It doesn’t take long to fill up your PC with data, and a lot of it will be irreplaceable and therefore priceless. It’s easy to upload stacks of photos, music, documents and other files on your PC without stopping to think that you’ve only got a single copy of each. If you accidentally delete something, or your PC runs into problems (and you have to perform a system recovery), you could end up losing files you might not be able to replace.
That’s why it’s vital to back up your data to an external device like a hard drive. Have a look at our Buyer’s Guide to Storage Devices for help choosing the right backup drive. When it comes to actually backing up your data, the Windows 'Backup and Restore' tool is the perfect bit of kit for the job. Just follow the steps below to start protecting your files.
1. Open 'Backup and Restore'
Open the tool by clicking the [Start] button, then type ‘backup ’ into the Search box and click the 'Backup and Restore' link under Programs. As this is the first time you’ve run the tool, there’ll be no backups listed under Restore and you’ll see the message, Windows Backup has not been Set up. Click 'Set up Backup ', to begin.
2. Select where to store your backup
All possible backup drives will be listed, including internal hard drives, external USB drives, CD/DVD rewriters and other connected drives and disks, including camera SD cards. Select your USB hard drive from the list: it might already be highlighted, as Windows will often recommend the largest hard drive attached to your computer. Click 'Next'.
3. Choose what to back up
Next, you need to choose the files you want to back up. The simplest option is to leave 'Let Windows Choose (recommended)', as this will back up all files and settings that aren’t part of Windows, as well as a system image of Windows itself. If you just want to back up the files and settings, select 'Let me Choose', click 'Next' and untick 'Include a System Image of Drives'.
4. Change schedule
The next screen shows a summary of your backup settings, including a suggested time for the backup to automatically update (the default backup time is Sunday at 7pm). Click 'Change Schedule' to change the day and time, or to run the backup daily.
5. Run the backup
Once you’re happy with your settings, click the 'Save Settings and Run Backup ' option. A progress bar will tell you how much of your data has been backed up (the first backup may take some time) and you can click 'View Details' to see its progress. It’s best to leave your PC alone while it’s backing up, so now might be a good time to put the kettle on.
Once the first backup is complete, your data will be protected. It will then run automatically in the background at the scheduled time, adding new and changed files to your backup and protecting them, as well.
6. Create system repair disc
If you create a system image as part of your backup , you’ll need to create a System Repair Disc. Click 'Start', type ‘repair’ into the Search box and click 'Create a System Repair Disc', under Programs. Insert a blank CD or DVD into your drive, click 'Create Disc' and follow the instructions to create the disc. Store it somewhere safe – you never know when you might need it.
7. Restore individual files
If you accidentally delete the wrong file and you can’t recover it from the recycle bin, open 'Backup and Restore' (from the Start menu), as before (see step 1). Click 'Restore my Files', select your backup from the list and then either click 'Browse for Files' (to find your files manually) or click 'Search' and type the name of the file you’re looking for.
Tick the files you want to recover and click 'OK', then click 'Next'. Restore the files to their original location by clicking 'Restore', or choose 'In the Following Location', and click 'Browse', to save them somewhere else.