How to Backup Windows 10
Updated · May 10, 2022
I know what you didn’t do last March 31.
You didn’t make a data backup. That’s not good.
The risk of data loss is widespread and affects everyone. In the blink of an eye, you can lose your precious data forever.
You could be next if you keep pushing your luck.
With the next annual backup data day (March 31) around the corner, it’s time you start taking data backup seriously.
Making backups in Windows 10 is easy and simple. There’s absolutely no excuse to not do it.
“How to back up Windows 10,” you wonder?
Windows 10 comes with two excellent backup utilities: (1) Backup and Restore and (2) File History.
You should use both.
Remember, both. Not one or the other.
This is because they work differently and backup different things.
Also because, when it comes to data protection, more is usually better.
- Data loss is up 400% since 2012.
- A study reports 46% of users experience data loss every year.
- Small companies lose more than $100,000 per ransomware incident because of downtime.
- 60% of businesses that experience data loss close down within the next six months.
- 140,000 hard drives fail every week in the US.
It’s clear, then. Whether you’re an individual or a company, you can’t afford to not back up your data.
How To Create System Backups in Windows 10
The easiest way is to use the inbuilt Windows backup software utility called Backup and Restore.
Before we look at how to use it, let’s understand what a system backup is first.
In a system backup, you create a snapshot of the entire system. This includes the operating system, documents, programs, and other important data.
But why go through so much trouble?
As said above, the risk of data loss is constant and affects us all.
Malware infection or a hardware or software failure can all cause data loss and even irrevocable damage to your Windows installation.
A complete Windows 10 backup allows you to get your system up and running with minimum hassle and time lost if something bad happens to it.
With Backup and Restore, you can backup your entire system with just a few clicks.
Understanding the Backup and Restore Tool
An oldie-but-goodie utility, Backup and Restore was first introduced in Windows Vista and has been present ever since.
As a matter of fact, in Windows 10 it is called Backup and Restore (Windows 7), indicating that it is not a new component.
This Windows backup utility allows you to save backups in different places, such as on a network, a USB flash drive, a CD or DVD, or on an external hard drive.
Mind you you can't do a backup in the cloud.
Windows and most experts recommend making backups on an external drive and then store it in a safe, secure place.
Experts also advise users to make backups frequently.
You may be thinking - how frequently?
Well, it depends on how you use your computer. That said, you should make a complete Windows 10 system backup once a week, and also before a major change.
For instance, if you want to perform a system upgrade, do a full backup. This will protect you if something goes wrong.
Remember, having several backup instances is always better than one, which in turn is better than none.
By default the Backup and Restore tool creates a system image, which preserves the files on your desktop, in your libraries, and in your user folder.
However, if you want, you can ask the tool to only save specific files in the Windows 10 backup instance. You can also decide whether you want it to create a system image or not.
If you want to go the default route, select Let Windows choose (recommended).
Otherwise, pick Let me choose.
Now you can manually select the files you want to back up and decide if you need a system image.
It’s best to go with the first option. However, if you are worried about the external hard drive getting full quickly and are also using the File History tool, which you should, you may choose to unselect Libraries here, since the latter is backing them up.
Important: You should use separate external drives for Backup and Restore and File History. If one fails, at least you won't lose all your data.
How To Backup Windows 10 With the Backup and Restore Utility
1) Type control panel in the search menu and click Control Panel in the results.
2) In the Control Panel window, click System and Security.
3) Now click Backup and Restore (Windows 7).
4) Click Set up backup.
5) You can select the backup drive here. Then click the Next button.
6) Now decide whether you want a full or partial backup. To choose the former, select Let Windows choose (recommended) while making a Windows 10 system backup. Click the Next button.
7) By default, Windows makes backups every Sunday at 7:00 pm. If you want to change this setting, click the Change schedule button.
8) Now check the box before Run backup on a schedule (recommended) and then use the drop-down menus to select how often and when you want the system to make backups. Finally, click OK to tweak the Windows automatic backup feature as per your liking.
Important: Once you configure a schedule, Windows will automatically make system backups according to it, provided you connect an external drive to your computer before the backup is scheduled to run.
9) Now click Save settings and run backup.
Windows will now make a backup on the external drive. This may take some time, depending on how much data there is.
Create a System Repair Disk
After making a Windows 10 backup, you should create a system repair disk. It will come in handy when you are unable to boot into Windows or want to replace the main drive.
The system repair disk helps you boot Windows when you can’t boot the normal way. It also has Windows system recovery tools to assist you to restore Windows using a system image or recover Windows following a severe error.
To create a system repair disk from Windows Backup and Restore utility, click the Create a system repair disc link and then click the Create disc button in the dialog box that opens on your screen and follow the onscreen instructions.
Managing Space on Your External Hard Drive
Worried that frequent backups will make your external drive full rather quickly?
If yes, you can use the Backup and Restore utility to manage space.
Here are the steps to follow.
1) In the Windows Backup and Restore utility window, click the Manage Space link.
2) Click the View backups… button in the Data file backup section.
3) Now you’ll see a complete list of file backups. To free space, select the oldest backup, click Delete, and then Close.
4) You can free up more space by removing old system images. To do so, click Change settings… under System image.
5) Select Keep only the latest system image and minimize space used by backup. Click OK.
How To Restore Specific Files or the Entire System on Windows 10
Now that we’ve learned how to backup Windows 10, let’s see how we can restore files or entire system when the need arises.
You are likely to need the backups you’ve created in any of these scenarios.
Scenario 1 - You Need Specific Files
If you’ve lost certain files and need to recover them, follow these steps.
1) In the Backup and Restore (Windows 7) window click Restore my files.
2) Now click the Browse for files button.
3) Go through the backup and choose the specific files you wish to restore. Then click Add files.
4) Now click Browse for folders, go through the backup, choose the specific folders you wish to restore, click Add folders, and then finally click the Next button.
5) You can have the Backup and Restore utility restore the selected file to its original or to a new location. To save the restored file in a new place, select In the following location and then specify the desired location.
6) Click the Restore button and then finally click Finish. Windows will now restore the selected folders and files to the specified location. You can navigate to this location and access the restored data.
Scenario 2 - How to Restore Windows from System Image when You’re Able to Log in to Windows
You may need to restore Windows in different situations, for instance when your system files become corrupt.
If you’ve created a system image using the Windows backup utility, you can restore Windows without much hassle.
Here are the steps to follow.
1) Click the Windows icon in the taskbar and then click Settings.
2) Click Update & Security.
3) Click Recovery.
4) Click Restart now in the Advanced Startup section.
5) When Windows restarts, click Troubleshoot.
6) Click Advanced Options and then click System Image Recovery.
7) Now you can pick the system image, from which you want to restore.
Scenario 3 - How to Restore Windows from System Image when You Can’t Log in to Windows
A complete pc backup can save the day when your system goes completely kaput.
When your computer doesn’t boot or fully load Windows, you can use the latest system image to get your system back on its feet.
In such a scenario, you’ll also need a system repair disc, a bootable disc that helps troubleshoot and fix system problems.
1) Connect the external drive on which you created Windows image backups to your computer.
2) Connect the system repair disc.
3) Restart the computer. Note: If the Windows Setup Wizard is not loading, you’ll have to change the BIOS settings. To do this, typically you’ll need to keep hitting a function key (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12) or pressing the Delete or ESC key as your system boots. The exact key you need to press will depend on your computer’s model or manufacturer. Therefore, we recommend that you search for the relevant information on the PC manufacturer website first.
4) Click Next in the Windows Setup screen.
5) Click Repair your computer.
6) Click Troubleshoot and then click Advanced Options.
7) Click System Image Recovery.
8) Select Windows 10.
9) Select Use the latest available system image in the next screen and then click Next. Note: In case you’ve made multiple Win 10 backups and want to restore from an older copy, choose Select a system image (toward the bottom of the screen).
10) In case you want to restore a full backup onto a new drive, choose Format and repartition disks first and then click Next.
11) Click Finish.
12) If you’re asked to confirm your action, click Yes.
The recovery will start now. How much time it will take depends mainly on two things: the amount of data that needs to be restored and your PC's hardware configuration.
Mind, any sort of interruption may disrupt the recovery process and make the computer unbootable.
So make sure there are no disruptions while the recovery process is going on. Also, ensure your laptop is connected to a power outlet. If you use a desktop PC, connect it to a battery backup before initiating recovery if possible.
How To Create File Backups in Windows 10?
Above we saw how to backup Windows 10 using the Backup and Restore utility.
Now let’s learn how to make files backups with help of File History, another useful backup tool that comes pre-installed in Windows 10.
File History proves mighty helpful when you need to restore a file that you’ve accidentally removed or retrieve an older version of a modified file.
File History, by default, will backup all the folders in your user account folder, such as your desktop, download folder, documents, music, pictures, etc. It also makes a backup of the folders in your OneDrive.
Unlike the Backup and Restore utility, this Windows 10 backup utility saves only user data, not system files.
Also while the former retains only the latest version of a file, File History can save multiple versions. Thanks to this feature, you can restore an older version of a file in a jiffy.
Furthermore, when you run File History the second time around, it updates only the files you’ve added or modified since the last backup.
In contrast, the Backup and Restore application, used primarily for making windows 10 system image backups, saves all the files in the specified folders, irrespective of whether they’ve been recently modified or not.
File History, just like its counterpart, allows you to backup data to different destinations, namely a USB flash drive, a network location, or an external hard drive.
Here we’ll see how to backup data on an external drive using File History.
How To Enable File History
You can enable this Windows backup software in no time at all. Here are the steps to follow.
1) Connect an external drive to your desktop PC or laptop.
2) Click the Windows icon in the taskbar and then click Settings.
3) Click Update & Security.
4) Click Backup and then click Add a drive. Select your external drive in the list that appears on the screen.
5) The moment you choose a drive, Windows will turn on the Automatically back up my files button. Now this application will automatically make file backups whenever you connect the external hard drive to the system.
File History Default Settings
You can go with the default settings of this Windows 10 backup utility or tweak its settings as per your needs.
The default settings of File History are as follows:
- How often it makes backups - By default, File History will make backups every hour, provided the external drive is connected to the system. You should backup all your files once a week, and the more important ones, every day or at least two-three times a week.
- For how long it keeps backups - By default, File History keeps your backups forever. As you may guess, this is far from ideal. Chances are you’ll be out of disk space quickly if you keep the default setting on.
- What it backs up - By default, this Win 10 backup application backs up all your user libraries, your Contacts, the Desktops, Microsoft Edge favorites, and OneDrive.
How To Configure File History
To change File History’s default settings, perform these steps.
1) Click the More options link, located in the Back up using File History section, to access and change the configuration options.
2) These are the default settings.
3) To tweak File History’s backup schedule, click the Back up my files drop-down menu and pick a suitable option.
4) To change the time duration for which the File History keeps the backups, click the Keep my backups drop-down menu and select an appropriate option.
5) File History is considered to be among the best Windows backup software because you can easily customize it as per your requirements. For instance, if you don’t want to backup a folder in its default list, just browse through the list, select the folder you want to remove, and then click the Remove button. Repeat this step for all folders that you don’t want to backup.
6) You can also ask File History to backup additional folders as well. Simply click + Add a folder, navigate to the desired folder, select it, and then click Choose this folder. Repeat this step for all folders that you want this Windows 10 backup tool to preserve.
How To Run a Manual File History Backup and Stop It
What if you want to run a file backup outside of the defined schedule? Can you do that?
Yes, sure. Just click the Back up now button in the Backup options window.
On the other hand, if you want to stop File History from making backups, switch off Automatically backup my files in the Settings screen.
How To Restore Files
You can restore files either through File History or File Explorer. Here’s a step-by-step description of both methods.
Scenario 1 - Restore Files Through File History
You can use the PC settings to restore files backed up by File History, a free Windows 10 backup software.
Here are the steps to follow.
1) Click Settings, Update & Security, Backup, and then More options.
2) In the new window, scroll down and click Restore files from a current backup.
3) In the File History window, browse to the relevant file and select the version you want to restore. Finally, click Restore (the green button).
That’s it. The Windows 10 backup tool will now restore the chosen file.
You may see a message asking you to confirm if you would like to overwrite the current version of the folder or file. Click Yes to save the restored file in the original location.
If you want to save the file to an alternate location, right-click Restore (the green button) and click the Restore to option and choose the new location.
Scenario 2 - Restore Files Through File Explorer
Want to restore files using File Explorer instead of the aforementioned, inbuilt Windows backup utility?
If yes, just follow these steps.
1) Go to File Explorer, choose the desired file, click the History tab.
2) Browse through different versions of the selected file and pick the version you want to restore and then click the Restore button.
Windows will now restore the file.
Alternately, you can restore a file through File Manager by right-clicking it and then selecting Properties. Now browse through the different versions of this file saved by the pre-installed Win 10 backup utility, select the one you want, and click the Restore button if you wish to restore the file to its original location.
To save the file to a new location, click the down arrow next to Restore and choose Restore To and save the file in the desired location.
Computer backups are much like health insurance. You don’t realize their importance until you need one.
And by then it's already too late.
Your data’s gone and with it your peace of mind.
Whether it’s data or your personal health, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Windows 10 offers two excellent utilities that aptly take care of the how to back up Windows 10 question - Backup and Restore and File History.
For all-round protection, use both - regularly.
Also, create a system repair disk the first time you set up Backup and Restore. It’ll help you retrieve your system when it gets severely damaged.
Both Backup and Restore and File History allow you to schedule backups as per your needs.
Making backups on external hard drives is a decent option. However, it’s best to use a different external drive for each utility.
Still, the best way to backup your files is by using one of the best Windows backup software solutions. We've tested and reviewed them in detail.
Make full system backups once a week and always before an important change.
The same applies to all users. That said, you should backup important files more frequently.
And that brings us to the end of our exploration of how to backup Windows 10. See you next time!
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Bobby Chernev, editor at TechJury.net. A historian and political scientist by training, he is passionate about quality research and writing in different fields. He's also a general sports fan, a devotee of cask ale, and an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction.
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