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Windows 8 – the Windows 7 backup tools are still present so you can use them if you want, but Microsoft considers them outdated.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.

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

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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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Comments (27)
  • hansonjameshd

    *shakes head*

    This is a great idea except for one problem…it’s a Windows utility! Why’s this important? Because like ANY Windows utility, it’s vulnerable when it’s operating because it’s within the OS. No time machine, backup, no matter how great it is will I trust it. It’s within Windows. There’s nothing stating that if Windows can’t load, that I boot this in and it’ll be fine. If anything, I could plug it in, not recognize the USB, and I’m hooped.

    This is why Microsoft ought to surrender to third party players like Faronics or Horizon Data Sys in this regard

    • Jaimi McEntire

      You’re missing the whole point. Almost like you work for the company you recommend or something. Anyway, this isn’t a whole-system backup. It’s not meant to restore your machine in the case of catastrophic failure. There’s another backup for that.
      This is “File history”.
      This is for when you accidentally write over a file, and need to go back to a previous version. This has saved my bacon several times.

  • Guzzi

    Will Windows 8 Time Machine backup to the Sky Drive or possibly my own personal cloud?

  • MasviL

    Dropbox stores on its servers last 30 versions of every file deleted/modified. It’s better/saver than any local backup.

  • 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.

  • Ed

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

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.