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William George (Product Development)

Windows Backup Options

Written on November 23, 2015 by William George

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, backing up your computer is very important. This time around, I want to talk about the various types of backups you can do on a Windows-based PC, with a few specific examples of related software and services. These ideas may be more broadly applicable on Mac and Linux computers too, but I don’t have much experience with them myself so I am sticking with what I know.

Types of Backup

The simplest form of backup is just having a copy of your important files. Such a backup can easily be made manually, but doing so on a frequent basis is an easy thing to forget. As such, many programs are available that can copy files and folders from one drive to another on a schedule. Some also incorporate compression, to minimize space taken up by the backup files.

Another option for basic file backups is a program that monitors a specific folder or drive and synchronizes everything on that drive as it is changed. These avoid the need to have a specific schedule, but because they are almost instantaneous they can lead to situations where a change is mistakenly made to a file and then propagated to the backup before it can be corrected. As such, this is not good to rely on as a sole backup - but can be a great option to supplement periodic backups. A lot online backup and file synchronization services use technology like this.

Going beyond just backing up files, a great option is to make an image of a complete drive. This is the best way to backup the primary drive in a computer, since there are often hidden files and special settings related to booting up an operating system which might not be caught by a file / folder style backup. You can back up non-system drives in this manner as well, but there is not really any advantage to that compared to using a simpler file-based system.

No discussion of backup methods would be complete without a mention of RAID as well. That stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks (or Drives), and covers several different approaches to providing drive redundancy - so that if one drive in a computer fails you don’t lose any data. This can be beneficial, and is especially valuable in servers where you want to minimize downtime if hardware fails, but it is *not* a backup! It only protects against an actual drive failure, while proper backups will also guard against file corruption, viruses / malware, and more. With RAID, any changes happen instantly across all drives in the array - so much like a synchronized backup you are still at risk from some threats. Whether you use RAID or not, a standard backup of some kind is still critical!

Locations for Backup

Once you have decided what sort of backup to use, the next step is deciding where to store the backup. There are lots of options for this, with varying degrees of convenience, protection, and capacity:

  • Secondary drive - Another drive inside the computer is probably the most convenient option, and fastest for transferring data, but doesn’t do much to isolate your backup. It does protect against a physical failure of the main drive / data location, or the original data being corrupted or deleted, but it doesn’t give you protection against anything affecting the computer as a whole. A power surge could take out both your original and backup, for example, as could a nasty bit of malware. If you use a location like this as your regular backup, I recommend also having another backup that is done more infrequently.
  • External drive - This gives you a little more isolation, as when the drive is not plugged in it would be immune to things like a power surge or virus. It also makes it easy to transport data from one computer to another, in case you need to access your backup quickly if the main computer is out of commission. Speed is still pretty decent, at least with modern connections like USB 3.0 / 3.1, but convenience is a little worse: the drive has to be plugged in and powered on in order for a backup to take place, but leaving it that way all the time makes it no safer than another drive inside the computer.
  • Single-use media - Writeable CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs are another option for backing up data, but because they cannot be changed they are best used when you want to keep a long-term copy of something. They also have limited capacity, so they aren’t well suited to system image backups (except maybe when a computer is brand-new and there is little data on it). There are also re-writable discs, but you have to erase them fully before re-using… so they aren’t very convenient for making regular backups.
  • Network attached storage - This takes the idea of an external drive and moves it to your network. That can be convenient in a multi-computer network, since more than one system could use the same NAS as a backup. They can also be used for other things, like file sharing or hosting media, and many allow for multiple physical drives to be installed. That can potentially allow for redundancy within the NAS, making it a more secure backup location. The downside with NAS units is that they tend to be slower than a directly-attached external drive. To get reasonable speeds requires a Gb network infrastructure (or faster) and a NAS box that is able to provide good read and write speeds.
  • Online storage - The newest location for backups is online, or as commonly referred to these days: ‘the cloud’. Despite the funny name, this just means that your data is being kept on one or more servers that are connected to the internet. This means your backup is stored a long way away from your computer, so that even in the case of something like a natural disaster it should be safe. Of course you have to trust the company that is providing the storage, both to keep it safe and not to tamper with it / try to look at it. If that worries you, there are some services that encrypt your data, and you could even do that before backing it up. There are also some programs that let you and a friend act as online backups for each other, or for you to be your own backup by installing the software on multiple computers you have (in the same or different locations) and synchronizing between them. 

Software for Backup

For several generations of the Windows operating system, some sort of backup has been built in. It was not until Vista that the included backup capabilities were really strong enough to use on their own, though. Starting with that version, Microsoft has offered two main types of backup: ‘File and Folder’ backup and ‘System Image’ backup. Those correspond directly to the two types of backups discussed at the beginning of this post, and can be done as a one-time backup or set to run on a schedule. Professional versions of Windows can be set to save the backup locally or to a network location, while the Home versions are limited to local backup locations only. This article covers how to set them up in Windows 7, and while Windows 8 removed those options they are back in Windows 10. To find them in the new OS, just search for "backup" from the task bar / Start menu.

Windows also has had other backup options featured in some recent versions. The latest incarnation of that is called File History and is found in Windows 8 and 10. It is a form of file based backup, but limited in scope to the contents of the User folders. In trade, though, it allows not only restoration of lost files but also the option to roll back to older versions of files.

Besides what is built into Windows, there are many other great third-party backup programs. Here are a few, with a brief description and link:

  • Acronis - Image based backup to local storage or their cloud service; multiple price options based on features
  • Bvckup 2 - Scheduled file synchronization across local drives or network locations; one-time license purchase with free trial
  • Carbonite - File synchronization to online / cloud-based backup for a yearly fee
  • Crashplan - File based backup to local drives, other trusted computers, or their cloud service; cloud storage involves subscription fees
  • Google Drive - File based synchronization to Google’s servers plus any other computers you install the software on; free limited capacity, with options to subscribe for more space (Microsoft has a similar service called OneDrive, which is integrated into Windows 10)
  • Macrium Reflect - File and image based backup software; limited image-only free version available as well as multiple price options based on features

Those are just a few of the many backup programs out there. If you purchase a computer from us, with an external hard drive, we can set up the default Windows backup options for you. In the end, though, it is best to go with something that fits your needs and works well - and to test to make sure it will work as you expect, before you actually need it.

Tags: Windows, backup, software, cloud, online, image, drive

I can vouch for Crashplan -- I use it a lot! But just a word of warning -- I've unintentionally become the de-factor backup center for a number of family members. I've had to add two 6TB hard drives to my home system to house it all! But it is great to be able to give this security to family for "free" since they don't have to pay for this cloud storage.

Posted on 2015-11-23 20:14:11
Jeff Stubbers

I personally prefer using an external drive to drag and drop my data files from my system to the external drive. In this way there is no funny file encryption that makes the files only available if you have a certain backup program installed. This also allows me to quickly take that external drive with me if I need to bring elsewhere, or need to transfer data files to a new upgraded system.

Posted on 2015-11-23 21:31:59

is there anyway to see inside a bricked laptop?

Posted on 2016-04-10 19:24:31
Jeff Stubbers

We don't have any bricked laptops to take apart, but if one had bricked laptop that they didn't plan to get repaired by their manufacturer, then sure, one could disassemble their laptop by removing the screws to open it up. I would recommend contacting the company that sold you the laptop before doing that to see if they can repair the laptop first if you care about it at all.

Posted on 2016-04-11 13:42:33

thank you but I can't imagine the seller amazon would care.

I was wondering if I can take it apart and put its innards somewhere else and still be able to access the information -it's just research for a lawsuit - I'm lucky that so much went into gmail so I am not devastated. I don't really have any sensitive material on it so conceivably I could leave it with a repair service but this very old one I am now on gets super hot in five minutes and I have to put it in the freezer for an hour and then restart it so I can't use it for writing as I need to do by today.

One very weird thing that happened with the bricked laptop is that pages that would be pdf'ed like property ownership information or other telling things - those pdfs when I would go to look at them again - were BLANK - white pages - but if i had inexplicably emailed those pdfs to myself or someone else, those pdf attachments inside the gmail accounts were NOT white pages.

Posted on 2016-04-11 15:31:01

system restore with the operating system discs did not work - the root cause is a change to the systems configuration and maybe it was hacked I have no idea but everything that was interesting like a certain candidate's name on Brooklyn real estate and the connection between plaintiff's brother to a computer REPAIR and wiring service to a hotelier - all of that was already emailed so I don't even care if this wipes the computer but I still would like to try.

A broker website actually removed the publicly filed document with the candidate's name attached to the real estate the day after I discovered it and emailed it to various parties. I emailed the pdf to him and asked him why he removed the public document attached to that BK address to no response.

Posted on 2016-04-12 05:01:53

I have used both Acronis and Reflect. Many current Reflect users are, like me, former Acronis users. An image backup program is a must for quick, hassle free restore of a crashed disk or a virus infection. Saving important files is a good secondary backup strategy. A backup program must also be easy to use and very reliable.

I do a full backup weekly and incremental backups daily. I keep several months of those backups on external drives both onsite for quick access AND offsite in case of serious disaster.

Posted on 2015-11-24 04:24:44

I went to Backblaze. Simple set-up and it just works. I had to use their back-up once, and it was super easy. They have options to send your back-up out via ext drive as well. I do use Dropbox as my My Documents folder, for an additional layer of assurance.

Posted on 2015-11-24 23:55:57
Frank G

I love crashplan since it works on Linux and most others don't. Also, I can remotely back up all my computers and servers to my parents house for offsite disaster backup and they can do the same to me - all encrypted and safe. For my backup solution though, I do both crashplan and Windows backup. Windows backup is nice because it can save an image as well as the files themselves, so right clicking on a file can show you all the revisions of a file (all built in, no software needed), and also, the images make replacing a hard drive a breeze. So, crashplan for real time backup to local and remote destinations for all my computers and servers, and Windows backups enabled for all my windows machines to network storage with image based backup enabled. Works great.

Posted on 2015-11-27 21:46:09

I use Acronis True Image on my desktop and Windows Backup on my laptop. Backups are to external drives in NexStar enclosures. The laptop backs up to a 1TB drive, and the desktop backs up to either a 1TB or 3TB drive. Both my systems are running the latest build of Windows 10 Pro. I would consider a cloud option if my upload speed was good enough--it's too slow. I even considered a NAS solution, but I decided to keep things simple and save money. My current setup works fine for my needs.
I have always appreciated the timely and no Bull articles from Puget Systems! Keep it up, gents!

Posted on 2015-11-30 17:33:02

I've been using Shadowprotect ever since reading the review by my friend Edward Mendelson:


Since many users (including me in the past) discover serious problems when trying to restore backed-up files, I've found Shadowprotect's ability to replicate and verify images automatically, plus their expert US based tech support, worth the price differential and the learning curve.

Posted on 2015-12-05 19:56:31

For owners of Seagate and Western Digital drives, both companies offer free, private label versions of Acronis True Image (Seagate DiscWizard and Acronis True Image WD Edition). These do not have all the features of the original Acronis True Image, but rather are basic versions for doing a simple image backup and restore. I’ve used both successfully.

Posted on 2015-12-27 04:34:53
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Posted on 2016-06-13 07:43:35

Fortunately, there are different programming courses you can choose from. I would love to try Web Design and Java Programming. But this would be a great start up.

Posted on 2016-08-05 08:14:39