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
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  • Egg - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I understand why I need revision control for files, but what about say, my music collection, which I just transcoded from WMA lossless to FLAC? No hash based deduplication is going to realize that they're the same... if I had revision control working on that, I would have an extra 10 GB of stuff sitting around... Reply
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Two things I guess. Hash based deduplication is awful on any media, other than to say the file is already copied, so it wouldn't really matter.

    Second, most of the backup systems listed allow you to control how many days you keep deleted files.
    Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    For anyone using the Windows 7 built in backup, have you noticed if it re-schedules backups if it misses a time? My machine is typically powered off if I'm not using it, so hopefully Windows is smart enough to just do the backup as soon as it get the chance. Reply
  • Stanand - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    From my experience, Windows 7/Vista built-in backup doesn't automatically delete old backups when the backup disk becomes full (and it fills up quickly). The user must manually delete old backups by clicking "Manage Space" and deleting the old backups.

    That's easy for everybody reading this Anandtech article, but not so easy for my computer novice grandmother.

    For novices, I install the free version of Crashplan and set it up to automatically delete old backups every 90 days (Settings -> Backup tab -> Frequency and Versions -> Remove deleted files).
    Reply
  • SenilePlatypus - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    There is one way to get around the Windows 8.1 backup limitations. File History also allows you to backup Library locations. So... All you have to do is make any desired backup (folder, drive, etc...) into a library location (right click drive/folder -> Include in library -> Create new library [or choose an existing one]). Reply
  • johnthacker - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    SpiderOak is another Consumer Cloud backup service that has unlimited versioning with no time limits. Multiplatform support. It is slower than some of these other services because, since your files are encrypted, they don't deduplicate across different users the way that, e.g., Dropbox does. Reply
  • DeathReborn - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I used to use Acronis for backups to external drives but late last year switched to Macrium Reflect and a File Server housing 24TB of storage inside and a NAS with 12TB.

    If you're good with MS-DOS scripts Macrium has a lot of functionality that you can get access to. Not exactly user friendly but very useful.
    Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    You neglected to mention one of the best cloud backup solutions - SpiderOak. They ran a promotion earlier this year on "backup day" to give unlimited storage for $120 per year. They support Linux (GUI and headless CLI), Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Blackberry OS. And unlike a lot of cloud backup services, you can back up network locations - so you can run SpiderOak on one computer and back up data from other computers if they're on the same network and have shares accessible. They do versioning and deduplication (and pass the space savings of deduplication along to you). They also don't retain an encryption key to your data as part of their "zero knowledge" policy. They also allow you to specify a local target to use as a local repository so that when you need to restore something, it doesn't necessarily have to pull it down via the Internet, just that local device whether it's a NAS device or another hard drive in one of your computers. It doesn't do image backups, but if you're looking for image backups, just use the built in utility in Windows to create one and back up the location of those files to the SpiderOak cloud. Reply
  • MrX8503 - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I was wondering what backup strategy you were using and I'm happy to hear that its a WHS 2011 solution. I'm rocking the same setup and added time machine support to my WHS to backup macs. Reply
  • iwod - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    What about Bit Rot? I heard RAID doesn't protect you with it and you will basically have two bad copy of the data. Reply

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