How to Backup Windows 10 in 2021: System and File Backups

Robin Barber
By Robin Barber (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2020-09-21T19:10:22+00:00

If you’re storing any important files on your computer, a good backup system is essential for keeping it all safe. However, there are many different software solutions to create a backup and restore your computer after data loss occurs. In this article, we’ll go through the best options to backup Windows 10 devices and provide step-by-step instructions on how to do them.

For cloud backup, Windows 10 users have a wide variety of options, including free backup solutions. You can choose to create a full system image backup or just save a few personal pictures to an external disk. Even if you don’t have another drive to store your data on and you don’t want to backup Windows online, you can save “restore points” to your internal storage.

However, the best way to protect your data is by following the 3-2-1 rule and incorporating both local and online solutions. This is because online backup solutions are incredibly reliable, but you still get the speed of a local drive if it isn’t damaged or lost.

Which Type of Backup Do You Need?

There are many types of backups and a few different places to keep them safe. Although the available options all have some different use, it’s doubtful that you’ll want to keep multiple types of backups. Instead, you’ll have to decide whether you want a small and quick backup — a file backup — or one that’ll protect everything — a system backup.

Of course, for a speedy recovery without many ongoing costs, an external hard drive is a great place to store files. However, both cloud storage and online backups are better places to keep your data in case of theft or a natural disaster, such as a fire or a flood.

System Backup

A system backup protects the core system files for Windows and some installed programs. If you have enough space, a system backup will help you recover if you have a major problem with your device.

Windows 10 also has a way to create a system image, which will save all of your personal data alongside any files the operating system needs. You can even revert all of your data to a previous state with a full system image.

With this type of backup, you can recover from any significant data loss on your computer, even if there’s damage to the operating system or hardware. However, it will take up a substantial amount of space. Your best way to reduce this is by removing any large, replaceable files from your computer before you begin backing it up, but this is far from ideal.

File Backup

A file backup is great for keeping many backup versions on one drive without requiring a full NAS system. It’s a smaller, more specific type of backup where only certain personal files are protected. You can easily keep this relatively small by excluding unimportant files and replaceable software, so it’s useful if you’re tight on disk space.

Not only do file backups save space on external drives or in the cloud, but it also makes recovering lost data much quicker, as there’s less content to go through, and you can repair individual files without restoring everything.

However, a file backup won’t protect you from a complete hard drive failure or a ransomware attack. This means that it isn’t a great backup system on its own, even if its high speed and small size make it a great tool for recovering important data.

A Note About Hard Drive Backups

According to a 2019 study by Backblaze, 38 percent of people use an external hard drive as their primary backup device. Although this isn’t surprising given how fast and cheap external hard drives can be, it is important to recognize their weaknesses.

Hard drives don’t last forever, and that’s assuming they aren’t stolen, lost or damaged in a fire or flood. Check out our guide on how to backup an external hard drive for more information on how to keep your data safe.

How to Make a System Backup in Windows 10

Windows 10 comes with two solid options for creating a system backup: “restore points” and system images.

A restore point creates a copy of important programs and the essential files for Windows. If you choose to make a system image, it will protect all of your files, but you will need an external drive that is capable of storing all of your data.

However, to protect your files without using your computer’s internal storage or an external hard drive, you should find a good data backup service. These can protect your system backup from many of the physical vulnerabilities of a local backup, without being too expensive.

Use Restore Points

On Windows 10, restore points are the easiest way to backup your core system files and the fastest way to fix an error due to a broken update or an incorrect registry change. However, it can’t protect personal data, so many users won’t find it particularly useful as their main backup.

Another limitation with restore points is that you have to create them on the disk they protect. If your drive is full or damaged in a way that compromises more than just your OS, you’ll have to rely on a different backup.

However, unless you’re low on internal storage, there’s no major downside to occasionally creating a restore point. To start this process, type “restore point” into the Windows search bar and choose “create a restore point.”

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In this window, choose the drive you want to protect and select “configure.”

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Click “turn on system protection.”

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You may also want to limit the amount of space your restore points can use. By default, this is at “0 bytes,” which lets Windows automatically decide when to remove backups.

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Now click “apply” and then “OK” to close the window. It will now say “on” next to the drive you chose.

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If you need to use your restore point, open this window again, select “system restore” and follow the instructions.

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How to Use Restore Points in Windows 10

  1. Open up “create a restore point”
  2. Choose your drive
  3. Select “configure”
  4. Turn system protection on
  5. Set the maximum space that it can use
  6. Click “apply” and “ok”
  7. Check that the protection is on

Create a System Image

Windows 10 also comes with the ability to create a system image, which is a system backup that includes all of your personal files. It does this by creating a copy of your main drive and putting it onto an external disk. This means that you can recover everything, as long as you can boot into Windows or you have a system repair disk.

The two main downsides to creating a full image of your system this way are that you cannot recover individual files and that you’ll need lots of storage space if you want multiple backup versions.

To begin creating a system image, you need to open up the Windows control panel, find “file history” and click “system image backup.”

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Now select “create a system image” from the left side of the window.

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It will now search for all of the possible backup disks, so wait until it finishes.

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You should now be able to select your backup disk. If it doesn’t show up, check that you have plugged it in and formatted it correctly.

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With the correct drive selected, click “next,” check it’s backing up the right disks and select “start backup.”

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Windows will now begin to create your backup image on the external hard drive. Be aware this may take a long time to complete, depending on how much data it’s transferring.

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When it has finished backing up your system, you will get the option to set up a system repair disk. Although this isn’t necessary, it will give you recovery options if you can no longer boot into Windows and don’t have the original installation disk.

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You can now close this window and look for your backup on the external drive to check it’s there. Then you should unmount and remove it to prevent accidents.

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How to Create a System Image on Windows 10

  1. Open up “file history” from the control panel
  2. Click “system image backup”
  3. Choose “create a system image”
  4. Select your backup disk
  5. Click “start backup”
  6. Wait for it to finish
  7. Set up a system repair disk if you need one
  8. Find your backup folder
  9. Remove your drive safely

Data Backup Services

Although the free backup software on Windows 10 is incredibly easy to use, you should look at cloud backup providers if you’re serious about protecting your data. Storing your data online gives you better control over what you backup, plus the ability to restore individual files as well as better protection from thieves and physical damage.

Our favorite online backup provider is IDrive. It has plenty of features and options without making the UI impossible to navigate. It can also work well on almost any device, and its security will keep your data safe from any threat.

However, Acronis True Image is a better service if you want unlimited space and faster speeds when you backup and restore your device. It even gets close to IDrive when it comes to the features, with the main drawback being the more complicated and sluggish interface.

If you’re looking for a service that’s simple to use and you don’t need many advanced features, Backblaze is a solid backup system with a clean and intuitive interface. It works well with the default options, and you can just leave it running until you need to restore your data.

How to Backup Files in Windows 10

To create file backups, Windows 10 users have two main options: using the “file history” feature or choosing a cloud storage provider.

Windows 10 and 8 come with a feature called “file history,” which creates a basic file backup that will keep personal files safe. There’s also the “backup and restore” legacy feature from Windows 7, but this doesn’t provide any real benefits over the new system other than compatibility with older Windows versions.

For an online alternative to these file backup systems, you can use cloud storage. Although these services work best as extra storage with some sharing options, you can make use of the versioning and recovery features that they provide to keep some of your files safe.

File History

Using the file history feature is one of the easiest ways to backup your personal data. By default, it will make a new backup every hour, which will cover your contacts, favorites, desktop and libraries. However, if these defaults aren’t what you want, there are also some decent options for excluding specific files and changing how often it makes backups.

The main drawback of this backup program is that you can’t choose to store anything that’s outside of the initial four categories. To protect any data that isn’t in these key folders, you will have to create a copy and move it over yourself.

To start saving old versions of your files, mount your external drive, open up the Windows control panel and find “file history.”

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To create a file backup, first check it will backup to the correct drive, then click “turn on” and wait for it to make the first copy.

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This will be good enough for most people, but you may want to modify your backup. To remove certain files from the backup, select the option “exclude folders” from the left of the window.

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Here, you can exclude any folder or library from the backup. This is especially useful if you have many large media files that don’t need backing up. Once you’re done, click “save changes” to confirm these exclusions.

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You can also select “advanced settings” from the list on the left to access options on how often it saves your data and how many copies it keeps. After you’ve made edits, click “save changes” to confirm them and return to the main “file history” page.

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How to Use the File History in Windows 10

  1. Find “file history” in the control panel
  2. Check it’s backing up the right disk
  3. Click “turn on”
  4. Go into “exclude folders” to remove files from the backup
  5. Go into “advanced settings” to change when it makes a new backup

Cloud Storage Services

Although most online backup providers focus on full system image backups, you can also use a cloud storage service to backup small amounts of data. These services are much better as an extension of your hard drive or a way to share data, but they can be used to restore files to previous versions or recover data if you’ve damaged your computer.

A simple way to backup to the cloud is with Microsoft OneDrive, which already comes with Windows 10. OneDrive has a 30-day file history for all users and file types, so if something damages or deletes your personal data, you can recover it. You can also use Dropbox or Google Drive, which both have similar features.

For the best cloud storage program for versioning, you should try out Sync.com. Free users get a 30-day file history, but paid users get either 180 or 365 days, depending on the plan. It also comes with some of the best security, sharing and syncing features, which may be useful if you ever need to move your important data around.

However, if Sync.com isn’t for you, pCloud comes in a close second. Although the free plans don’t come with any versioning, all of the paid plans come with 30-day file history, and you can pay $39 to extend this to a full year. If you’re also willing to pay for the zero-knowledge encryption, it’s a great cloud storage provider to help protect your data.

Final Thoughts

As long as you have space to store your backup, Windows 10 gives you plenty of software options to create one. Whether you want a full system image backup with a repair disk or you just need the ability to restore a small amount of data from a file backup, you can keep everything safe on a local drive without much hassle.

You can also use any of the systems that come with Windows alongside good online backup software to keep your data extra safe. Some providers — such as IDrive — also allow you to backup Macs or mobile devices alongside your Windows computer, keeping all of your data secure with only one subscription.

Have you made a backup on Windows 10? How did it go? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading.

FAQ

  • Does Windows 10 Have a Backup Program?

    Windows 10 comes with three ways to create a backup: restore points, system images and a file history. These solutions can all be useful, and a mixture of this software with cloud backups is the best way to keep your files safe.

  • What Is the Best Free Cloud Backup Option for Windows 10?

    Although you won’t get something as good as Acronis or Backblaze if you’re not paying, there are still some decent options. IDrive has a free plan with 5GB of storage, or you can get 10GB if you pair CloudBerry Backup with Microsoft Azure. Neither is capable of storing your entire system, but they can keep a few crucial files safe.