Microsoft Windows Backup and Restore

Microsoft Windows provides a built-in backup and restoration program called Backup and Restore to make it easy to create a copy of your data and restore that data back to your computer should the need arise. The Backup and Restore program can be set to either: automatically identify data to backup, or you can individually select which folders on your computer you wish to include in a backup process.

An important point to remember is that it’s fantastic to say you have a “backup schedule” in place, but unless you actually allow it to run and let it finish, then it isn’t worth anything. I’ve seen many people who have a backup schedule setup and each time the backup begins to run, the user cancels it and continues on with what they were doing.

Backup vs Copy Files

I’m asked this question often when it comes to backing up data…

Why is performing a proper backup better than just making a copy of your important files and copying them over to another destination such as USB?

Technically there isn’t much difference, Windows Backup and Restore are essentially doing just that, however, using a backup program have a few additional advantages over using the copy and paste method.

  1. Once you have set up a Backup schedule you can just leave it to do its job, you do not need to physically perform the copy & paste manually each time, this is a big time saver. The Backup will work away in the background without any interference.
  2. Performing a copy & paste using File Explorer or even a command prompt can skip or miss important files, it will not copy any files which are open at the time you perform the copy. This means you have to close down files you are working on if you want them included in the copy process. Another major file this would affect is your computer's registry file. The registry file contains all the settings for your entire computer system. The registry file is open at all times, however, is not visible unless specifically launched. You cannot copy this unless Windows Backup does it for you.
  3. Backup allows you to perform “incremental” backups. Once you have made your first backup then each subsequent backup only copies any data which has changed since the previous full backup. This means that subsequent backups should be a lot faster.
  4. Using the copy & paste method you can end up with multiple copies of the same files. This can be caused by a change in your folder structure or deletion of files and can mean your backup files are unorganised and messy, not to mention take up more space on a drive than a single backup file does.

Backup Location

The first place to start when creating a backup schedule is to identify where you will store the backup of your files.

It is recommended that you backup files to an external storage device and ensure that the source is kept away from your main computer. Another popular option is cloud storage. Cloud storage is the ability to upload files to a storage provided where your data is kept in the “cloud”. This has become a popular choice for many however it really depends on your needs and if this option is suitable. Here are a few scenarios to help you decide the best place to store your backup data:

Scenario 1

You have created a backup and saved the backup files to your C:\Backup folder. Your computer’s hard drive fails and your computer is no longer able to start up. You, therefore, lose all your computer files including the original data files and the backup files as well. This is not a good backup solution.

Scenario 2

You have created a backup and saved all your files to an external storage drive. You have put the drive in your desk draw for safekeeping. A natural disaster strikes leaving your home waterlogged, fire damaged, or worse. Your computer is destroyed along with your backup files on the USB drive sitting in your draw. This is a popular solution for many and although the chances of a disaster occurring within the home, it does still leave you open to potential risk.

The best scenario…

The best scenario is to save your backup files to an external source such as an external hard drive or cloud storage solution. If you use a hard drive then organise to have the drive left at a safe location such as your parents’ home or a good friend’s home. Depending on your type of work, you may even be able to take your backup storage device and leave this at your work premises in a secure location. I have heard of people leaving their hard drive in their car for safekeeping however you need to remember that in your car the driver will experience high temperatures during summer and can be smashed around your car while driving which could cause faults or break the drive.

For security reasons always ensure the location you store your backup files is secure and will not leave your data open to theft or unauthorised access. If required you can encrypt data to safeguard against unauthorised access. A fireproof safe within the home is always an excellent option but is not always practical due to the costs involved.

How often do backup files

How often you decide to back up your files is really up to you. The general questions I ask people are:

  • How many hours a day do you spend on your computer?
  • How many days of work are you willing to lose if your computer crashes?

Obviously, if you only spend an hour or so a day on your computer and just check emails and social media, then the need to back up on a daily basis isn’t high, once every few weeks would probably be more than sufficient. However, if you work from home, spend multiple hours a day creating content and adding files to your computer then your requirement may be to perform a backup every few days. As a general rule, a backup once a week is great for most users but this is completely up to the individual user to identify.

Speeding up the backup process

If you have not run a full backup before then the first time you perform a backup it can take a long time to complete, and I mean hours and hours. I remember reinstalling my operating system and restoring my data back to my computer and my first backup after performing these steps took overnight to complete.

So here are some tips to speed up the process:

  1. The first full backup will take a while, especially if you have a lot of data. Try beginning the process as early in the day as possible and then allow it to continue overnight if necessary.
  2. If you only want to back up your own files, e.g. Documents, Pictures, etc then select only the Libraries for your user account and do not worry about including a System Image.

Using the information above and my tips along the way you can now begin backing up your computer system.