Did You Know Windows 8 Has a Built-In Time Machine Backup?

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windows 8 time machineWe sometimes forget with all the focus on Windows 8’s new “Modern” interface, but Windows 8 has a variety of great desktop improvements. One of them is File History, a built-in backup feature that functions similarly to Apple’s much-loved Time Machine. Enable the Windows 8 “time machine” File History, and Windows will automatically back up your files to an external or network drive. You’ll be able to restore previous versions from these backups, whether you’ve deleted a file or you just want to recover an old version of a file.

File History requires a removable hard drive or network share, as it can’t save files on your main Windows drive. This ensures that, even if your main Windows hard drive dies, your File History backup drive will still have copies of all your important files. This feature essentially replaces the Windows 7 backup feature in Windows 8 – the Windows 7 backup tools are still present so you can use them if you want, but Microsoft considers them outdated.

Enabling File History

You can open the File History control panel by pressing the Windows key, typing File History at the Start screen, selecting the Settings category, and clicking the File History shortcut that appears.

windows 8 time machine

Connect an external hard drive to your computer and click the Turn On button to enable File History. You can also click the Select drive option in the sidebar to select the exact drive Windows should copy previous versions of files to. Using the Select drive screen, you can optionally set up File History using a network share instead of a hard drive connected directly to your computer.

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Windows will save copies of the files in your libraries, desktop, contacts, and favorites to this location.

time machine on windows 8

After clicking Turn On, you can choose to “Recommend this drive to members of your homegroup.” ¬†This will automatically share it with computers in your Homegroup so they can use it as a network backup location for File History.

After you turn it on, you’ll see an indication that it’s saving copies of your files.

time machine on windows 8

It’s that simple – Windows will now automatically save copies of your files every hour. If you disconnect your removable hard drive or the network share becomes inaccessible for a period of time, Windows will create a local cache of files to save on the drive when you next connect it.

You can customize the frequency of saving, size of this local cache, and other settings by clicking the Advanced settings link in the sidebar.

time machine on windows 8

Excluding & Including Specific Folders

You can exclude specific folders and entire libraries by clicking the Exclude folders link in the sidebar of the File History control panel. Add folders and libraries you want to exclude from file history backups. For example, if you have many large video files in your Videos library and you don’t care about backing them up, you can exclude your Videos library to save space.

windows 8 backup

Bear in mind that only files in certain folders – your libraries, desktop, contacts, and favorites – will be backed up. To force another folder to be backed up, you can simply add it to one of your libraries.

From within File Explorer, select a library and click the Manage library button on the ribbon. Add any folders you want backed up to the library.

windows 8 backup

Restoring a File

Whether you’ve accidentally deleted a file or want to restore it to a previous version – perhaps you’ve saved over the original document – you can now get the file back from your File History backup.

You can get started with this in several ways:

  • Open a File Explorer window, navigate to the folder that contained the file, and click the History button on the ribbon to view a history of files in that folder.
  • Open a File Explorer window, select a file, and click the History button to view previous versions of that specific file.
  • Click the Restore personal files link in the File History Control Panel.

windows 8 backup

You can use the arrows at the bottom of the window to switch between backups taken at specific times and choose the version of the file you want. After selecting a file, click the green Restore button at the bottom to restore the file to its original location.

windows 8 time machine

Your file will be restored. If it would overwrite an existing file, Windows will ask you what you want to do

Have you made use of the Windows 8 “time machine” File Backup yet, or do you prefer another backup solution? Leave a comment and let us know!

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23 Comments - Write a Comment

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Chris Marcoe

Now, if they jsut had a built-in Start button…hehehe.

Great article, Chris. Thank you.

Chris Hoffman

Apparently it’s going to in Windows Blue (Windows 8.1), if the rumor mill is to be believed.

Yovanny Guzman

It does have a start button….it just got bigger and has more functionality now…

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Gordon Hay

The major problem with File History is that it doesn’t include a system image, which is to me an essential part of any back-up strategy. I’m staying with Windows 7 back-up for that reason.

Chris Hoffman

Yes, very true. This is a different style of backup. It’s probably true that most people would be better off just backing up their personal files, but if you need system images, this isn’t good enough for you.

Yovanny Guzman

Windows 7 File Recovery is still included in WIndows 8. How can you miss that?

Gordon Hay

He didn’t miss it – see “the Windows 7 backup tools are still present so you can use them if you want, but Microsoft considers them outdated.” at the end of the second paragraph.

Yovanny Guzman

You can still do a system image backup in Windows 8.

In the File History screen, bottom left there is a link that takes you to the EXACT WIndows 7 Backup as it was in W7.

There you have it, there is no reason not to upgrade. ;)

Gordon Hay

I said that I was staying with Windows 7 back-up not 7 itself – I’ve been using 8 since it was released last October.

Irving Ziderman

So I can use both File History and Windows 7 File Recovery to complement it with System Image?

Gordon Hay

You can’t use them in tandem, you have to turn one off to use the other, so you could run File History routinely and turn it off on a regular basis to use Win 7 backup to create a system image. I can’t be bothered with that so I just stick with a scheduled backup.

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techguyknows

I like this. I might help me reverse to earlier revisions easily.

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Onaje Asheber

Thanks for the Info! But windows blue?

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Paul Harris

I’ve been using Microsofts “Sync-Toy 2.1″ for some time now; does this built-in Windows 8 backup utility work any different. Looks very similar with a new interface.

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Paul Cheuk

I ran into this problem using File-History. I had set up this function pointing the file location to C:\user\paul\documents\documents.

Because of the ASK tool bar problem, I refreshed the PC.

I thought I am starting from a clean slate. It was not so. The File-History function now pointed to Library. I could not changed to C:\user\paul\documents\documents.

Is that a bug in the design of the that?

Paul

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Paul

File history works fine for us oldies who have a tendency to forget things. However i found it will only work with Windows 8 compatible memory sticks and not with my Seagate external hard drive. Also remember it will only go to a maximum of 20% of the memory capacity of the stick so a larger capacity stick is a must.

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Goodny33

Thanks for this.

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Haran

Is it possible to use a different partition as a backup instead of an external hard drive? So say C:\ is my Windows 8 partition and I create a new partition D:\. Can I use the D:\ drive as my backup?

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Stephanie Staker

The more I read about Windows 8, the less I want it. Thanks for the continuing information on it though.

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Noman Fayez

If there is no OEM partner then windows 8 could not make 1% sale of its present quantity…. who told Microsoft to remove Start Menu? Rest of all its fine features are hopeless until there is no start menu along with some funny apps in Metro Screen…. But your article is nice…..

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Daniel

This brought back the “normal” start menu for me: http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/

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Ed

Fantastic article. I had no idea. I’m off to shop for a WiFi hard drive right now!

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Dan

They need an integrated solution that is like Time Machine. With Time Machine I can boot my machine, initiate a restore and when completed I have my entire system back exactly as it was at the last backup. And with the same tool I can look through a history of my files. It’s good that Windows does have backup, but it feels hacky and disjointed compared to Time Machine.

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