How to backup your Files
| Free Online Backup | Paid Online Backup | Disk Image | Microsoft's free tools | Flash or External Drive |
List of Best Backup software: No matter which software you choose you will need a separate hard (or flash) drive with enough capacity to hold the backup(s) created.
"There's one simple rule about backups that everybody needs to fully understand: Your files should exist in at least Two places, or it's no longer a backup - and your data is at risk. Too often people delete the files from their primary PC, assuming they are backed up." Quote from Lifehacker
Need more help? - Keep on Reading.
Online backup - to the Free Cloud
(If you have a relatively fast internet connection (5 Mbps or better) - and the volume of your data to be backed up is not large (Less than 15GB).
A good way to back up your important data is to get a free account with an online backup site such as Google Drive or Microsoft Onedrive (formerly Skydrive).
To get the most from Onedrive you should install their software when you sign up.
The online files are protected by username and password and 128 or 256bit encryption so they should be safe from prying eyes.
Be aware that if you install Onedrive software on your PC the startup time will be increased a tiny bit since the online files must be synced with the ones on your PC when you boot your computer. However this is not a bad tradeoff since your files will always be saved the moment you create them if you save them to the folder created by the (Onedrive or Google Drive Backup and Sync) program.
After installing the software (either Onedrive or Google Drive) look for their folders in the Quick Access section of any File Explorer window.
Paid Online Backup services
If you have a large amount of valuable, personal or business files you may need to use a commercial online backup service rather than a free service that limits how many Gigabytes of data you can store without payment. Also remember the adage "You get what you pay for." For a list of Paid online backup companies along with recommendations see - list of best Online Backup Services from PC Magazine or this list from Lifewire Best Cloud Backup Services Reviewed, as well as this older article from Lifehacker Five Best Online Backup Tools. Just remember that Mozy is now owned by Carbonite.
Finally, PCWorld has a simple and good article of reccomendations for best Online Backup Services.
Create a disk image (Disk Clone)
This will save all user data as well as your installed operating system. No seperate recovery disk is needed. But you will need a Repair Disk to boot your PC to allow you to access and install the disk image you created earlier to get your PC up and running again.
If you wish to make disk image backups of your PC's Hard Drive and files I recommend that you use a program such as Acronis True Image or Macrium Reflect (free version available) to make a backup image file that you can keep updated. For this you will, almost certainly, need a USB external hard drive rather than a smaller USB Flash Drive.
USB external hard drives are now available for less than $100 for a 2 terrabyte (or larger) drive. See some examples at Amazon.
Amazon also has Acronis True Image software for a good price if you are partial to that software.
A system image backup will come in very handy if your PC's hard drive goes belly up or is corrupted by malware or, even worse, your PC is captured by ransomware.
After replacing the dead drive or reformating your original hard drive you would be able to load the backup drive image from your external hard drive onto the new or reformatted internal hard drive. The backup software will also create a bootable Repair DVD, CD, or flash drive to boot your PC then install the image file onto your PC - keep this disk in a safe place along with your portable hard drive that contains the backup system image!
The image will install your personal files, programs, and Windows operating system all at once!
Your PC will be back in running order much faster this way.
One other free product for disk image back-ups is EaseUS Todo Backup. It is reported to be both effective and easy to use.
There is an excellent tutorial for creating an image file using Macrium Reflect free on How to Geek website. The tutorial explains how to create the backup image and then how to re-install it onto your PC at a later date.
Note: This How to Geek tutorial's purpose is to backup a PC prior to an upgrade to Windows 10, however the procedure works to save your data, no matter the purpose.
Use Microsoft's free tools
Microsoft also has tools to create backups to external hard drives.
In Windows 10 the tool is called File History Backup.
To learn more about Windows 8 or 10 File History backup go to this Microsoft page for instructions. How to Geek also has a good how-to on File History.
Simple backup to an inexpensive USB Flash Drive
The easiest and most simple way to make secure backups of your important files is to copy them to a USB Flash Drive. (The biggest problem with this method is that you may forget to keep your backup current.)
If the files you wish to backup total less than 32GB (for an inexpensive Flash Drive) - you can do this without buying a more expensive larger capacity Flash Drive or a relatively expensive external hard drive, possibly along with the backup software. The newest versions of these drives come with the older USB-A connections as well as the newer and more versatile USB-C.
Be sure to copy the original files to the backup disk or drive and not simply the shortcuts to them. Any shortcuts saved will point to nothing when you reload your files to a new hard drive or new OS installation. You will be very disappointed!
Note: The downside to the flash drive method is that it is not automatic. You must not forget to keep your backup current.
The upside is that all of your backed-up files from your USB Flash Drive can easily be restored if you have a PC hard drive failure. (Just copy them back to your PC's drive after you have replaced your hard drive and/or reinstalled Windows)
If you need an external drive to store your backups (and/or other data) here are recommendations from the leading PC publications.
Recommendations for Best External Drives
| PC Magazine | PC World Magazine | CNET | Tom's Guide |
Be sure you have recovery media for your PC!
If your PC came with Windows 8, 10, or 11 installed it is unlikely that your PC shipped with recovery media.
Before we go any further - Be Aware that Recovery Media is NOT a backup!
If you have not created a full disk image of your PC's hard drive you should create a recovery disk.
If it has been a while since you bought your new Windows PC and you still haven't created your recovery disks I recommend you put this on the top of your list of things to do. If you wait until your PC's hard drive fails then it may be too late. You may need to bring your computer to a PC repair person and pay to have him or her re-install the Windows Operating System (Windows 8, 10, or 11) back onto your computer.
How to do it
If you have had your Windows PC for a while and wish to create your recovery media do this:
In addition: This Microsoft Page lists recovery options for Windows PCs.
*For Windows 8 - In the Start Screen type Recovery or if you have a third-party Start Menu installed type it into the Search Box in the Start Menu.
*For Windows 10 or 11 - Click the Search (magnifying glass) icon in the taskbar then type Recovery, then press enter.
If there is no search icon or search box just right-click the taskbar, choose search, then choose to show either the icon or the search box.
*Choose Recovery Media Creation. (Under Apps in Win 10)
*Get good quality DVD-R disks (probably at least 4 to 8 of them) or a good quality USB Flash Drive, probably 32GB. The size of the flash drive needed depends on the size of the recovery partition on your PC's hard drive. The size can vary with each PC make.
Note: Any data on a flash drive can be altered or deleted. Keep your Recovery Flash Drive in a safe place and don't use it for any other purpose!
*Insert the disks or flash drive when the Recovery program asks for them then follow the directions.
*You may use the program to create only one copy of the recovery media.
The creation process is nearly automatic assuming the recovery partition on your hard drive has been left in place and/or there is no damage or disk errors on your hard drive. That's why it's a good idea to create your recovery media soon after acquiring your Windows computer.
At the end of the Recovery disk creation process the Recovery program will normally state that since you have created your disaster recovery disk(s) you can now delete the Recovery Partition on your hard drive.
I recommend that you keep your Recovery Partition on your hard drive - don't remove or delete it if not absolutely necessary!
If you were to have a problem (such as a severe PC virus) that required re-installation of the Windows OS you could use the Recovery Partition on your hard drive to either Refresh or Reset your PC. This process may not be possible if the Recovery Partition were not left intact on your hard drive.