Easily Back Up Windows 8 in 12 Steps
By David Weedmark
Updated September 15, 2017
We all know how it important it is to back up our computers, but even the best of us procrastinate. This is why March 31st is named World Backup Day -- it's a good opportunity to back up your data. We'll show you how to make an image of your entire drive and make an independent backup of your most important files. This way, you're protected whether your hard drive crashes or you just need to recover a single file.
Evaluating Your Options
Cloud-based storage options are great, but they aren't ideal for large files. For only pennies a gigabyte, there's no reason not get an external drive. For less than $100 you can get a 1 terabyte drive -- that's 1,024 GB -- that fits in the palm of your hand.
USB flash drives are also an option, as are the ridiculously compact Micro SD cards. They don't offer quite as much storage, but for some people, 32 or 64 GB can be sufficient.
Creating a Disk Image
System Image Backup is a part of Windows, so you don't need extra software to create a mirror image of your computer's hard drive on an external disk. If your computer's hard drive fails, you can access everything from this image. To find System Image Backup, type "File History" in the Windows Search charm and then click it when it appears in the search results.
Launching System Image Backup
Now you should see the System Image Backup Link in the bottom left corner of the screen. Connect your external storage device to your computer and then click this link. You can also use a network drive -- like a wireless flash drive or a drive connected to another computer.
Selecting Your Backup Drive
Windows automatically scans for any available external storage devices connected to your PC or on your network. You can then select the drive from the list. Windows warns you that a system image is only useful for restoring the entire hard drive -- you can't use it to retrieve a single file.
Selecting an External Drive or Disc
After Windows has searched for available drives, click the "On a Hard Disk" radio button and then select your drive. (If you are connecting to a drive on the network, select this option instead and a new window will open.) You can also choose to burn the image to DVDs, but keep in mind that a typical DVD holds less than 5 GB, so that's not a convenient way to go.
Saving to a Network Drive
To connect to a drive on the network, you need to specify where it is -- click the "Browse" button to locate it. If the drive is connected to another computer, you need to enter a username and password on that computer with read/write permissions for that drive.
Confirming Your Selection
After selecting the drive you want to burn the files onto, Windows automatically selects your main hard drive. If you have additional drives on your computer, you can also select them before clicking "OK." Windows calculates the size of your backup and the available space on the external drive. Click "OK again, and the backup begins. After the progress bar disappears, your system image backup is complete.
Saving Your Files
Now that your system image backup is complete, it's time to make a second backup -- this time of individual files so you can easily access them if needed. Locate your external drive in the the left menu of File Explorer, then right-click on any blank area in the main pane of the window. Select "New" from the drop-down menu, then click "Folder."
Naming Your Folder
When the day comes that you need to retrieve a backup file, how you chose to name your folders will be extremely important. One approach: Create a system image backup annually and back up all of your files monthly. In this case, name the backup folder by year, and create subfolders named by month. This way, if you need to find a file you backed up three months ago, you can easily find its folder.
To copy all of your documents in Windows 8.1, use the Copy and Paste buttons. First, select "Documents" in the left menu. Press "Ctrl-A" on the keyboard to select of the document folders and then click the "Copy" button in the upper left corner. If you don't see the Copy button, click the "File" menu and then click the small "Arrow" on the right side of the toolbar.
Locate the backup folder you created earlier by clicking the small "Arrow" on the left side of the external drive, located in the left menu. Open the backup folder and then click the "Paste" button in the upper left corner of the screen.
After clicking "Paste," Windows displays a progress bar showing you the status of the copying process. This can take from just a few seconds to several minutes, depending on the amount of data you are copying and the speed of your drives.
Copying Other Important Files
Repeat this same copy and paste process to copy other files not located in your Documents folder, such as Downloads, Music, Pictures and Videos. If you like to save files on your desktop, don't forget to copy these as well. Don't bother copying system files in this way though; you don't need them.
Once you have finished copying all of your files and folders and the last progress bar disappears, you can safely disconnect the external drive from your computer. In the event your computer or hard drive crashes, you can get all of your data back from the system image. If you need a single file or folder, you can retrieve these from the backup folder.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.