Protect your files and PC with Windows 7 Backup

Anyone who uses a Windows 7 PC shouldn’t have to worry about losing their files, because Windows 7 provides simple yet flexible backup and recovery solutions that helps protect your system and data. In the coming weeks, we’ll walk you through each step of the process – from configuring backup, restoring your OS, to recovering an entire PC. Stay tuned for the updates!

Special thanks to Sneha Magapu, Neha Agrawal, Vikas Ranjan and Soudamini Sreepada for their contributions to the posts.


Configuring Windows Backup

Have you ever accidently deleted or modified a file and wished you get it back? Or worse, have you ever lost all of the data on your computer because your hard drive failed? Windows 7 aims to help you be well prepared for these situations by making backup easy to discover and simple to use.

Setting up a Backup

Windows reminds you to configure backup

After spending some time personalizing your brand new Windows 7 computer and migrating your data from your old computer using Windows Easy Transfer, it’s a good time to start backing up. Windows will remind you to set up backup through Action Center one week after setting up Windows 7:


1. Choosing a backup location

Setting up backup is as simple as answering 3 questions – where, what and when. By plugging in a suitable external hard drive, the first question is already answered. An AutoPlay dialog will give you the option to use the drive for backup.


By clicking “Use this drive for backup”, you can then proceed to choosing what to backup. Alternatively, you can start configuring backup from the Action Center notification. The configuration starts with the target selection page, which allows you to choose where you save your backups. Windows Backup supports back up to hard disk drive, network share, or CD\DVD.


This page automatically lists all available drives that can be used for backup, and provides recommendation on the best option if more than one is available. You can also add a network location if desired. Note that there are some restrictions on the locations allowed for backup, including locations with size less than 1GB, the drive being the same as the one Windows is installed on, or if the drive is currently locked by BitLocker. If you do not see your backup target listed, click on the help link ‘Guidelines for choosing a backup’ for more information.

There are also pros and cons for choosing different locations for backup. We’ll discuss this in detail later in the post.

2. Choosing what to back up (or let Windows decide for you)


Some users have a hard time deciding what to back up; others would like to be in control. This screen is designed to make it simple for the common case and also allow for customization. By selecting the “Let Windows Choose” option, Windows will back up all libraries (both default and the ones you’ve created yourself) and default Windows folders (AppData, Contacts, Desktop, Downloads, Favorites, Links, Saved Games and Searches) for all user accounts on the computer. If the backup location is formatted with the NTFS file system and has sufficient space, a system image will also be included. This system image is in essence a snapshot of the drives required for Windows to run, which includes your programs, data, and settings. It can be used to quickly recover Windows to a last backed up state, particularly if your hard disk ever stops working. If you’re not sure whether your disk is formatted NTFS, or want to know how to convert it, follow these instructions.

If you have important files stored outside of the above locations or you’d simply like to manage your own backup content, you can use the “Let me choose” option to customize which folders or drives will be included and whether to include a system image.


3. Choosing how often to back up your data


This screen of the wizard summarizes the backup settings, and let you select how often to run backup (or run it on demand). It is best to run backup on a schedule since you can truly “set and forget” – just make sure to schedule at a time that the computer will be turned on and the backup target is available.


When a system image is included, Windows will remind you to create a system repair disc. A system repair disc allows you to boot into your computer to access recovery tools or recover from a system image if Windows ever stops working. While these tools are available by default with your Windows installation, a system repair disc is needed if the hard disk fails. Note that a Windows installation disc can also be used in place of the system repair disc.

As you can see, in 3 easy steps, you’re done configuring backup and can now have the peace of mind knowing that your valuable files are well protected.


Ongoing data protection

Windows Backup runs automatically according to the configured schedule. If at the scheduled backup time the computer is asleep or the target is missing, that backup will be skipped but the next backup will still run according to the schedule.

The first backup created will be a full backup of all selected content, and subsequent backups will include only new or changed files (incremental backup). However, Windows Backup will occasionally create a new, full backup automatically if there has been many changes made to the files protected, such that you will have the option to delete older backups that might have become obsolete. We’ll come back to this topic when we discuss backup space management in a later post.

Once you’ve configured backup, you can find top level information on progress, status, and any relevant notifications through Action Center. The Backup and Restore control panel (accessible from Action Center or Control Panel), on the other hand, will provide more detailed information on your backup status and configurations and it is also where you can do other backup and restore tasks.


Making the most of Windows Backup

Windows Backup is simple to use, yet it provides a lot of flexibility on how you can protect your data and system. Here we’ll discuss a few tips on how to make the most of Windows Backup.

1. Choosing the right target

Windows Backup supports creating backup to internal/external hard disks, flash drives, optical discs, and network share (Professional and Ultimate Editions only). The biggest difference between these targets is the support for system image backup. A system image can be included in the scheduled backup configuration only if you are backing up to network location or hard disks, since space requirement makes it impractical to perform recurring backup to optical media. Also, while hard disks can store multiple versions of system image (newer and older backups), a network location can only store one system image per computer, meaning that as a new system image of your computer is created; the older version will be deleted.




USB flash drives

Network location


Hard disk

Scheduled file backup




Include a system image in the scheduled backup


(only the most recent system image)


It is possible to create a system image to DVD on an ad hoc basis. We’ll discuss this in detail in an upcoming post specifically on system image backup.

Aside from the support for system image, other considerations may include factors such as price, amount of data to backup, reliability and security. For example, DVDs are light weight and inexpensive, but they may become corrupted over time and also become hard to manage as the number of DVD grows. While internal hard disks support the same functionality as external ones, you cannot store it in a location separate from your computer against disaster or theft. Therefore while we recommend that you save your backup on an external hard drive for the most flexibility, your target of choice may depend on your specific environment and need.

2. Organizing your important data using libraries

Library is a new feature in Windows 7 that provides a consolidated view of local folders located at various locations on the computer for easy access. This also provides a great way to organize your data for backup. Since Windows Backup backs up all local data in libraries by default, any new location added to a library will automatically be backed up without the need to reconfigure Windows Backup. For example, if you just created a new folder on your data drive for the family trip photos and include this folder under the Pictures library, it’ll be backed up automatically the next time Windows Backup runs. Alternatively, you can also create a “backup” library and add all your important data folders to it.

*Note that library folders that are residing on a network location will not be backed up.

3. Securing your backup

There are many ways a backup can be secured. It could be physical security (storing away the backup DVDs) or securing access rights (Windows Backup on hard disks and network share preserves user access controls of files). These are probably good enough measures for a home environment, but might not be enough if you’re on the go where your backup disk might be lost or stolen. In this case, you should secure your backup with BitLocker Drive Encryption (Ultimate Edition only).


You can use BitLocker Drive Encryption to encrypt the drive that you are saving your backup on, or to help protect the drives in your computer that you are backing up. To enable BitLocker, simply go to the BitLocker Drive Encryption control panel, and select “Turn On BitLocker” for the drives you wish to protect.

When a drive is locked by BitLocker, you need to unlock the drive before you can see information about the drive, back up the drive, or save a backup on the drive. Therefore if you’re using BitLocker with Windows Backup, the best option would be to set the drives that you are encrypting to unlock automatically when you log on to the computer. If you do not wish the drives to unlock automatically, you can also unlock a drive manually only when it’s needed for backup.

Your data is important, and Windows Backup is an easy way to help you protect them. It’s a good idea to set it up so you can spend your time exploring and enjoying Windows 7 and not worrying about losing your digital memories or documents. In the following weeks, we’ll discuss system image backup in detail, space management, and the data and system recovery experience of Windows 7. We hope these posts are helpful to you. Please feel free to provide feedback on materials you’d like to see covered or ask questions. We will roll them up into a FAQ at a later time if there’s interest. So post away!

— Windows Backup team