Back-ups are an essential part of any careful user’s routine. After all, there’s nothing quite like the sinking feeling when you realise that all your work, or precious memories, have just disappeared into the digital ether. Here’s how to protect your important files with the back-up features built into Windows 10.

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How to back up Windows 10: What is a backup?

File backup

You often hear people warning you to ‘back up your PC’, but this isn’t just a single task. There are two main types of backup that you can use to keep your important data safe. The first is ‘file backup’, which allows you to make copies of individual – and groups of – files that you have stored on your PC. These might be important files that you need for work, or your personal collection of photos, music and videos. Everyone that owns a PC should buy an external hard disk drive to store copies of these files in case you accidentally delete or lose some of them.

System backup

The other type of backup is known as ‘system backup’ or a ‘system image’. This is a bit more complicated as it involves making a backup copy of the entire Windows operating system that is running on your PC, as well as all your programs, files and settings. You can then use this backup to fix your PC if it is behaving erratically, or if it stops working altogether

A system backup can run into hundreds of gigabytes, but some backup software can also perform ‘incremental’ backups, which save only the data that has changed since the last backup, which saves both time and storage space.

How can Windows help me make a backup?

The good news is that Windows 10 – like all previous versions of Windows – has a number of features built into it that allow you to perform both simple file backups and more comprehensive system backups. These features can be a bit confusing, though, so we’ll now walk you through the key backup features that you need to know about, as well as looking at some of the other backup options that are available, such as cloud storage (specifically cloud backup), and specialised backup software from companies other than Microsoft. We’ll start with the straightforward file backup features that you can use to make copies of your important personal files.

How to backup Windows 10: Using File History

There are a few different ways to create backups in Windows 10. One of the easiest is a feature called File History, which will allow you to make regular, scheduled copies of the personal data on your PC and store it on an external drive. It is possible to store your backups on your PC’s internal hard drive – but that’s a bit risky because anything that goes wrong with your PC or your hard drive will take that backup with it too. Always ensure you have at least one external backup for your important files – in fact, many business users will even have two or three backups, with one being kept in a separate location to all the others.

To set up File History you’ll first need to open the Start Menu and click on Settings.  In the menu that appears select Update & Security and then click on the Backup section to view the relevant options.

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In the right hand panel you’ll see a Section entitled Back Up Using File History, and beneath this is an option to Add A Drive. Click on the Plus (+) symbol next to this and you’ll see a list of any external hard drives that are connected to your PC. If you don’t have a drive connected you’ll find that you can’t do anything.

If you have multiple drives connected then you can just click on the one that you want to use. When you return to the Backup section now you’ll see that the option has changed from Add A Drive to Automatically Back Up My Files, and that this option is switched on by default

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Data is a precious thing. Whether it be personal files, photos, music, or a large download of an operating system, it’s always wise to create secure backups of your files to avoid disaster. Over the past few years we’ve seen an increase in ransomware such as Cryptolocker, which can have devastating effects on your PCs, plus the simple everyday hazards of spilling water on a laptop or suffering a hard drive failure. Backups are essential to protect against these – and more – risks. Here we’ll show you how to protect against data loss by using the built-in tools that come with Windows 10, as well as other options, including cloud storage services. Here’s how to back up Windows 10.
Note that much of this article also applies to WIndows 8 and Windows 7.
How to back up Windows 10: What is a backup?
File backup
You often hear people warning you to ‘back up your PC’, but this isn’t just a single task. There are two main types of backup that you can use to keep your important data safe. The first is ‘file backup’, which allows you to make copies of individual – and groups of – files that you have stored on your PC. These might be important files that you need for work, or your personal collection of photos, music and videos. Everyone that owns a PC should buy an external hard disk drive to store copies of these files in case you accidentally delete or lose some of them.
System backup
The other type of backup is known as ‘system backup’ or a ‘system image’. This is a bit more complicated as it involves making a backup copy of the entire Windows operating system that is running on your PC, as well as all your programs, files and settings. You can then use this backup to fix your PC if it is behaving erratically, or if it stops working altogether.

A system backup can run into hundreds of gigabytes, but some backup software can also perform ‘incremental’ backups, which save only the data that has changed since the last backup, which saves both time and storage space.

How can Windows help me make a backup?

The good news is that Windows 10 – like all previous versions of Windows – has a number of features built into it that allow you to perform both simple file backups and more comprehensive system backups. These features can be a bit confusing, though, so we’ll now walk you through the key backup features that you need to know about, as well as looking at some of the other backup options that are available, such as cloud storage (specifically cloud backup), and specialised backup software from companies other than Microsoft. We’ll start with the straightforward file backup features that you can use to make copies of your important personal files.

How to backup Windows 10: Using File History
There are a few different ways to create backups in Windows 10. One of the easiest is a feature called File History, which will allow you to make regular, scheduled copies of the personal data on your PC and store it on an external drive. It is possible to store your backups on your PC’s internal hard drive – but that’s a bit risky because anything that goes wrong with your PC or your hard drive will take that backup with it too. Always ensure you have at least one external backup for your important files – in fact, many business users will even have two or three backups, with one being kept in a separate location to all the others.
To set up File History you’ll first need to open the Start Menu and click on Settings. In the menu that appears select Update & Security and then click on the Backup section to view the relevant options.

How to backup Windows 10

In the right hand panel you’ll see a Section entitled Back Up Using File History, and beneath this is an option to Add A Drive. Click on the Plus (+) symbol next to this and you’ll see a list of any external hard drives that are connected to your PC. If you don’t have a drive connected you’ll find that you can’t do anything.
If you have multiple drives connected then you can just click on the one that you want to use. When you return to the Backup section now you’ll see that the option has changed from Add A Drive to Automatically Back Up My Files, and that this option is switched on by default.  You can turn this option off or on whenever you want to, but it’s best to leave it on so that future backups automatically take place at regular intervals. You can also specify how often your File History backups take place, and which specific files and folders are included in your backups. Click the heading labeled More Options and you’ll be taken into a new window that contains several useful features.
By default, File History creates backups of your files once an hour, but if you want it to start straight away then you can just click the button marked Back Up Now to make your first backup. Right below that is a pull-down menu that allows you to specify how often your backups take place. This can range from every 10 minutes to just once a day, but the default hourly backups are probably fine for most people. Making regular backups of all your files can take up a lot of space on your external hard drive so there’s a second pull-down menu that tells File History how long it should keep all those backups. The default option is to keep them forever – better safe than sorry, after all – but you can vary this from one month to two years if you want. You can also tell Windows 10 to delete older backups automatically if your external hard drive gets full and you need to free up some space for newer backups.
When it’s creating a backup, File History automatically copies all the folders that are part of your main User Account on your PC, such as Music, Photos and Videos (to view the folders in your User Account just go to the Users folder on your main C: drive and click the folder that has your personal account name – ie C:/Users/Pete). However, you can also make backups of files that are stored in other folders too. Just click ‘Add A Folder’ to open a file browser window that allows you to select the folders you want. There’s also an Exclude button that lets you remove folders from your backup schedule – such as the Saved Games folder, which probably isn’t essential unless you’re about 50 hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition.

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How to backup Windows 10: Restore your backed up files

If you ever need to locate a file from your backup drive then you can just click on the Start Menu in the Windows 10 taskbar and type ‘File History’ into the Search bar. In the list of search results you’ll see an option labeled ‘Restore Your Files With File History’, and when you click on this you’ll open a window that displays all the folders that are backed-up onto your external hard drive.

The thing to note here, though, is that there’s a set of Forward and Back controls at the bottom of this window, similar to the playback controls that you’ll find on any music or video player. These allow you to step backwards and forwards through all the backups you’ve made in recent weeks and months. This means that you can go right back and locate files that you might have deleted many months ago. You can also use it to recover and compare different versions of a file that you may have worked on and edited over a period of time, which is really useful.