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Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Backing up your computer has never been really exciting, but it's something that needs to be done on a regular basis. And with the increase of file encrypting malware, having a good backup has never been more important. Here's how to backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Windows 10 backup basics

Now there are two (2) different backup programs inside of Windows 10, Windows Backup and File History, and each one does a specific type of backup. Windows Backup is geared more towards scheduled backups (nightly, weekly, etc.) and is usually used for full system backups / complete 'bare metal' system images. File History is more for personal files that change frequently, like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, as it saves multiple versions of the same file.

File History creates multiple versions of the same file with time stamps in the names
File History creates multiple versions of the same file with time stamps in the names

The one thing that Windows Backup and File History have in common is that both of these programs can back up to an external drive or network folder. Windows Backup can also use writeable disks like CD's or DVD's.

With the recent outbreak of file encrypting malware, if you're going to use a network folder it is recommend you do not map a network folder to a drive letter (N:\Files), but instead use Uniform Naming Convention (UNC) (\\Server\Volume\Files).

It goes without saying but never use the same drive that Windows is installed on for File History or Windows Backup. If your computer gets a virus or the operating system gets corrupted, you may have to reformat the drive and reinstall Windows.

Remember when not in use, store the media used for backups (external hard disks, DVD's, or CD's) in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files. It is also recommended to use a fire-proof location, like a data safe, to store the backup media.

Using File History to backup your files

File History will automatically create time stamped versions of your personal files (documents, music, photos ,etc.) on a set schedule. If the originals are lost, damaged, or deleted, you can restore them from an earlier point in time. You can schedule File History to run from every ten (10) minutes to daily. And you can also set the length time that File History keeps copies of your files, from 1 month to forever or whenever space is needed.

The main screen for File History
The main screen for File History

To use File History you will need to have either an external drive or network folder to save the files to. By default, File History will back up your personal folders (documents, photos, videos, etc.) but you can add additional folders to its configuration. Now configuring File History inside of Windows 10 can be a little confusing, as there are two (2) different places to change the settings, Settings and Control Panel.

How to open File History in Settings

  1. Left-click the Start menu and select Settings.
  2. Left-click on Update & security.
  3. In the left column, left-click on Backup.

How to open File History in the Control Panel

  1. Left-click on the Start menu and select All apps.
  2. Scroll down to Windows System and left-click on it to expand it out.
  3. Left-click on Control Panel.
  4. If viewing by category, left-click on Save backup copies of your file with File History. If viewing by large / small icons, left-click on File History.

or

  1. Bring up the Power Users menu by right-clicking on the Start menu.
  2. In the context menu that appears, left-click on Control Panel.
  3. If viewing by category, left-click on Save backup copies of your file with File History. If viewing by large / small icons, left-click on File History.

Here is a breakdown of what options can be changed and where to find them.

File History option Settings Control Panel
Turn on or off X X
Manually run File History X  
Change frequency (how often it runs) and duration (how long they are kept) of history X X
Add or remove folders X  
Exclude folders (good for sub-folders) X X
Change where backups are stored X X
Clean up older versions   X
Restore files   X

Using Windows Backup to backup your files

The version of Windows Backup included in Windows 10 is actually from Windows 7, hence the name in the Control Panel, Backup and Restore (Windows 7). If you used the version in Windows 7, everything will be familiar to you. With Windows Backup, you can backup just certain files and folders or do a complete system backup / system image. And you can schedule it to run whenever you want.

The main screen for Windows Backup
The main screen for Windows Backup

But unlike File History, Windows Backup creates a single backup that gets updated when it is run. No multiple file versions here, just the latest version of files at the time Windows Backup was run.

Along with using an external drive or network folder for backup, Windows Backup can also use CD's or DVD's. But if you're going to do a complete system backup on CD's or DVD's, be prepared with plenty of blank disks.

If you're creating a complete system image, remember to make a system repair disk to go along with it. If you ever need to restore your computer from a Windows Backup image, you will need to boot your computer from it. The link to create it is in the left-hand column.

How to open Windows Backup in Settings

  1. Left-click the Start menu and select Settings.
  2. Left-click on Update & security.
  3. In the left column, left-click on Backup.
  4. In the right column, left-click on Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

How to open Windows Backup in the Control Panel

  1. Left-click on the Start menu and select All apps.
  2. Scroll down to Windows System and left-click on it to expand it out.
  3. Left-click on Control Panel.
  4. Left-click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

or

  1. Bring up the Power Users menu by right-clicking on the Start menu.
  2. In the context menu that appears, left-click on Control Panel.
  3. Left-click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

How to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer

Do you have an old Windows based computer you would like to get rid of but want to make sure that all of your data is securely erased? Or maybe you would like to wipe all of the data from your hard drive and perform a clean installation of Windows? Either way, you'll want to make the data is completely wiped out. Here's how to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer.

Back-up all folder(s) and/or file(s) you want to save

This is the time to double and triple-check for any folder(s) and/or file(s) you may want to keep. If you plan on reinstalling Windows, make sure that you have all of the installation media available. If you need to create the recovery media that is stored on your computer, this is the time to do it. Once the hard drive is wiped cleaned, the recovery media images will be gone too.

Download and create bootable media with disk wiping software

The best way to completely wipe clean a hard drive is by booting the computer up on a CD/DVD disk or USB drive. This way you can erase all of the space on the hard drive. There are several free utilities for doing this, including Darik's Boot And Nuke, CMRR - Secure Erase and PC Disk Eraser. I recommend the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD), which has all of these and more already built-in. Just download the image file (.ISO) and use your favorite disk burning software or Windows built-in disk burning to create the bootable media. You can even create a UBCD bootable USB drive.

Encrypt the contents of your hard drive

This step may seem unnecessary, but it does make data recovery virtually impossible on the drive you are going to wipe. Windows has a feature called Encrypting File System (EFS) built-in, but it's disabled by default. It allows files to be encrypted transparently with a File Encryption Key (FEK). For more on EFS, check out this Wikipedia article. So even if someone was able to recover the data on the drive after the wiping, it would be in very poor condition. After that, the data would have to be unencrypted, and being in such bad condition, would be really hard, if not impossible.

  1. Open File Explorer / Windows Explorer (Windows logo key Windows logo key + E).
  2. Select the file(s) and/or folder(s) you want to encrypt.
  3. Right-click on the items selected and then left-click on Properties from the context menu that appears.
  4. On the General tab, left-click on Advanced.
  5. Left-click the check box for Encrypt contents to secure data.
  6. Left-click on OK. Be patient, encrypting the folders and/or files may take some time.

Insert bootable media and restart system

When you restart your system, it should boot up on the media you created. Follow the on screen instructions. If using the UBCD, navigate to HDD > Disk Wiping for the list of utilities. Each program will have similar data destruction settings. I always look for the latest Department of Defense standard (currently DOD 5220.22-M). If you really want to clean your hard drive, just run two or more of the disk wiping programs included on the UBCD.

If your system does not boot up on the media you just created, you may have to change the boot order for the computer. Check the 'splash' screen that first appears when you start your computer. Sometimes there is an option for boot device and/or menu, usually an F key. If not, you will have to change it manually inside the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). The BIOS can usually be accessed by pressing the DEL or F2 key when the 'splash' screen appears. It's always recommended to check the documentation for your motherboard on which keys are used to access the BIOS and where in the BIOS to change the boot order.

Back up your files in Windows 8 with File History

File History in Windows 8 automatically backs up files that are in your libraries, contacts, favorites, Microsoft SkyDrive and on your desktop. If the originals are lost, damaged, or deleted, you can restore all of them. You can also find different versions of your files from a specific point in time. Over time, you'll have a complete history of your files. File History is the replacement for Backup and Restore from previous versions of Windows.

How to use File History in Windows 8

  1. Go to the Start menu.
  2. Right click the Start menu background to bring up the app commands.
  3. Select 'All apps'.
  4. Scroll to the 'Control Panel' tile and left click on it.
  5. Under 'System and Security', left click on 'Save backup copies of your files with File History'.

Or

  1. Go to the Start menu.
  2. Right click the Start menu background to bring up the app commands.
  3. Select 'All apps'.
  4. Scroll to the 'Control Panel' tile and left click on it.
  5. On the upper right side of the Control Panel there is a 'View by:' pull-down menu (the default is Category). Left click on the arrow to the right and select either 'Large icons' or 'Small icons'.
  6. Left click on 'File History'.

Before you start using File History to back up your files, you'll need to set up a drive to save files to. It is recommend that you use an external drive or network location to help protect your files against a crash or other PC problem. File History only saves copies of files that are in your libraries, contacts, favorites, Microsoft SkyDrive, and your desktop. If you have files or folders elsewhere that you want backed up, you can add them to one of your existing libraries or create a new library. You also change the frequancy of the File History back up by clicking on Advanced settings on the left hand side of the window.

How to restore a file using File History in Windows 8

  1. Go to the Start menu.
  2. Right click the Start menu background to bring up the app commands.
  3. Select 'All apps'.
  4. Scroll to the 'Control Panel' tile and left click on it.
  5. On the upper right side of the Control Panel there is a 'View by:' pull-down menu (the default is Category). Left click on the arrow to the right and select either 'Large icons' or 'Small icons'.
  6. Left click on 'File History'.
  7. On left hand side of the File History window, left click on 'Restore personal files'. Scroll side to side and select the date / time and the files you wish to restore.
  8. Click on the circular arrow at the bottom of the screen to restore the selected folder(s) and/or file(s) to their original location(s).

Back up your files in Windows 7

To make sure you don't lose the files that you create, modify, and store on your computer, you should back them up regularly. You can manually back up your files any time or set up automatic backups.

  1. Click the Start button
  2. Click on All Programs
  3. Click on Maintenance
  4. Click on Backup and Restore

Do one of the following:

  • If you have never used Windows Backup before, click Set up backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  • If you have created a backup before, you can wait for your regularly scheduled backup to occur, or you can manually create a new backup by clicking Back up now. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Notes:

  • We recommend that you don't back up your files to the same hard disk that Windows is installed on.
  • Always store media used for backups (external hard disks, DVDs, or CDs) in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files; we recommend a fireproof location separate from your computer. You might also consider encrypting the data on your backup.

To create a new, full backup

After you create your first backup, Windows Backup will add new or changed information to your subsequent backups. If you're saving your backups on a hard drive or network location, Windows Backup will create a new, full backup for you automatically when needed. If you're saving your backups on CDs or DVDs and can't find an existing backup disc, or if you want to create a new backup of all of the files on your computer, you can create a full backup. Here's how to create a full backup:

  1. Open Backup and Restore.
  2. In the left pane, click Create new, full backup.

Note:
You will only see this option if your backup is being saved on CDs or DVDs.

To set up backup after upgrading from a previous version of Windows

After you upgrade Windows, you will need to set up Windows Backup, even if you had a scheduled backup in the previous version of Windows. This is because there are several changes to the backup program. Instead of selecting file types to back up, you can have Windows back up data files saved in libraries, on the desktop, and in default Windows folders, or you can choose specific libraries and folders to be backed up. You can also create a system image of your computer.

To set up your backup, follow these steps:

Open Backup and Restore.

Click Set up backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Ways to store backups
You can back up files to any of the following storage types:

  • Hard disks (internal or external)
  • Other removable disks
  • Writeable DVDs and CDs
  • Network locations

The first three options are often known collectively as media. You can also use an Internet-based file storage service. To decide which option to use, compare convenience, price, and ease of use, and consider the amount and size of files that you want to back up.

Keep backups in a safe location
Always keep removable storage or media used for backups (such as external hard disks, DVDs, or CDs) in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files.

Storage devices

Internal hard disks
You can install (or have someone else install) a second internal hard disk in your computer and use it to back up files. Hard disks are relatively inexpensive and are not affected if you have a problem with your operating system. You can even install the disk in another computer if you buy a new computer and you still want to use the disk for backups.

Note:
Never back up files to a location on the same hard disk that Windows is installed on because if your computer gets a virus or has a software failure, you might have to reformat the disk and reinstall Windows to recover from the problem.

External hard disks
If your computer has a USB port, you can attach an external hard disk to it and then back up files to the external disk. Be sure to buy an external hard disk that has plenty of space for your backups (200 GB is a good choice). For maximum protection, keep your external hard disk in a fireproof location separate from the computer.

Writeable discs
You can also save your files to DVDs or CDs. Make sure the discs are writeable, which means that you can add, delete, or change the content. If you decide to use this method and have a lot of files to back up, be sure you have enough discs to finish the job. The Back Up Files wizard tells you how much space you need each time you perform a backup and recommends the type of media to use. If you label the discs with the date and time of the backup, they will be easier to find later. For maximum protection, keep the discs in a fireproof location separate from your computer.

Network locations
If your computer is on a network, you can back up to a network location. Make sure that you have the right permissions for the network and that other users can't access your backup.

Back up your files in Windows Vista

To make sure you don't lose the files that you create, modify, and store on your computer, you should back them up regularly. You can manually back up your files any time or set up automatic backups.

Note:
The ability to set up automatic backups is not included in Windows Vista Starter and Windows Vista Home Basic.

Click the Start button

Click on Maintenance

Click on Backup and Restore Center

Click Back up files, and then follow the steps in the wizard. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Notes:
Do not back up files to the same hard disk that Windows is installed on. For example, do not back up files to a recovery partition.

Always store media used for backups (external hard disks, DVDs, or CDs) in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files; a fireproof location separate from your computer is recommended. You might also consider encrypting the data on your backup.

Methods for backing up your files

You can lose files by accidentally deleting or replacing them, because of a virus or worm attack, software or hardware failure, or a complete hard disk failure. To protect your files, you can create a backup: a set of copies of the files that is stored in a different location from the original files. Windows provides tools for backing up files, programs, and system settings.

Types of backups
You should back up your personal files, programs, and system settings. You should also create restore points so that you can restore your computer to a previous state when necessary. The table below describes each of these options.


To back up Use When to use
Personal files such as pictures, music, and documents Back Up Files wizard

You should regularly back up the files you create and modify. It's also a good idea to back up your files before making any system changes, such as adding new hardware, updating drivers, editing the registry, or making large changes to Windows, such as installing a service pack. For more information about backing up files, see Back up your files.

The Back Up Files wizard is included with Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, and Windows Vista Ultimate.

Your entire computer Windows Complete PC Backup

When you first set up your computer, you should create a Windows Complete PC Backup image, which is like taking a snapshot of the programs, system settings, and files on your computer. You can use this backup if your computer ever stops working. Although this type of backup includes your personal files, we recommend that you back up your files regularly using the Back Up Files wizard. You should also update the Windows Complete PC Backup image every six months.

Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore is included with Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, and Windows Vista Ultimate.

Note:
You should set up regular restore points so that you can undo any settings, such as driver updates, that might cause your computer to become unstable. For more information about restore points, see System Restore: frequently asked questions.

Ways to store backups
You can back up files to any of the following storage types:

Hard disks (internal or external)

Other removable disks

Writeable DVDs and CDs

Network locations

The first three options are often known collectively as media. You can also use an Internet-based file storage service. To decide which option to use, compare convenience, price, and ease of use, and consider the amount and size of files that you want to back up.

Keep backups in a safe location
Again, always store media used for backups (external hard disks, DVDs, or CDs) in a secure place to prevent unauthorized people from having access to your files; a fireproof location separate from your computer is recommended. You might also consider encrypting the data on your backup.

Storage devices

Internal hard disks
You can install (or have someone else install) a second internal hard disk in your computer and use it to back up files. Hard disks are relatively inexpensive and are not affected if you have a problem with your operating system. You can even install the disk in another computer if you buy a new computer and you still want to use the disk for backups.

Note:
Never back up files to a location on the same hard disk that Windows is installed on because if your computer gets a virus or has a software failure, you might have to reformat the disk and reinstall Windows to recover from the problem.

External hard disks
If your computer has a USB port, you can attach an external hard disk to it and then back up files to the external disk. Be sure to buy an external hard disk that has plenty of space for your backups (200 GB is a good choice). For maximum protection, keep your external hard disk in a fireproof location separate from the computer.

Writeable discs
You can also save your files to DVDs or CDs. Make sure the discs are writeable, which means that you can add, delete, or change the content. If you decide to use this method and have a lot of files to back up, be sure you have enough discs to finish the job. The Back Up Files wizard tells you how much space you need each time you perform a backup and recommends the type of media to use. If you label the discs with the date and time of the backup, they will be easier to find later. For maximum protection, keep the discs in a fireproof location separate from your computer.

Network locations
If your computer is on a network, you can back up to a network location. Make sure that you have the right permissions for the network and that other users can't access your backup.

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