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

  • wumpus - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    The whole point of RAID *is* to protect you from things like bit rot. The difference between RAID5 and RAID6 is that RAID6 protects you from two rotted bits in a single sector (more specifically, two different drives with failures in the same location). You should be able to avoid this with RAID5 by periodically reading the entire drive and correcting any single error you find (called "scrubbing"). Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    It's not really a sure thing with the RAID though. The array has no idea which version is correct, and which one is rotten. The best it can do is take a consensus and go with whatever version of the file the most drives agree is correct. They did an article about bit rot over at Ars Technica, and the author's RAID 5 happily used the rotten version.

  • bsd228 - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    not, really, wumpus. The whole point of RAID (minus 0) is to protect you from a disk failure. By itself it does not deal with bit rot at all. On a mirror, who is right? In typical implementations, disk 0 is presumed to have the correct copy. ZFS (and I believe MS's knockoff, ReFS) implemented scrubbing with checksumming to give a means to identifying the correct copy. Reply
  • beginner99 - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    I use Microsoft's free tool SyncToy. With it you can synchronize folders to anywhere else, like an external hdd. And of course only updates are synched and you can specify in which direction to sync. I use it to backup my media collection. The external hard drive can then be stored off-site (at work). The advantage I see with this is that the media files are copied over and are readable on the backup directly. You can take the external hdd on the road and have your full media collection at hand. With image files you will have to first restore them before being able to use them.

    Important documents should be stored in the "cloud". This can be a simple encrypted zip sent by email and it will be stored on the email server (say gmail) or whatever. That was possible like over a decade ago already.
  • gsvelto - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    I do most of my backups from Linux: I use rsync to sync my home directory and other relevant files outside of /home and ntfsclone to backup my Windows drives. The latter option is definitely slower than incremental backups or somesuch but allows me to restore a Windows installation very quickly w/o need for reinstalling. It's also handy when moving Windows from a hard drive to another. Reply
  • AlexIsAlex - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    Another aspect to backups is bit rot. Both on the backup media (are the files in the backup still good?) and on the live media (do I need to restore this file from backup, as it has become corrupted?)

    For a decent backup system, I want checkusms stored with the backed up data, and verified regularly. I also want the backup to actually read all files to be backed up from the source, even if they are not supposed to be modified since the last backup, and check that they still have the same checksum. Unfortunately, this takes rather a long time, but I don't see any alternative to discovering months down the line that some rarely accessed files have become corrupted, and worse, been backed up in a corrupted state.
  • boomie - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    >Windows 8 fixes that issue, but creates new ones by no longer allowing automated image backups
    Well, I didn't think supposed IT pros at anandtech would be so casual as to be afraid of command line.
    If you cannot live in this world without regular image backups, who prevents you from adding a task in task scheduler with wbadmin call?
    Come on now.
  • ruthan - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    There are extended tutorials to Windows native backup setting, but for Winserver essentials, here are very compressed version of descriptions. Could you more explain it - for example - "Once the connector software is installed" - this is big shortcut - after installation is backup set up from server or from local machine?
    How is linux / macs backup support, because of this is real different, Windows backup solution isnt now big problem. From my experience - best solution are form Acronis and Paragon, but they have lots of limitations and known issues.
  • davidpappleby - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    We have two laptops, and two desktops. Each has a boot drive and a separate physical backup drive for images using acronis. All pictures/music/data reside on the server which has separate backup drives for its OS and data (again with acronis). I'll be looking into S3 again as a result of this article (last time I looked I thought 2tb was too much). My wife has an external drive we use as off site backup of her important data (downside is that that is current only). Reply
  • Mikuni - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    Mega gives 10GB for free, encrypted storage, why wasn't it mentioned? Reply

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