6 Safest Ways to Backup & Restore Your Files in Windows 7 & 8

Chris Hoffman 26-06-2013

backup files windows 7By now, we’re sure you’ve read the advice over and over: Everyone needs to back up their files. But deciding to back up your files is only part of the process. There are so many different ways to back up your files, and it can be hard knowing where to start. We’ll cover all the best ways you can back up your files and help you find the method that’s right for you.


The options here range from free utilities already included with your Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer to cloud-based backup solutions that offer free storage or charge a fee to store your files. The most important thing is having several copies of your files — either on an external drive or in the cloud somewhere.

Backup Files in Windows 7

Windows 7 includes integrated backup tools. Launch the Backup and Restore application in Windows 7 and set up Windows Backup. These tools are fairly flexible, allowing you to back up your user data files, specific folders, or even every file on your computer. Windows 7 also allows you to create full system image backups, which you can restore from to get your system back to the state it was in when you created the system image.

Windows allows you to save this backup to a network location, another internal hard drive, or an external drive. You can configure the backup to happen automatically on a schedule. If you’re backing up to an external hard drive, you’ll want to leave it plugged in or connect it before running a backup manually.

You can then restore files from this backup later. Windows 8 includes its own backup feature, but it also includes the Windows 7 backup tools — so you can continue using Windows 7 backup on Windows 8 or restore files from Windows 7 backups.

Read our guide to setting up and using Windows 7 Backup and Restore for more information.


backup files windows 7

Windows 8 Backup

Windows 8’s Backup feature is known as File History. It functions just like Apple’s Time Machine. Not many people used Windows 7’s backup features, so Microsoft tried to design an easier-to-use backup and restore system. Unlike Windows 7’s backup system, Windows 8’s File History can only back up files in user data locations like your libraries and desktop folder. If you want to back up an arbitrary folder elsewhere, you’ll have to add it to your libraries.

Once you set up File History, Windows will save copies of your files on a regular basis — either to an external drive or a network share. It does this automatically in the background. If you’re using an external drive, File History will begin saving backup copies again when you plug the external drive back in.

You can later use File History to “go back in time,” restoring copies of deleted files and previous versions of existing files. For more details, read our guide to Windows 8’s File History feature.


backup files windows 8

Free Backup Programs

If you’re not entirely happy with Windows’ included backup features, you may want to take a look at a third-party backup application. In addition to paid applications, there are a several good free ones. Cobian Backup is one of the best free backup solutions you can find.

Cobian Backup and other third-party backup tools generally differentiate themselves from the integrated Windows backup tools by being more powerful and flexible.

With Cobian Backup, you have much more control over your backups. You can create a variety of backup tasks, each with separate “source” and “destination” pairs. You can set up filters that exclude and include different types of files. You can perform events, such as launching or closing a program, at the beginning or end of each backup task. You can choose to automatically archive and encrypt your backups, create differential backups where only the changes are stored, and more. All of these settings can be customized for each individual backup task. There are too many features to list here.


backup files windows 8

All these bells and whistles make for a very powerful application, but it’s also overboard for most users. Most people will probably be happier with a simpler solution like the one integrated into Windows — but power users will get a lot more flexibility from another backup program.

For an alternative, check out our coverage of Macrium Reflect Macrium Reflect: The Free Windows Backup Tool Review Backups are critical but good Windows backup tools can be pricey. Macrium Reflect lets you back up your computer for zero cost. Read More .

Paid Backup Programs

You may also want to look at a paid backup program. For example, the Paragon Hard Disk Manager suite includes its own backup and restore application in addition to other disc management tools.


Paid products like Paragon Hard Disk Manager generally combine the user-friendly interface of Windows backup with all the advanced features you’ll find in a program like Cobian Backup. Free backup programs are generally rougher-around-the-edges in terms of their interface, while a paid program provides similar advanced features in a more polished package.

backup files windows 8

Cloud Backup

You could also choose to skip all the local backup programs and take advantage of cloud storage to keep your files safe. For example, you could just dump your important files in a cloud storage folder—there are plenty of solid options for online backup services including Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft SkyDrive—and they’d be backed up online and automatically synchronized to your other computers and devices. Of course, Dropbox and similar services aren’t really intended as backup solutions—if you accidentally delete files from your Dropbox folder, they’ll be deleted from your Dropbox cloud storage as well. You could try to recover the deleted files from your cloud storage, but they may be automatically deleted after a period of time, depending on your service of choice. You may want to keep local backups of your more important files.

restore files windows 7

Instead of a cloud storage and syncing service, you may want to try a cloud-based backup solution like the well-regarded CrashPlan. CrashPlan is different from Dropbox because it’s focused on backing up your files, not just on synchronizing them. It runs in the background and automatically backs up files from anywhere on your hard drive you specify. It can also be configured to back up to an external drive, too — giving you both local backups and cloud backups. You can even back up files to a friend’s computer for free — if you have a friends with some free storage on their computers, you can choose to back up to each other’s computers and gain free off-site backups in that way.

backup files windows 7

Cloud-based backup solutions can be particularly attractive because they allow you to keep copies of your files off-site. If your home ever burns down or is robbed, you’ll still have your files off-site with a cloud backup service, but there’s a good chance you might lose any backups stored in your home.

Other Backup Solutions

The solutions we’ve listed here are far from the only options. If you only have a few important files, you could use the old-fashioned method of regularly copying them to a USB drive or disc — although that’s very tedious compared to dedicated backup solutions. If you’re a geek, you could set up backups to happen automatically to a network service or data center via rsync More Reasons Why Grsync Is An Awesome Syncing Tool [Cross-Platform] Use rsync, the ultimate syncing tool, without having to install Linux or learn the command line. That's the appeal of Grsync, a GUI version of the popular Unix/Linux command line program rsync. Grsync isn't just... Read More . You could purchase a dedicated NAS (network-attached storage) Need Network Storage? Here’s How To Build Your Own NAS Box NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. As Windows became easier to use with network attached devices, and hardware prices fell, this term started to be used in the consumer market. Today there’s a wide variety... Read More backup solution to back up all computers on your local network.

You can even try using BitTorrent Sync From Pirate Darling To Dropbox Alternative: BitTorrent Sync Lets You Keep Your Files Synchronized Across Machines Cloud-based file sync services are easy to use and work well, but your privacy may or may not be your first priority. Not to mention the fact that these services always come with a storage... Read More , which automatically synchronizes files between several computers, to ensure your files are synchronized to other computers you own. If you have several other computers with a good chunk of hard disk space and bandwidth, this could be a clever solution — BitTorrent Sync doesn’t store your files online, it just transfers them between the computers you configure. This means that you can back up an unlimited amount of files, as long as you have the hard drive space and network bandwidth.

bittorrent syncapp

How do you back up your files? Which application or service do you prefer? Leave a comment and let us know!

And if you want a quick way to back up and restore Windows, check our our guide on creating an ISO image of your Windows system How to Create an ISO Image of Your Windows System Need to backup and restore Windows without backup tools? It's time to learn how to make an ISO image of your Windows PC. Read More . It’s also a good idea to arm yourself with data recovery software Recover Lost Files on Windows and Mac With iBoysoft Data Recovery If you've accidentally deleted data or have a corrupted drive, iBoysoft can help you recover your files. Here's how it works. Read More for worst-case scenarios.

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Data Backup, Restore Data, Windows 7, Windows 8.

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  1. Sophia Joseph
    June 24, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    For back up in windows I use my hard disk but to transfer my files effectively, I use GS Richcopy 360 which works very well for me. It provides all the necessary features that one would want. Using it I can automate my files, it provides long path name support and many more features! Give it a try!

  2. nicole alondra
    January 23, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Lost file ?
    Try File Search Tool

  3. Paul J. Shane
    May 24, 2015 at 11:08 am

    About every quarter I simply clone my HD to another HD. I can retrieve individual files or swap the backup clone into my PC to have a complete OS with programs and data. A three month old backup is good enough for my casual PC use. Although I'm a mostly retired computer pro, I spend most of my time on a tablet or smartphone anyway.

  4. Thomas Kainz
    May 21, 2015 at 12:32 am

    I've tried many methods of backing up my computers over the past 30 years and times they've worked and times they've failed. Lately I've opted for the following solution which I feel covers my proverbial 'tush'. As a subscriber to Microsoft's Office 2013, I'm taking advantage of the free unlimited cloud storage that comes with that. I'm in the process of moving all my files to my One Drive folders, marking them all as available for off-line storage. This, in effect, is mirroring (syncing) my PC's files to the cloud storage. Leveraging this cloud storage service also insures that all of my files are available to me at any time regardless of what OPC I use to access the files. I not only will have access to my files at any time - whether or not I have internet access - but also keep a copy safe and secure in Microsoft's cloud. Additionally, I still run a periodic full system image using one of the more than capable free backup alternatives. The full system image is backed up to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device running a set of 2TB hard drives in a RAID 1 array setup. If the NAS backup fails for any reason, I may have to rebuild my OS installation from scratch but at least I'll have the important stuff - my data files and pictures, safe in the MS Cloud.

  5. T
    February 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    I use Areca Backup (open source), because it makes it easy to restore a single version of a file as well as a full incremental archive from a certain period of time (can work like Time Machine) - it has a built in explorer for restoring full archives as well as seperate (versions of) files.
    It's cross-platform and very configurable and still pretty easy to use.
    Autover (open source) is also great if you want to have a realtime-backup program combined with version history.

    Duplicati also can restore single files and full backups (from incremental archives).

    I didn't like Cobian Backup personally, because it made it hard to restore files.

  6. David
    October 30, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Question about Dropbox...

    I have about 50GB synching on Dropbox with about three machines. i want to do a clean install of Windows 7 on one machine. however, I wanted to backup the 50gb user files locally first on external storage, then copy back. However... here's the problem... dropbox when installed on the clean install machine starts creating duplicates of all my files again, and then sends these duplicates to other machines. Is there a way around this without having the machine in question download an entore 50gb when i have it locally on an extrenal drive. This is my major problem with Dropbox? anyone solved it yet?

  7. Nadine R
    September 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Off subject but I just found "makeuseof" and love all I have found. Do not know how I found you, except by googleing for an answer you came to the call. You answer where I can understand. Thanks Nadine

    • Tina S
      September 26, 2013 at 2:59 am

      Thank you Nadine! It's great to hear we could help. :)

  8. Sam R
    September 7, 2013 at 6:46 am

    I know how to take a back up of my file and docs. But how do you take a back up of a prgram online. For example. Coreldraw,Photoshop etc. Any idea?

  9. Eric Landesman
    July 3, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Chris - what do you personally use to back up your data?

  10. Backupmag
    July 2, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Thank you for this advice. However, can you please explain the difference between services such as Windows 8 backup (as you mentioned above), online backup services (such as Mozy) and cloud storage?

  11. Eli Miron
    June 28, 2013 at 8:00 am

    There are many other excellent free backup software.
    An Example:Paragon backup & Recovery 2013 Free coupled with Paragon Recue Kit Free Edition.

    For Cloud BACKUP I would use a service with much more space such as which provides 50 GB free

  12. Ed A
    June 27, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I love Synkron. Cross platform (Linux, Windows, Mac); create multiple tabs; sync across network, and comes in a portable app here:

  13. Mark
    June 27, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    need to backup!! need to backup!! need to backup!!

    Seriously, i need to backup my file before....

  14. michel
    June 27, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Over the years every version of Windows built-in back up has failed to protect my data. I have never been able to restore data on any version of Windows. Although I have not tried them all, this is also true of every third-party back up solution I've tried. The ONLY thing that has worked for me over the years is to simply copy data to a second hard drive or cd/dvd, manually. I have tried automated solutions, syncing solutions and imaging solutions. Every single one of them has failed, and every single one requires installation, configuration and trouble shooting. The simplest and only safe method is manual duplication.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:29 pm

      That's a shame. Backup tools should be capable of doing the same job you can do by hand, but faster -- I'm not sure why they've caused so many problems for you. Some solutions, like Microsoft's, don't directly copy over files but put them in a different format so recovery is a bit more involved. Solutions like FreeFileSync (see above) just copy the files over automatically, however -- should work about the same. But whatever works for you is best! Everyone has their own strategies.

    • Eli Miron
      June 28, 2013 at 9:57 am

      The problem with manual backup is the frequency of performing backup and forgetfullness. Therefore, one should use ALL options.

      I usually use SecurDat, a Free a 13 years old real time backup software.
      In addition I do Manual backups occasionally (ful backup with the option "overwrite all older").

  15. Oliver
    June 27, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Other than taking data to the cloud, I didn't think any ways as safer and convienient as external hard drive or usb devices will degrads over time and would fail even after minor disaster strikes.

    Though, most of the time data recovery software helps us to recover data from hard drive or external storage devices, but good software's like 'Stellar Phoenix' are paid which works best under critical data loss circumstances.

    Instead of taking backup, It'd be better if we could create a complete system image or at least of our important data and distribute it to cloud, burn CD or DVD's or transfer it to external storage devices.

    Thanks for this good reads though!!

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:28 pm

      Yup, everything will degrade over time, that's why you should have multiple copies! You can actually create a full system image via the Windows 7 backup tool, even on Windows 8.

  16. SH
    June 27, 2013 at 4:55 am

    I've tried Sugar Sync, which became more like a file sharing app, and Jungle Disk, which actually corrupted some files (pdf). I've now used Mozy for a couple of years and have had no problems -- easy to setup and forget, reliable service and a straightforward individual file recovery process. I haven't had a catastrophic laptop failure that I had to recover from, so can't speak to the ease of a complete restore. I used to also backup (using Syncback) to an external drive that I kept in my office, but that became a chore that I decided was redundant, so I quit local off-site backups a few months ago.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      Yes, cloud based backups are really smart -- no fiddling with hard drives and you get off-site backups so your data is safe if your house burns down. I've heard great things about Mozy, but have never used it myself.

  17. Larry J
    June 26, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    I'm using Windows 7. I'm going to try the Microsoft included backup and see how I like it.

    • Frank Minich
      November 12, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      If your backup media is a big disk (>2.2TB), you _won't_ like it.

  18. Rodrigo FP
    June 26, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    I use free file sync ( opensource and amazing. Have full control on what will on backup.

  19. nigel hewitson
    June 26, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    How do I go about backing up data from an Asus Eee tablet ?

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      You can probably connect it to your computer and copy the data over via USB, I bet.