Built-in Backup Tools - Windows 7

The first method of performing backups is to use the built-in backup tools in Windows 7, 8.1, or OS X. These offer both image based backups, as well as file based backups. This is your first line of defense. If your budget is low, the bare minimum that you want to do is at least back up your files and system image to an internal or external drive, or a network share.

Windows 7

Windows 7 includes a built-in utility called Backup and Restore (formerly Backup and Restore Center in Windows Vista) which allows you to perform backups to internal or external disks on your local PC. If you have Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate, Backup and Restore will also allow you to perform backups to a network share. Backup and Restore allows both file level, and image level backups. Windows 7 also has a built-in feature called Previous Versions, which will leverage both Windows Backups as well as restore points in order to allow you to restore files to a different point in time.

Backup and Restore, when configured to perform both file and system level backups, will actually perform both a file level, and a system level backup. Unlike more sophisticated backup software, it doesn’t leverage the system level backups for file level restores, meaning it is going to take up more space than a backup solution which does just system level. It does allow incremental backups and versioning though. The biggest issue with Windows 7’s built-in Backup and Restore is its inability to backup files and images to a network share for Starter and Home Premium – the two versions most people have. It also can’t backup files that are on a network share. That being said, it’s a great place to start for anyone who wants to back up to an internal or external drive for file and system protection. Let’s run through how to configure it:

  1. Go to the Control Panel, then choose System and Security, and select Backup and Restore
  2. On the Control Panel applet screen, choose Set up backup.

  1. First you will be prompted as to where to save your backups. Your options are any local disk, USB disk, or CD/DVD. If you have Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate, there will be an additional selection here to choose a network share and enter the necessary credentials to access it. Choose your backup disk and click Next.

  1. Next, you will be asked what to back up. The default selection is to back up all user data saved in libraries and default user folders, as well as a system image. If you keep all of your data in your libraries, this should be fine for you so click Next. If you keep data in other folders, or only want to backup certain locations, select Let me choose and click Next.

  1. If you’ve chosen Let me choose, you will be prompted to select what data files to backup. By default, all user Data files are selected, but you can also expand under Computer and choose what to backup, or just backup everything. Also there will be a selection to include a system image for restoring your entire drive. If you have space on your backup drive, it’s a great idea to include this. Click Next when you’ve selected everything you need to backup.

  1. Next, you will be provided a summary of the backup job which you can review. The summary page will display the default schedule (Sunday at 7pm) and you can change the schedule to perform backups more often. Weekly backups would be the minimum that I would perform. Since the backups are incremental, it’s probably a good idea to bump this up to daily. Choose a time where you are not likely to be using the computer. Once you are happy, click Save settings and run backup, and the system will perform the initial full backup.

That’s it. Your computer is now backing up automatically at whatever schedule you chose. The next thing you should do, assuming you selected to create a System backup, is to create a bootable disk to recover your system. It’s easier to do this now, than when you need it. To do this, simply go to the Backup and Restore applet in the control panel, and choose Create a system repair disc. You will be prompted to place a CD or DVD in your drive and then just select Create disc. A small bootable disc will be burned which will allow you to restore a complete system image from a local disk, or a network share. If you do ever need this, bear in mind that a system restore will completely erase all files on the restore target.

If you want to restore individual files, you have a couple of options. You can use the Backup and Restore applet to browse for files and folders of your backups and choose which ones to restore. If you do a restore this way, and select restore to original location, it will do a standard file copy of the restored files to their original locations. If the original files are still in that location, the standard dialog will appear letting you select whether to replace the originals, copy with a new file name, or do nothing. Be careful if you do this as you will have a good chance of overwriting files you meant to keep.

The other method for restoring files is to use the Previous Versions interface to select which file and folder, and from which date to restore. This is likely the preferred method since it will display graphically all previous versions of the file or folder. To invoke this method, simply browse to the file or folder you wish to restore, right click, and choose Restore previous versions. This will display all versions that are in the backups, and allow you to open the file to view it, copy the file, or restore the file.

Overall, the Windows 7 backup utility is fairly good. With both file level and image level backups available, you can recover from practically any scenario. Its glaring omission is the lack of network support on the home versions of Windows 7, which is really unfortunate. Many people would rather back up their files to a NAS, especially in any house with more than one computer. But if you are running Windows 7 and you just have a single computer, it is worthwhile using this for the price of a single hard drive to back up to. Unfortunately, almost no one used this backup system so it was replaced when Windows 8 was launched.

Plan Your Backups Built-in Backup Tools - Windows 8.1


View All Comments

  • tribunal88 - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Any reason that CrashPlan wasn't considered? Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    1) "Of course this list is certainly not exhaustive, with many companies now offering online backup solutions. A quick search in your favorite search engine will provide dozens of options. Be sure to choose the one that works best for you."

    2) Look at the 5th item on the bulleted list above the paragraph I just quoted...
  • antef - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    CrashPlan is fantastic. I used to use JungleDisk with S3, but the software was forgotten and became problematic and buggy. I gave it up and switched to CrashPlan. The client is easy to use and backups seem to happen fast and reliably. Reply
  • Kenazo - Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - link

    Crashplan's friend to friend option is amazing. I have 3 or 4 people backing up to my home NAS, and my personal pictures and important documents all back up to my PC at work. Reply
  • Haravikk - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    For most regular consumers, CrashPlan is something I'd definitely recommend; it's pretty easy to use and has unlimited storage, plus if you like you can specify the encryption key that is used (though of course you then have to find a way to keep that safe instead). Given the pricing of cloud storage it's also pretty well priced. I'm sure there are other cloud backup services, but CrashPlan is what I'm using.

    Personally though I've gone for the total overkill approach; I have my Mac's main system volume which I'm about to switch over to RAID-5, a Time Machine backup volume on RAID-5, a Synology NAS (no RAID since it's only two-disk), and the NAS is also configured to heedlessly run CrashPlan to backup my files. So I have a total of three redundant copies of my data, albeit one in the cloud that is usually a day or two behind, and would take weeks to re-download, but in the event of a fire burning down everything else I'd rather have that off-site protection.

    Still, I'd personally recommend local back-up drive + NAS for most serious computer users, especially if working with that computer is your job, as a single backup isn't enough IMO, as the last thing you want is to be in the middle of restoring your system, only for the backup to fail as well.
  • NonSequitor - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Be really careful about RAID-5. It protects very well against a complete drive failure, but drive corruption or a drive that starts returning garbage will trash everything on the disk. You need a RAID level that does double parity or checksums, such as RAID-6 and RAID-Z, to actually protect against almost all hardware failures. Of course it still is not then a backup. Reply
  • pdf - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    The bigger problem is that with large modern disks, a drive failure in RAID5 means that you're extremely likely to encounter unreadable sectors trying to resilver a replacement disk. A drive that starts returning garbage during regular operation should cause no problem with any competent RAID implementation though.

    Also, RAIDZ is single-parity - RAIDZ2, RAIDZ3, etc are the multi-parity versions. The other bonus with ZFS-based RAID implementations is full checksumming of all data and metadata on-disk, plus COW snapshots, and the latter means it can actually serve the role of a self-contained backup solution, using something like zfs-auto-snapshot to provide granular, aged snapshots of changed data.
  • Morawka - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    i havent heard RAIDZ recommended for 10 years Reply
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    What are you even on about?

    ZFS was only widely available in November 2005.
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, May 23, 2014 - link

    Guess that's only eight and a half years then. Reply

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