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

  • HachavBanav - Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - link

    Not a single word of my current UNLIMITED ONLINE BACKUP solution....$50/year
  • Brett Howse - Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - link

    Except this:
    Here is a list of several vendors offering their own take on cloud backups:
    ◾ Arq
    ◾ Backblaze
    ◾ Carbonite
    ◾ Cloudberry
    ◾ Crashplan
    ◾ JungleDisk
    ◾ Mozy
  • nagi603 - Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - link

    Another one to consider: unRAID. It uses filesystem-level RAID-ing, with one parity disk. The biggest pro is that if two disks fail, you get to keep your data on the other disks, as opposed to having to resort to very expensive and not fully effective specialist recovery services with RAID-5. You can expand the cluster to (IIRC) 23 drives max, with a separate cache drive if it seems too slow for you. The cons are: it's not free, and you have to build your own NAS for it. But so far it turned out to be best for me. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - link

    I keep it simple. Once every month or 3 I'll backup my local TB media drive on my main computer to an external 2TB drive. The data is now duplicated and not in danger of electric surge. Fire/flood/etc. still not protected but OK.

    About every 4-6 months I'll take the 2TB to my parents house and backup the new files to their media computer. That takes the danger of disaster out of the equation. Unless both houses suffer catastrophe (we are only ~30miles away from each other....) there is little loss of data.

    Since this is all mechanical HDD's I'm wondering peoples thoughts on recopying files? I just continuously add and update the files but never "refresh" the drives. Is this something that should (very infrequently) be done? i.e. format a drive then reload with the same files?

    Good article. And people DO NOT think it won't happen to you. I was luckily able to recover a coworkers computer after a power outtage. Fried his PSU, but fortunately stopped there. I was able to grab his family media without issue. They had NO backup, nothing. You would have thought after this they would take my advice and backup? Nope. I doubt they will be as lucky next time.
  • rickydlam - Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - link

    Google Drive is $1.99/month for 100GB now. Reply
  • Archipelago - Saturday, June 7, 2014 - link

    and from what I can tell, Google Drive does offer versioning through the "manage revisions" feature. Reply
  • Thrackerzod - Thursday, May 29, 2014 - link

    I back up all my irreplaceable stuff (family photos and home movies for example) on LTO tape. Got a Dell SCSI LTO2 drive for next to nothing and the tapes are dirt cheap and last decades. LTO1 tapes are so cheap I even use them for less important stuff like backups of all my Steam game installers. Tapes are certainly not the most popular solution for consumers but for long term archival use I've yet to find anything better. Reply
  • Hauken - Saturday, May 31, 2014 - link

    Time Machine is simple yes, but you can't boot from it. And if you're on a new system, needing files from an old backed up system, it gets awfully problematic. Reply
  • MDX - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    I wish there was a backup service that was immune to national security letters, but alas. Mega.co.nz will have to do for now. Reply
  • pslind69 - Monday, July 7, 2014 - link

    Why No mention of StorageCraft ShadowProtect? 😩 Also, one has to figure out which data is really important enough to backup in multiple ways. A list of op just back up everything. All Their personal documents, wedding pictures, and all their movies, tv series, music etc. All those entertainment media can be recreated from originals or redownloaded, so why even back them up. I think most people do that because if disaster hits, they couldn't remember what they have lost, so they back up everything unnessecary file.

    Instead, include a list of all your easily recreatable files (with hashes) in your important backup that is replicated offsite, to cloud etc. That way you can easily go back and see that "Ohh I lost my Days of Our Lives TV folder" and then just redownload or rerip the dvds. So much space saved by not backing up unimportant data you could easily recreate.

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