Protect your files and PC with Windows 7 Backup

Protect your files and PC with Windows 7 Backup

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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

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  • Win 7 backup falls a bit short for home office use.  I'd like a daily backup of work files and a weekly system image.  I can't do that because I can't create a separate schedule for the image.  I'd also like to set a disk use limit and purge older backup sets as needed to maintain disk usage under the limit.  I don't see a compelling reason to keep older images.

    Then there's the additional disk I use for personal image storage.  I'd like to back up changes daily but only do an image once a month or so.  In other words, I want a totally different schedule for that drive.

  • Is it appropriate to configure the backup to only include the system image?  To me, that should include all files on the drive, so also specifying "data files" is redundant.  

    When I do just a system image, can I restore using the rescue disc (or the Win7 Ultimate DVD) to the same machine with a different model hard drive?



  • Why doesn't Windows 7 Backup program have any support for controlling backup retention (purging old backups)?  This was my biggest complaint about Vista's backup.

    Clearly the backup tool is supposed to be a "set it and forget it" thing.  But by allowing no automated way to retire old backups, you basically force manual intervention, because I have to delete the backup set and start over when my backup drive runs out of space.

    Even worse with Vista was the way you had to forcibly re-setup the backups to get a new backup set running after you purged backups.  Has this part of the experience improved in Windows 7, at least?

  • Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the feedback and we'll take that into consideration in the future version.

    For Windows 7, there's a workaround that might meet your need. System image backups can be created using the command line option wbadmin.exe. So you can set up Windows Backup to run daily for file backup, and also create a task in task scheduler to run the wbadmin command weekly to create the system image. For sub commands of wbadmin, see

    Hope this helps.



  • One minor quirk I found. At home I have MAINPC and OTHERPC, and OTHERPC has an external HDD that I do my backups to. I shared out a folder on that drive, and MAINPC will quite happily back up to it over the network. However I cannot get OTHERPC to back up to a particular folder on the external HDD - it can only back up to the root of the HDD. I like my files and folders organised so I found that very slightly annoying, but outside of that, the Windows 7 backup experience has been great so far!

    I also had the same issue that the first poster above had (wanting 2 separate backup jobs), I'm glad to see there is some command-line kungfu I can use to resolve it though, will try that tonight. :)

  • I have a question about system restore from an image created by Windows Backup.  Let's that that the backup image is stored on a drive protected by BitLocker.  Further, let's suppose that my drive gets hosed and I have to start up via the recovery disk.

    Will I be able to access this image on the BitLocker drive (after providing the appropriate passphrase/recovery key) using the Windows System Recovery disk?  Or am I limited to accessing these images from within Windows?

  • @ Micheal : If you're looking for an excrypted image file that doesn't require third party software to decrypt it, then use something like StorageCraft ShadowProtect (

    My questions are: Will a restore work if my whole computer gets hosed or stolen? Ie: can I get it back up and running on a different computer? Or am I blocked into transferring file by file and re-installing all my applications ? (I'm trying to figure out just how robust this backup actually is, or if it's a half baked solution like Apple's Time Machine)

  • Is it possible to configure the backup so that the ZIP files it creates are limited to a certain size?

    I'd like to back up regularly to an external hard drive, then backup the backup to SkyDrive on a less frequent basis.  SkyDrive has a file size limit of 50Mb, so I'd like to set this as a limit in Windows 7 backup. Previously, I used OneCare and this limited files to about this size by default.

  • Doing a backup on my Win7/64bit machine kept failing because the backup/image program kept looking for two folders that did not physically reside on the HD any longer.  The only way to "fool" the backup/image program was to recreate these two bogus folders.  Where does the backup/image program look for the folder structure on the hard drive?  How can you convince the backup program that a folder it is looking for no longer exists?

  • If you have configured your backup to include the folders and the folders no longer exist, in the case

    you would receive a log notification at the end of backup. This is to notify that you have

    explicitly chosen these folders and they are not being protected. The way to get rid of these

    settings is to use "change settings" and remove those folders from protection.

  • Steve/Myron,

    You can set your system image backup to keep only the

    latest image using Manage space -> Change settings option. For file backup, there is no automated way as of now. We would consider your feedback for future releases.

  • Darren,

    Currently there is no way to limit the backup size for the file backup. We would consider this requirement for future releases.

  • Michael,

    You would be able to restore the system back – after booting from recovery disk by providing the 16-bit key/from the removable media.

    Detailed Steps:

    1. Boot from Windows 7 Setup DVD/recovery disc.

    2. Click on repair window.

    3. It will prompt you a Bitlocker dialog with 2 options:

    a) Load key from removable media

    b) Manually input the key

    4. If user has saved the key in removable media, he can plug-in the removable media. Choose option a) and click on Next button in the wizard. Then user will able to see the removable media, then click on Next button to unlock the Bitlocked drive.

    If user has chosen option b):

    1. User has to type manually 32 digit recovery key and click on Next button. If the recovery key is correct, Bitlocked volume will be in unlocked state.

  • Hello,

    I like to maintain two external backup drives. I keep one drive off site and one connected to my PC. About once a month I swap them. But the Windows 7 Pro backup wizard seems to only want to deal with one backup location or drive.

    Is there a way that I can maintain two external backups as I have described?

    When I swap drives, will Windows 7 Pro backup recognize that it's dealing with an older backup set and correctly bring it up to date with all the changes it's missing?



  • David,

    You can change the backup targets for the same config, but we run full backup when you change the target. We take forward your feedback for future releases.