Restore and recover a Windows PC How to restore your computer from a backup

Backing up means that you will always have safe copies of your important files should your PC ever break down or get lost, stolen or destroyed. You’ll be able to recover any of your backed up files if you’ve lost data from your PC.

Backing up a computer is very simple. All you need is a large external hard drive – 500GB should be enough – to house all your backed up files.

Even better, it’s even possible to set your PC to automatically backup data at least once a week. We’ll show you how in our guide.

See our Which? member recommended hard drive brands.

How does a backup differ from a system restore point?

While creating a system restore point on a regular basis is important for ensuring the health of your PC, a backup will protect all of your important files – even if your computer breaks permanently.

How to create a backup of your PC

Plug in your external drive and click Start, type backup, then click the Backup and Restore link that appears in the menu. In the window that opens, click Set up backup on the right-hand side. In the list of Backup Destinations, you should see the drive you just plugged in. Click it once to highlight it and then click Next.

The easiest option on the next screen is Let Windows choose — this will select all the standard Documents, Music, Photos and Videos folders. Should you wish, you can opt for Let me choose, and then select specific file locations manually. Click Next

Set up backup


On the summary screen, click Change schedule and use the dropdown menus to select a time and day that suit you best. Click OK and then click Save settings and run backup. An initial backup will be made — this can take some time.


Schedule backup


If you have enough space on your backup drive, we also recommend making a full system backup of your entire hard drive. This can be used to restore your whole PC if something goes really wrong. Open Backup and Restore as described in step 1, then click Create a system image on the left and follow the instructions.


Create a system image

How to restore your PC from a backup

Plug your external hard drive into your computer. Click Start, type backup, then click the Backup and Restore link that appears, then click on the Restore my files button.

To restore a specific file, click on Browse for files, then search the folders to find the file. Highlight it, then click Add files.

To restore whole folders or even the entire backup, click Restore my files > Browse for folders and locate the folder you want, then highlight it and click Add. In both cases, select In the original location on the next screen and click Restore > Finish.

More on this…

How to back up your data – our guide to safely backing up your data
Speed up a slow computer – how to make a slow computer run faster
Best hard drive brands – customer satisfaction revealed in our Which? survey