View Full Version : How to back up a computer running Windows 7

03-10-2012, 09:40 AM
If you have data on your computer that you really don't want to lose, then at the very least you should have a local backup. This post will cover some of the options for making backups. I am assuming people will use external hard drives for this, but you can use a drive on a network or even another internal hard drive (physical drive, NOT a partition on the same drive that you're backing up).

EDIT - Oh yeah, the methods I list here are just suggestions. If you have a different method, that's fine. The main thing is that you are keeping backups, cos if you're not, you're effectively saying "I don't care if I lose this data".

Hard drive partitions and organisation

A hard drive can be split into a number of partitions. If you split a drive into 2 partitions, each will have its own drive letter and Windows will basically treat the partitions as if they were separate drives. One advantage of using 2 partitions on a hard drive is so that you can use a partition structure like this: -

Partition 1 = Windows and all applications
Partition 2 = Your personal data (music, videos, pictures etc.)

The advantage of a setup like this is that you can create a system image of partition 1, then if your system gets hosed, you can wipe partition 1 and restore your PC from the system image you created and none of your personal data is touched. You don't have to do this, but it can make your backup/restore strategy easier to deal with.

NOTE - You should never store backups solely on a different partition on the same hard drive, because if the drive physically dies then you've lost everything.

Creating a system image

An image is basically a snapshot of a hard drive or partition. It's useful because if you have your PC all set up and everything is running perfectly, you can create an image and if your hard drive dies, you get a virus that hoses your machine, you install some software that screws with your system etc. then you can restore your PC using the image you created and it'll be back to the exact state it was in when the image was made. You can also use the image if you decide to upgrade your hard drive as you can restore the image to the new, larger hard drive.

Windows 7 has a built-in tool for creating system images. You'll need an external hard drive with enough space on it for creating your image. Attach that, then do the following: -

1. Go to Control Panel - Backup and Restore and click "Create a system image" on the left-hand side. Windows will then search for drives where the image can be stored.

2. Select the "On a hard disk" option, then select your external hard drive from the drop-down list and hit Next.

3. Place check marks next to the drives/partitions you want included in the image. At the very least you will want to include the 100 MB system reserved partition that Windows 7 creates on install and the drive/partition that has Windows 7 and all of your software on it.

4. You'll then see a summary screen where you can check that you've set everything up right and as long as all is good, hit the "Start backup" button.

Once the process is complete, it will ask if you want to create a system repair disc. Insert a blank CD or DVD into your drive and create one, because you will need this to boot your computer if there's ever a disaster and you need to restore your system from the image you just created. Once you've created the system repair disc, label it and keep it somewhere safe.

If your system is ever hosed to the point where it can't be recovered, or if you are replacing your hard drive for any reason, you can attach the external hard drive to your PC, boot from the system repair disc, then you have the option of restoring your system via the image and you'll be back up and running very quickly.

Backing up personal data (music etc.)

Windows 7 has a built-in backup application, but I find it quite slow and I also don't like the way it stores the backups. I use a free application called Cobian Backup which you can download here: -


Cobian Backup allows you to select drives, partitions, folders and files that you want to back up. You can also exclude folders and files from backups too. I find this to be the best strategy: -

1. Create a task in Cobian Backup and select everything you want to back up. If you've used the partition strategy mentioned at the beginning of this guide, you can select the entire personal data partition to be backed up as you'll already have an image of your OS/software partition from the previous step.

2. Create a full backup first. This will literally copy every file and folder that you've selected over to your external hard drive.

3. Once you have a full backup, you can run incremental backups from then on. An incremental backup will only backup files that have changed since the last backup, or that have been added since the last backup, so it takes far less time to run.

You can configure Cobian to run the backup task at set intervals or you can run it manually, but make sure it's done regularly cos if your hard drive does die, backing up regularly will minimise the amount of data that you lose (if any).

Off-site and cloud backups

If your only backup is a local backup, it's still possible that you could lose everything. Someone could break into your house and steal your computer along with your external hard drive. There could be a fire that destroys your PC and external hard drive. For any data that you can't afford to lose, you should keep an off-site backup, i.e. a backup that is stored in a different location. This could be an external hard drive that you keep at a friend's house, you could use SkyDrive (or a similar service) and upload files there, or you can use one of the cloud backup solutions that's available.

Phil Noize
03-10-2012, 03:42 PM
Great post ... this should be stickied.

I need to spread more rep.

03-10-2012, 05:21 PM
That's helpful stuff right there.


03-11-2012, 10:15 AM
I'm really hoping that external SSDs get cheaper soon so I can get faster backups. Then again, everything might end up bottlenecking at my USB 2.0 connection anyway, rendering the whole thing moot.

03-11-2012, 10:32 AM
I'm really hoping that external SSDs get cheaper soon so I can get faster backups.
If you're using incremental backups, it shouldn't take long. Obviously, it depends how much new/changed data there is since your last backup, but most people aren't downloading GBs of data per week.

My initial full backup took hours, but the incremental backups take anywhere from a couple of minutes to half an hour (I backup once per week). Obviously, faster is always better, but if you're doing a full backup every time then that's why it's sloooow.

03-11-2012, 12:01 PM
I'm really hoping that external SSDs get cheaper soon so I can get faster backups. Then again, everything might end up bottlenecking at my USB 2.0 connection anyway, rendering the whole thing moot.

Using an ssd as a permanent backup is a baaaaad idea. They have finite write cycles, and when something goes, the whole thing is shit fucked. Magnetic media lasts longer, and if the interface dies, clusters get damaged, or even if the tape rips, you can still recover a lot of the data.

Tape backups are old technology and slow as shit, but they're really reliable, cheap, and last forever, so they're still very common.

Thrown off of a structure of moderate height.

Scrap McNapps
05-12-2012, 03:40 PM
I use Paragon Hard Disk Manager Suite for backing up. It is VERY handy. It makes reinstalling all your crap a LOT quicker and it is easy to use.

05-12-2012, 04:25 PM
Sigma, you should also write a guide on which External Hard Drive to buy. I've been going through them recently and I'm going to buy 2 soon, but there is just so much negativity when you look online at external hard drives. I personally had a Seagate(I forget the model) that failed within 2 months. I think it'd help a good amount of people if you listed details of a normal HDD vs Hybrid vs SSD and stuff like that in another post if you've got the time. This was a really nice post though because I've never seen the advantage of partitioning my hard drive until now. + Rep

05-12-2012, 04:55 PM
Great post!

I'll come back and rep after I spread some more :)

05-12-2012, 07:02 PM
Sigma, you should also write a guide on which External Hard Drive to buy.
I remember reading some failure rate stats for various manufacturers and they're all basically all the same. A small percentage of hard drive will be DOA or faulty so they die in the first few weeks, but if you buy from a respected brand then I don't think it matters who you go with really unless a specific model has known issues. I've never had a hard drive die and I usually run them for years and then replace them once something new/bigger is out, and I've used drives from Seagate, Western Digital, Hitachi and Samsung.

I think it'd help a good amount of people if you listed details of a normal HDD vs Hybrid vs SSD and stuff like that in another post if you've got the time.
OK, I'll do it in this post. :D

Normal HDD - The main advantage is price per GB, especially if you need a large drive that's 1TB plus as an SSD of that size would cost a fortune. Regular hard drives are mechanical, so they contain spinning platters and read heads. Most hard drive failures tend to be mechanical - the "click of death" where the read head is either stuck or can't read from the platters. The disadvantages of a normal HDD vs. an SSD are speed, noise, power consumption and heat. Basically, they only win out on price.

When looking at the specs, there's usually 3 things to take into account. The storage size (obviously), the RPM and the cache size. The RPM is how fast the platters spin, although it's not always fair to assume that a higher RPM = a faster drive, because another consideration is areal density. Areal density is how much can be stored on a single platter. When more data is packed into the same physical area, it can be read faster, which increases the speed of the drive.

SSD - A solid state drive. Data is stored on flash memory chips. This has a number of advantages - speed, there's no moving parts so the drive is silent and doesn't put out much heat, power consumption is low, and non-contiguous data can be read as fast as contiguous data so defragmenting an SSD is completely unnecessary and has no effect on performance. The main disadvantage is price, although the prices on SSDs seem to have dropped a lot in recent weeks (at least here in the UK).

Much like when you buy a USB stick, the performance of an SSD can vary quite a lot depending on the type of flash memory used, so check the performance stats for any drive you're considering buying.

If you're doing a fresh install of either Windows 7 or 8 on an SSD, the OS will configure itself accordingly as things like the disk defragmenter will be automatically disabled for the drive. I know OS X was a bit behind in this respect (particularly when it came to enabling TRIM (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRIM), which you may still have to do manually).

Hybrid drive - A hybrid drive is basically like a mix of an SSD and a mechanical hard drive. The drive has a small (compared to an SSD) amount of flash memory that's used as a buffer. Once that buffer fills up, the mechanical part of the drive spins up and data is few out to the platters. The advantage of a hybrid drive is that you get some of the benefits of an SSD (increased performance, most importantly), but without having to pay a fortune if you want a drive with a large capacity. While a hybrid drive won't perform as well as an SSD, it's preferably to buying a regular HDD.

Here's a site that's pretty good for all things storage: -


It has reviews and guides, but it also has leaderboards where they recommend drives based on performance, mainstream, value, boot, speciality and what have you. It's pretty handy if you're looking to pick out a new drive and you're looking for up to date info.

05-12-2012, 08:47 PM
Nice guide on the different drive types Sigma.

Andrew B
05-12-2012, 09:21 PM
Stuck. :tup:

05-12-2012, 09:40 PM
Thanks, Andrew!

I forgot to mention it, but I recently bought a new external drive for backup purposes. It's a 2TB Hitachi Touro Pro. I have the same 2TB drive that's inside it fitted inside my PC as well. The advantage of it is that it's USB 3.0. I wasn't sure it would make much difference, but it really does. It took under 3 hours to back up 695GB of data. The only downside with the drive is that the supplied USB cable is really short. Oh, and there's no on/off switch on the unit itself, so it switches on when you plug the USB cable in. I'd rather have a switch so I could just leave it plugged in all the time, but it's not a major hassle.

04-06-2013, 02:37 PM
I make 3 back ups of everything I have. The main one is in my 750gb laptop and a 2 tb portable. (I have almost 3 tbs worth of stuff). My 2nd back up is a 3tb mybook hidden in my house. And the 3rd back up on 3 portable drives in my garage which is detached from my house. But being away from the house is definitely a must.

About those back up programs I have a hard time using those. Because they way I work with my files is very complicated. And those programs don't do it the way I want it to. SO in that case I add the new pictures, videos manually. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BmG9c6TfD8

07-19-2015, 08:21 AM
Time machine mac that is re imaged to a spare mac
On Pc ACRONIS backup and clone options best just to keep a cloned hard drive up and ready although could be avoided with HD sentinal