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How to Back Up Windows 10 (& 11)

You know you want to.

How to back up Windows using its own built-in tools in eight easy steps. Four bonus steps handle Microsoft's plans to retire one of those tools.
The Best of Ask Leo!
Applies to Windows: 11, 10

You may have heard I’m a huge fan of backing up.

Microsoft Windows includes several tools that, used together, provide a backup strategy protecting you from almost anything that can go wrong.

Let’s review what it means to use those tools together properly and get you backed up. We’ll also review the impact of Microsoft’s decision to phase out one of those tools.

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How to Back Up Windows

  • Make an image backup of the machine.
  • Make a recovery disk for emergencies.
  • Prepare to restore a backup image in case it’s needed.
  • Restore individual files from a backup image.
  • Turn on File History.
  • Restore individual files from File History.
  • Use OneDrive for online backup.
  • Restore individual files from OneDrive’s history.

Alternatively, use EaseUS Todo to make disk images and rescue media.

1. Make an image

Start by making an image backup of your computer. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what to do with it; that’ll come later. Creating an image of your computer gives you a known point to which you can always return should anything go wrong in the future.

Creating a Backup Image Using Windows’ Built-in Backup walks through the steps to create a complete image backup of your machine on an external hard drive using what Windows 10 calls the “Windows 7” backup and restore tool.

2. Make a recovery disk

Next, I recommend you make a Windows recovery drive. This is a disk (a DVD or USB thumb drive) from which you would boot your machine in order to restore the image you created in the first step. The Windows recovery disk includes additional tools to examine and possibly repair your system, as well as the ability to reinstall Windows from scratch if needed.

Create a Windows Recovery Drive illustrates the process of creating a recovery drive. You may also want to review the article How Do I Boot from CD/DVD/USB in Windows 8 & 10? (which also applies to Windows 11) and test to make sure you can boot successfully from the recovery drive you’ve created.

3. Restoring an image

Restoring an image is the process of taking a backup image you’ve previously created and putting it back on your computer’s hard drive (which erases anything currently on that hard drive). An image restore is what you would do after replacing a faulty hard drive with a new, empty one.

Restoring an Image Backup Using Windows Built-In Backup uses the image we took in step 1 and the recovery drive created in step 2 to demonstrate the process of restoring that image to your computer.

4. Restoring files from an image

I rely on image backups primarily because there’s no question about what’s in them: everything. But sometimes you don’t want to restore everything; you just want a single file, folder, or collection. Microsoft doesn’t make it obvious, but you can do that from a backup image you create using the Windows backup tool.

Restore Individual Files from a Windows Image Backup shows you how.

5. Set up File History

In addition to image backups, we can utilize more “in the background” backups in the form of File History. File History sets aside some amount of space on your hard disk (ideally an external hard disk, and possibly the same one containing your backup images) to which it writes copies of your data files each time they change. Using File History, you can recover a file as it was an hour ago, a week ago, or sometime in between, depending on how often files change and how much space you’ve set aside for backups.

Enable File History in Windows tells you how to set it all up.

6. Restore a file using File History

After you’ve had File History running for a while, you’ll surely encounter a point where you want to recover a file that has been backed up.

Learn to browse what’s been backed up, locate the file or files you want, and restore them in Restoring Files with File History.

7. Use OneDrive for backing up

Backing up to a completely different physical location — “offsite” backup — has never been easier since the advent of cloud storage and synchronization tools like OneDrive.

Using OneDrive for Nearly Continuous Backup not only shows you how to set up and configure OneDrive itself, but also discusses a couple of simple changes to your workflow that result in almost continuous cloud backup of all your work in progress.

8. Restore a file from OneDrive history

Just like File History, the day will come when you need to recover a file that’s been backed up to the cloud.

Recover Deleted Files in OneDrive points out that OneDrive has a Recycle Bin from which you can recover deleted files. As a bonus, Recovering from Ransomware with an Online Backup discusses how it can even save you from ransomware.

Used together, these eight steps and three tools (image backups, File History, and OneDrive) can provide an adequate level of backup for the average user. Best of all, you already have them in Windows.

For now.

Apparently, as of some time in 2020 (or even earlier) Microsoft decided to pull the plug on the “Windows 7 Backup and Restore” tool. At the least, it has been “deprecated” and will likely be removed in a future Windows update. The official word from Microsoft is that you should use third-party utilities instead.

The following bonus four steps do exactly that: show you how to perform steps 1 through 4 above using the free edition of EaseUS Todo instead of Windows 7 Backup and Restore.

9. Make an image using EaseUS Todo

Creating a Backup Image Using EaseUS Todo Free illustrates how to create an image backup of your system to your external hard disk.

10. Make a recovery disk for EaseUS Todo

Creating an EaseUS Todo Emergency Disk displays the process of creating a recovery disk — what EaseUS calls an “emergency disk” — that can be used to restore an EaseUS Todo image. It won’t have the additional tools the Windows recovery disk created in Step 2 had, so you may want both, but you’ll need an EaseUS emergency disk to be able to restore images created by EaseUS Todo.

11. Restore an image using EaseUS Todo

Restoring an Image Using EaseUS Todo tells how to restore a backup image created by EaseUS Todo to your hard disk, replacing everything on it.

12. Restore an individual file from an image using EaseUS Todo

Restoring a File from an EaseUS Todo Image Backup. EaseUS Todo makes restoring individual files and folders from an image backup easy.

Do this

Backing up is important. I say it so often because it’s so true.

I also say it because I see so much data loss and accompanying heartbreak when people don’t realize just how important it is until it’s too late.

Use the steps above to make sure you’re appropriately backed up and never suffer data loss again.

Podcast audio


42 comments on “How to Back Up Windows 10 (& 11)”

  1. I use BackUp4All to make non-compressed mirror backups on two separate external hard drives, in addition to other steps you list and do not list. Over the years I have recovered from two hard drive failures that way. BackUp4all has been faithful for many years.

  2. Since I have Office 365, I have a TB of OneDrive storage included. I have all of my personal files in my OneDrive folder. I also do daily incremental or differential backups (depending on which computer I’m using). Is there much advantage of using File History in that case?

    • It’s marginal, I would think. The advantage might be an easier recovery interface in which to browse old versions? And it would be faster as well, not having to go across the ‘net.

  3. Lots of so called ‘free’ tools are only free for noncommercial use. Thats a problem for folks who want to back up their work machine and don’t have their own expense account.

    • Hopefully, a business would have enough to invest in a tool for commercial use. I moved my daughter’s company’s files to a paid for Dropbox account folder. I set it up as the simplest method of network management. Everyone who works in the office has access to all the files, and the files are synchronized on everyone’s computers for a backup. This won’t work for a larger company because this kind of networking doesn’t prevent 2 people from working on the same file at the same time, but it works fine for the 5 people who work with those files.
      In a case like that it’s essential to back up, because if one person deletes a file on their computer, it will be removed from Dropbox and all the computers using that account. Of course, being a regular reader of Ask Leo!, I’m sure you have a good backup system in place :-).

  4. My computer uses Microsoft BitLocker drive encryption. How does this affect doing backups/restores/… with EaseUS ToDo, if at all?

    • In general it does not. Since your entire disk appears unencrypted for you to be able to use it, the backups just work (and are not encrypted, unless you add that as part of the backup scheme you use.)

    • To quote the very first article linked to here:

      It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of the image backup software built into Windows. To my thinking, it’s too obscure, too inflexible, and doesn’t do a good job about telling you what’s going on.

      It does, however, have a couple of very strong positive attributes: it’s free and already on your machine.

      And it’ll do what I consider to be the bare minimum.

  5. I am a huge fan of using the builtin IMAGE backup and then daily Windows 7 style FILE backups.

    I have recovered from failed drives, failed updates, and restored to a new drive (lately an SSD) all with just these.

    Because of that, I trust these tools.

    For really critical systems, have a scheduled script that runs once a week and:

    1. deletes last weeks PREVIOUS image backup
    2. renames last weeks IMAGE backup to PREVIOUS
    3. creates a new IMAGE backup

    This gives me two image backups from which to start.

    For really really critical systems I create IMAGE backup on more than one drive and/or copy the backup to another computer.

    I have also created an image backup across the network but I find the 2 TB external USB 3 drives just about perfect for this.

    Note that external drives larger than 2 TB are GPT formatted and are not seen when the recovery or repair disk is booted.
    This scared me to death once until I realized I could copy the needed image backup to a 2 TB drive.

    One other point: While creating a repair optical disk works (if you have a working optical drive!) I found out I could go to the Window Media Creation site and create a bootable Windows 10 installer thumb drive. That drive can also be used to restore an image.

    • Do be prepared, though: Microsoft has stated its intention to remove the included “Windows 7 Backup” functionality from a future update to Windows 10.

    • I am afraid those backup tools on windows do not work. I did exactly as described here and it went thru the motions with the moving stripes etc. and after a few seconds came back with ‘We can’t create the recovery drive. A problem occurred while creating the recovery drive.’

  6. The very fact of them naming it “Windows 7 Backup” seems to imply that.

    I wonder if they will remove the ability to CREATE those backups but (at least for some time) provide an ability to RESTORE from them.

    I also presume that IMAGE backup will not go away.

    For now, this works very well for me, has “saved my bacon” more than once, and obviates the use of third-party backup software.

    I’ve had horrible luck in the past with various backup programs. Symantec Backup Exe holds a high position on my dishonor roll. I remember the horror of finding that my QIC cartridge tape backups were not usable when I desperately needed them (a long time ago – in the ’80s). This was when I learned the hard lesson that if you have not verified your ability to restore, you do not have backups!

    The know-it-all former CTO of the main company I work now with was enamored of Bacula and had it set up on all his systems. He has now at least TWICE lost significant data including mailboxes on his primary email server. Impressive, eh?

    At the moment I’m concerned that our current main developer is a bit too reliant for my tastes on GitHub not losing data. I make sure that I have copies of our repositories on a regular basis.

    • When Windows 7 Backup goes away the ability to create an image backup from within Windows will go away — until you install a third party tool like Macrium Reflect, EaseUS Todo, or others. I would not expect the restore ability to be preserved either, but I could be wrong.

    • I am afraid create system image does NOT work either in addition to the windows built in recovery drive option which did not work either as i commented below. The error for Create system image is ‘ this drive cannot be used to store a system image because it is not formatted with NTFS whatever that strange meaningless abbreviation means. Anyway it rules that out and no usb drives are formatted with NTFs and can’t be reformatted to that ridiculous non-sense in any event !

    • Leo’s been recommending Macrium Reflect and EaseUS Todo for a long time now. Both have free and paid versions. I use EaseUS because it does incremental backups in the free version. I consider that essential to a good backup regime. If you search Ask Leo!, you’ll see lots of articles on both.

    • 2022 update. We now can only recommend the free version of EaseUS Todo as the free version of Macrium Reflect is soon to be unsupported. I still use the paid version of Macrium Reflect on my main computer and the free version of EaseUS Todo on the others.

  7. Leo:
    I have a new Acer laptop. I use Reflect for my backups. But I want to have a USB bootable recovery drive.
    Acer mentioned the MSFT Media Creator Tool. That looks excellent, but so does the method in your article. Is there a reason to choose one over the other?


  8. An important point that it seems is missing from these discussions is the lack of the complete list of icons on the “Desktop” when restoring an image from the backed up image, which is suposed to be 100% identical.
    What I found is that the Users\username\desktop folder BEFORE BACKUP is not the same as in the image!
    I tried to circumvent that by copying the folder C:\Users\Username\Desktop SEPARATELY somewhere and then copy from it to the Restored version.
    BUT I found another problem…the “Virtua Machine I had before the Backup is not working again after the Restore. On two different laptops, I used two different Virtual Machine software.

    Any comment or advice on that? Specially from Leo’s team?

    • Which program are you using to back up? I’ve backed up and restored from Macrium Reflect and EaseUS Todo and the restored images were identical to the original including the desktop icons. If you are using the built-in Windows backup, I have no experience with that. I’ve never fully trusted it. If Windows’ built-in backup is what you are using, that’s one more reason I wouldn’t use or recommend it.

  9. Hello Leo,
    I Notice you don’t mention macrium in the backup article,
    have you gone off them?
    Mike lovell

  10. I am using Todo Backup Home, with modest success. Some bugs, and other problems, but …
    The question to which I can only find vague answer to: Am I *over* (or under) backing up. Hard drive is three partitions (C:, D:, E:, with C: being the system, of course). I do nightly incremental file backups, which is probably the most critical. Once a month I do a full file backup, and a partition backup of D and E, and every couple of months I do a System backup of C.

    But there are also “unnamed” partitions and the “recovery” partition that Windows 10 sets up. Further, I am suspicious that the “System” backup is not really catching everything on the C: partition (Outlook files, desktop settings, etc.). I’ve read the Easeus manuals and articles, but see no clear resolution. So … am I overly paranoid? Not paranoid enough? Most importantly, do I have everything I need (other than a recovery USB stick) to rebuild from a smoking crater of a past hard drive? Thanks…

    • When I have Todo (or Macrium reflect) back up, I have it back up disks, not partitions. The result is that all partitions on the disk — used or not, named or not, needed or not, are backed up. I then do incrementals on top of that, pretty much as you do: monthly full, daily incremental. That and a rescue disk should be enough to recover.

  11. How much memory do I need on USB drive for boot disc and image back up disc? I have 512 GB SSD drive on an Acer laptop. Thank you

    • It’s not memory you need on a USB drive, it’s space. (Sorry, but memory and disk space are two different thing. Smile ) More here: What’s the Difference Between Memory and Hard Disk Space?

      For a boot disk I think anything 8GB or over, but it depends on exactly HOW you’re creating the boot disk. For image backups I recommend at least twice the size of the data you’re backing up. So if your 512GB drive has 100GB in use, then I would recommend 200GB at least, to handle more than one image.

      • What Leo is recommending here is the absolute bare minimum. For image backups, I’d say a minimum of 1TB would be reasonable. My smallest external drive is 3TB. Any drive smaller than that sits in a drawer as an archival backp in case I need something I deleted years ago. I’ve used those only a couple of times but I was glad I had them.

  12. I need to back up my ssd c drive onto my 4TB data drive before a reinstall as four MS guided updates have left me stuck in Safe Mode. Might as well be Win 98. If I backup C drive on to Data drive, will I be able to use my program files x64 and x86 to save losing my apps after reinstall?

    • You can restore your OS, programs, data and settings from the backup with a full restore. You can’t reinstall programs from a backup without restoring the entire image. You can get all the data files from the backup drive..

  13. Every time I havmade a image backup,or recovery disk, and try to access it or get it to run it just’s sits there and does nothing. Even making sure I’m in administrative mode.

    It has gotten so frustrating trying to use many of these programs and accounts I wonder why I bother.

    • I use Macrium Reflect Free to generate my back up images. I make a full system image on the 1st day of each month, and a differential image daily. I retain two full monthly images and thirty differential images. Using this strategy, I can restore my system to the state it was in on any of the previous thirty days.

      If I double-click an image file, I get a pop-up dialog asking which partition I want to browse. After selecting the partition(s) I want to browse through, and clicking the O.K. button, File Explorer displays the selected partitions as separate drives, so I can navigate through the file system and access/copy any files I need to recover/view, etc.

      If you use something else to back up your system, check the utilities documentation to learn how to retrieve previous versions of files, or if that functionality is available. If not, I suggest you check out Macrium Reflect or EaseUS Todo. I know for a fact that Macrium Reflect has that functionality and others who use EaseUS Todo say that it does too.

      I hope this helps,


  14. Related to backups, my C: drive died. Without an image, I installed Win 11 and all I had backed up. My problem and greater need was WordPerfect x9. I had bought it from a Corel partner online, used it for years, and had the install exe. I installed it and checked with Corel. I had registered it with them. The install completed, then asked for an activation code. That, and all the seller’s info, was on a huge CLIPMATE file, which was not in my backups. Corel took some time before refusing to give me a code for my legit x9. They said the s/n wasn’t issued by them. I pressed for a solution. They said to upgrade to the current version.
    Since my copy is legal, is there a way to activate it without Corel’s help?

  15. Yes. I tried. I couldn’t find them on ebay so I opened an incident with them and had 2 long chats. They found him, but would not give me his contact info. I asked them to ask him to contact me — haven’t heard anything in 2 months. I found another retailer selling x9 and begged for a code. They refused too.


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