The Easiest Ways to Back Up Your PC

by Chris Hoffman ; Updated October 17, 2017

I lost all my files once. Years of priceless documents, photos and other personal files I’ve now forgotten — all gone when my hard drive failed. I should have been backing them up, but I was young and made a mistake. Many people never start backing up until they lose everything, but by then it’s too late. Don’t let this happen to you — if you’re not backing up yet, start today.

Online Backups

Online backup solutions let you to upload files and have them available anywhere. The storage provider is in charge of keeping multiple copies so they’re always available to you.

A few different options make this possible. Typical consumer cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive — let you put your important files in the cloud so they’ll be available anywhere. OneDrive is even integrated into Windows 8.1’s File Explorer. Each service gives you a few gigabytes of free storage, with the option to buy more.

Any one of these services is better than having your files only on your local PC, but they aren’t designed for long-term backup. A dedicated online backup service like CrashPlan or Carbonite lets you set a schedule after you install the software on your computer. The services automatically back up the files you choose. Both of these services offer unlimited back up space for one price, so they may be better solutions than typical file-syncing services if you have a large amount of data to back up.

These tools give you an “off-site backup” — even if your house burns down or all your electronic equipment is stolen, you’ll still have a backup. These tools also require good upload bandwidth, and aren’t free unless you only want to back up only a few gigabytes.

OneDrive in Windows 8.1's File Explorer

Windows 7’s Backup and Restore

Windows 7 has a traditional backup tool as part of its toolset. Visit the System and Security, then Backup and Restore pane in Control Panel to set it up. Run backups manually or have Windows automatically back up on a schedule. Save back ups to an external drive, network location or burn them to a CD or DVD.

Windows 8’s File History

Windows 8 includes a dedicated backup tool named File History. This tool is optimized for easy personal backups — it allows you to create a history of your files to use to restore from later. You’ll need an external hard drive or a network-attached storage device to create backups with File History.

Open the Control Panel, navigate to System and Security, File History, then connect an external drive and set up that drive for file history. Windows automatically backs up files from your personal folders like your libraries and desktop, so ensure files you care about are saved in these folders. By default, File History runs every hour when your external drive is connected.

Setting up File History on Windows 8.1

You can use other third-party backup tools, too. An abundance of Windows backup tools are available from which to choose, but it’s often easiest to use the simple tools built into Windows itself. Back up regularly — don’t just create a backup once and forget about it.

To be really safe, create both local and online backups of your most critical files. Online backups give you off-site backups so you’re safe even if your house floods and destroysyour electronics. Local backups protect you if the cloud storage service ever experiences a problem and loses your files.

Photo Credit: Clive Darra, Chris Hoffman

About the Author

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around tech geek who writes for PC World, MakeUseOf, and How-To Geek. He's been using Windows since Windows 3.1 was released in 1992.