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How to backup your Windows 11 computer using Windows Backup and File History

Did you know that Windows 11 includes two (2) programs for backing up your computer? And when used together, they can provide excellent backup protection. Here is how to use Windows Backup and File History to back up your Windows 11 computer.

How to backup your Windows 11 computer using Windows Backup and File History

Backing up your computer has never been glamorous, and most people tend just to put it off. But without a good backup plan, you could be heading for a huge problem. Windows 11 includes two (2) programs to help you back up your system; Windows Backup and File History. Each of them performs a specific type of backup and use different methods of backing your computer. But when used together, they can be a pretty robust backup plan.

Now Windows Backup has been around since Windows 7. In fact, the name of the shortcut is Backup and Restore (Windows 7). File History has been around since Windows 8. They work differently but complement each other in backing up your computer and data.

By default, Windows Backup and File History like to back up to external or network drives. In fact, using a drive inside your computer is not recommended because if you have any problems with your computer, you may not be able to access any of the data. But you can use the same external or network drive for both programs if you like.

Now a typical backup scenario would use Windows Backup for complete system (bare metal) backup once a week and File History set to back up personal files every hour. Bare metal refers to restoring your computer to a new drive using a Recovery Drive and a Windows Backup image.

If you frequently make software changes (installing, uninstalling, updates, etc.) to your computer, you may want to have Windows Backup run more often. Remember that Windows Backup typically includes all your personal files (Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos).

Windows 11 File History

Windows 11 File History main screen

File History creates time-stamped versions of your personal files; Libraries (Camera Roll, Documents, Music, Pictures, Saved Pictures, and Videos), Desktop, Contacts, and Favorites. It saves your files on a regular schedule, from 10 minutes to daily (every hour is the default), adding the date and time to the file name.

File History saves backup file versions from 1 month to forever or until space is needed (forever is the default). It does not use any compression or encryption when saving files, so you can easily navigate through them and preview or open any that you want to view. You also access the backup files from another computer, and no special software is required.

Now you can exclude folders from being backup by File History, but you cannot add folders. The only way to add folders to the list of items to be backed up is by creating a new library, But for most Windows 11 users, the default libraries are more than enough.

Windows 11 Windows Backup

Windows 11 Windows Backup main screen

Windows Backup creates an encrypted and compressed backup image of your computer that can only be accessed through Windows Backup or a Recovery Drive. Windows Backup can restore individual folders and files, and a Recovery Drive can restore a complete drive image.

You can set up Windows Backup to run on a set schedule, or you can run it on demand. Windows Backup, by default, is set to perform incremental backups, which means that every time you run it, it backs up only files that have changed since the last backup.

You can customize which files and folders it backs up, but I recommend using the Let Windows choose (system image) option. I have restored numerous failed drives using a Recovery Drive and a system image, and it works great and can be a lifesaver.

How to access and configure Windows Backup and File History

The Control Panel is the only way to get to Windows Backup or File History. There are several ways to get to the Control Panel inside of Windows 11, so here is an article on all the different ways to get there. The following is the most straightforward way of doing it.

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo key button to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Control Panel.
  5. If viewing the Control Panel by Category, left-click on either Save backup copies of your files with File History or Backup and Restore (Windows 7) under System and Security. If viewing by Large/Small Icons, left-click on either Backup and Restore (Windows 7) or File History.

How to configure File History

Once File History is open, you will find four (4) options in the left-hand column; Restore personal files, Select drive, Exclude folders, and Advanced settings. You first need to select the drive you want to use for backing up files. Remember, you can only use external or network drives, so make sure you can access that drive before you start to set up File History.

Once you select your backup drive, you can omit any of your personal folders (Exclude folders) you do not want to backup (Camera Roll, Documents, Music, Pictures, Saved Pictures, and Videos). You can also change how often your files get backup and how long to keep saved versions (Advanced settings).

How to configure Windows Backup

Once you have Windows Backup (Backup and Restore (Windows 7)) open, select the Set up backup link in the right column.
Windows 11 Windows Backup starting screen
This will start Windows Backup, and you will be prompted as to where you want to save your backup.

After selecting where to save your backup, you will be prompted for what to backup.
Choose what to backup screen
You will get two (2) choices; Let Windows choose (recommended) or Let me choose. I highly recommend the Let Windows choose option, as it will create a system image that can be used for bare metal recovery.

Once you have selected what to backup, you will be prompted to review your backup settings.
Review your Windows Backup settings
Next, you will need to set up a backup schedule. Quite often, the default once a week on Sunday at 7:00 PM will work but can be changed to fit your schedule.

After you set the schedule, left-click on the Save settings and run backup button, and Windows Backup will perform the first backup. Remember that you need to be connected to the drive you have chosen for Windows Backup to use before the scheduled time.

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

Updated August 12, 2020

Backing up your computer has never been exciting, but it needs to be done regularly. And with the increase of file-encrypting malware, having a good backup has never been more critical. Here's how to back up 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 frequently change, 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 CDs or DVDs.

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

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, DVDs, or CDs) 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 back up your files

File History will automatically create time-stamped versions of your 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 either have an external drive or network folder to save the files. By default, File History will back up your 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 on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  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 Windows logo menu.
  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. In the search box next to the Start Windows logo button, type Control Panel, and click on it from the results.
  2. 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 (useful for sub-folders) X X
Change where backups are stored X X
Clean up older versions   X
Restore files   X

Using Windows Backup to back up your files

The Windows Backup version 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 back up just specific 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 CDs or DVDs. 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 on the Start Windows logo menu and select Settings (the gear icon).
  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 Windows logo menu.
  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. In the search box next to the Start Windows logo button, type Control Panel, and click on it from the results.
  2. Left-click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

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