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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  • SirMaster - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    There is no way around it.

    If you are keeping data, you need to budget for 2x that space at a minimum, otherwise you cannot truly afford to keep that much data.
  • Mark_gb - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I just built my first systen in nearly 20 years. I need a backup system. And so far, despite the fact that I have both a Blu-ray and DVD burners in this box, Windows 8.1 does not appear to be willing to let me just burn a (series of) full system backup disk(s) once a week that I can take anywhere I want.

    Isnt this 2014 or is Microsoft still stuck in 1988?
  • theduckofdeath - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    It's not a big consumer demand, that's why they are cutting back on backup. There are literally 100's of 3rd party alternatives from $0 up to any price you feel like paying for extra features and performance.
  • Duckeenie - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    You almost answer your own question here. Discs in 2014?
  • zero2dash - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Crashplan can back up to/from a NAS and/or network drives; it's not baked in to the client out of the box, but there are workarounds to do so. I pull files off a network drive at home, and we back up to our Synology NAS at work on servers ranging from 2003 R2 to 2012. Pre-2008 is more of a PITA (because you have to create a scheduled task), but it's still fairly easy to do.
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    You can understand me not writing about workarounds. Also this is 100% on Crashplan not sure why they don't add the support it's not very difficult.
  • NCM - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    The trouble with CrashPlan, or any of the other remote storage solutions, is that for larger backups you're severely limited by the physics of data transfer. For instance at any given moment we have 1.5-2TB of active business files on our main volume, and depending on the day, at least 15GB to be backed up nightly. However sometimes we have 100-200GB in the nightly backup.

    It would take an eternity to upload our initial backup and an only slightly lesser eternity to download it again in case of total loss. When there's one of the big backups to be made it probably could not be completed in one night, even though we have a reasonably fast 50/10 Gbs (nominal) connection. Instead we have multiple redundant backups, and regularly rotate them through off-site storage.

    One of the things I've found from painful experience (mostly with Retrospect) is not to use backup software that stores in a proprietary format. There's simply too much risk of the software's recovery process not working as expected, at which point you're stuck.
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Generally agreed. AWS has an option to do initial data import by shipping a box of hard drives. Any full system image or enterprise level cloud backup system needs to offer physical media import/export options.

    If your business's daily new data volume is high enough you can still swamp nightly updates; but disk based options would really extend the level of users who could effectively make use of such services.

    Currently for personal data I've got full local backups, periodically rotated offsite USB drives, and document/media files backed up in Amazon's cloud. A full drive image in the cloud would be nice; but the recovery time is just too long. If my parents were running something faster than cheapskate DSL, I'd probably setup a nas box at their house and sync to it; but currently I couldn't do that without crushing their connection.
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Deduplication and compression here would help out but how much is entirely dependent on your data.

    Though with such large data sets in a business environment, it sounds like a solution like Commvault, CDP or Avamar would be better suited. They still use proprietary formats but at this level it is hard to avoid to get features like deduplication.
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    As Kevin G said, deduplication would make that fairly easy.

    There's nothing wrong with backups to tape for your situation, but tapes are a pain. Avamar or other backup systems would be able to handle that with ease though.

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