Windows 7 recovery & backup guide Windows 7 backup FAQ
Keeping backups of the files you create is crucial. Here we answer your most frequently asked questions.
- Why backup?
- What do I need to backup?
- There's a number of different types of backup, what do they mean?
- How do I decide which program to use?
- Where should I store backups?
It seems like a lot of fuss and hassle. Do I really need a backup?
In a word: yes! We store all kinds of valuable files on our hard drives, including photos, videos, documents, calendars, music and more. Some of this is costly to replace while items such as photographs are irreplaceable.
Having a regular backup routine could save you a lot of heartache.
Most good backup systems these days run on an automatic schedule. Once you've set them up, you don't need to think about them again.
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OK, I'm convinced, so what do I need in order to create a backup of my computer?
Most likely you won't need any special or additional equipment. Basically, all that's required is something to store your backups on, and a backup program.
For the former, you could use CDs (possible, but not advisable - see below) or even a USB key. With the latter, it is possible to use the software that came with your PC.
Both Windows 7 and Vista have a built-in backup utility.
Go to Start, then Control Panel.
Select Backup your computer to launch Windows' backup application.
In Windows 7, click Set up backup or Change Settings. In Windows Vista, click Back up files.
What's the difference between an image backup and a file-and-folder backup?
A file-and-folder backup makes copies of all your personal files and folders (documents, music, email, browser bookmarks and so on).
'Image' or 'clone' backups make a copy of your entire hard drive, including Windows, your software applications and all your settings and preferences as well as your files.
File and folder backups are quick and easy to manage.
Image backups are slow and require lots of storage space but are useful in the case of physical damage or loss, as the entire contents of your old hard disk can be transferred to a replacement drive or a new computer.
What’s the difference between an incremental and a full backup?
When you make a file-and-folder backup for the first time, the backup program will need to build your backup from scratch. This is a 'full' backup.
After this point, it's not necessary to run a full backup but to only copy the files that have changed.
An incremental backup checks for new files and files that have been changed and incorporates these into your initial full backup.
This process takes much less time than a full backup and can help prevent wasting storage space.
Keep your PC secure. Read our guide to choosing the best antivirus software.
Is the backup program that came with my computer any good?
Your computer may have more than one backup program. Windows 7's backup application offers file-and-folder and image-based backup options, both of which are effective and easy to use.
Windows Vista only offers simple file-and-folder backup (unless you're using Vista Ultimate).
Some manufacturers include their own pre-installed backup utilities.
In addition, some external hard disks come with backup programs on their installation CD.
Further third-party alternatives are available from Norton, Acronis, Paragon and Comodo, among others.
What media should I use to store my backups on?
Backups can be made on USB flash drives and external hard disks. A netbook with a 16GB internal drive could be easily backed up to a single flash drive.
Backing up to a second drive inside the same computer isn't advisable and, from what Helpdesk users have been telling us, CD and DVD backups are fiddly.
For larger hard disks, use an external USB hard disk.
How often should I back up the files on my computer?
This depends on how much you use your computer to create, edit or save new files.
Everyone should run a file-and-folder backup at least once a week – possibly even daily.
Your backup program should provide a schedule for automatically running backups as often as you like.
Image backups needn't be performed so frequently. As a rule it's a good idea to create an image backup whenever you buy a new computer.
It's also good to make an image backup before you go away on holiday. Otherwise, you only need one every six months or so.
Where should I keep my backup?
Ideally, you'd store backup hard disks in a different location to the computer that is being backed up.
That's because if your home was affected by fire, flood or theft, then the backups may be destroyed or lost at the same time as your computer.
A fire/flood-proof safe is one answer. If you don't have one of those you could consider keeping your backups at work or at the home of a nearby friend or family member.
Often, this is impractical. But, finding a 'safer' place in your home may be sufficient.
You could also consider an online backup (see below), at least for your most valuable files.
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Is it safe to backup online? And if so, how does this work?
Companies such as Carbonite (www.carbonite.co.uk) and Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) provide a small Desktop application that automatically backs up selected files and folders, uploading the backups online and hosting them on their own servers.
Prices start at around £5 a month and free versions are available to try out. Both services are previous Which? Best Buys (July 2010).
These companies usually employ military-grade encryption. One thing we would mention, though, is speed.
Broadband upload speeds are usually much slower than quoted download speeds – often as little as 256Kbps – making online backup unsuitable for those with lots of large files.
How do I access copies of my files once I have backed them up?
In many cases, backup programs use something called file compression to reduce the size of your backups and store them securely.
This means that often it is not possible to simply browse the files contained on a backup disk in the conventional way that you would with the contents of a normal hard drive or DVD.
The backup itself may be password protected and you may need to launch the backup application itself and use its built-in file browser or restore function to look for a specific file.
Likewise, if you are trying to restore files from an old computer onto a new one, you will usually need to install a copy of the backup program on the new computer first before running the restore function.
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