved, this may take anywhere from a few minutes, to a few hours.
Backup In Progress
Backup in progress
  1. Your back up will be complete and you now get the option to ‘Back up now’.  This can be used to manually start a back up if you have recently added important files to your machine and you do not want to risk losing them before the next back up runs.
Backup complete
Backup complete

Once set up your PC will run its back up on your selected schedule creating a new version of your files at every back up interval.  Once the drive becomes full, it will then notify you to use the ‘Manage space’ option to delete old back ups.  No further back ups will be able to complete until there is enough space on the back up drive.  The versions it keeps are very useful in case you overwrite an important file and need a specific version, or if a newer version becomes corrupt and you need to find an older version that still opens.

That is all it takes to routinely back up your files.  Simple isn’t it?  It’s well worth your time to regularly perform backups as its not a matter of if a hard drive/storage device will die, but when.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

 UPDATED 2014/09/04 – I discovered an error in my article where I stated that Windows would automatically delete the oldest back ups as required.  This is incorrect.  It will only notify you that the  back up drive is full so you can then manual pick which ones you want to delete and keep on the drive.  Backups will fail until this space is made for new ones at this point.  So don’t ignore the message!

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