How Do I Back Up My Computer?

How do I “back up” my computer? I am sure my question is ridiculous to you, but I honestly have no clue what I should be doing.

Your question isn’t ridiculous at all. In fact, I’m certain it’s one reason so many people don’t back up: they simply don’t know how.

For something as critically important as backing up, that’s more than a little scary. I hear from people who lose important, valuable information all the time. Whether it’s from malware, hardware failure, account hacks, or other disasters, a backup can easily prevent such loss.

First, let’s look at what it means to back up a computer, and what your options are. Then, I’ll share some guidelines and tell you what I recommend for typical users.

Read moreHow Do I Back Up My Computer?

What Is Your Most Trusted Method of Backing Up?

I love how this question is phrased, because it made me examine backing up — a topic I’ve written about frequently — in a completely different way. Instead of looking at just the tools and techniques, it made me consider trust.

In so many ways, all the tools and techniques are secondary to your ability to trust a backup. And trust itself can mean several different things.

Spoiler: I don’t trust any single method completely. Instead, I trust several methods a lot.

Read moreWhat Is Your Most Trusted Method of Backing Up?

How To Back Up Windows 10

I’m sure you’re aware by now that I’m a huge fan of backing up.

Microsoft Windows includes several tools that, used together, can provide a backup strategy to protect you from most things 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.

Read moreHow To Back Up Windows 10

The First Eight Things to Do with Your New Computer

Congratulations! You got a new computer!

Of course you want to jump right in and start using it right now, but if you can hold on a bit, there are a few tasks you might want to do first. When all heck breaks loose later and the machine dies, the software crashes, or you get a massive malware infection, the steps you take now can save you lots of time and grief later.

Every day, people lose data, precious memories, and valuable time because they didn’t take a few simple steps to prepare.

And by far the best time to prepare is at the very beginning.

Read moreThe First Eight Things to Do with Your New Computer

How Should I Back Up My Computer Before an Operating System Upgrade or Reinstall?

I’m about to upgrade my operating system to Windows 10. How do I protect myself if something goes wrong?
I’m about to reinstall Windows. How do I start?

Simple: back up first.

And by that, I mean take a complete system image backup of your entire computer before you begin the update or reinstallation process.

I’ll explain what that is and how it protects you from disaster.

Read moreHow Should I Back Up My Computer Before an Operating System Upgrade or Reinstall?

What about Windows 10 backup?

Windows 10 backup appears to offer two options: ‘File History’ and ‘Backup and Restore (Windows 7)’. Since upgrading to Windows 10, I have continued to back up using the ‘Backup and Restore (Windows 7)’ option, mainly because I have set up it up to take a system image as well as copy user files, and it doesn’t look as though that is offered with the ‘File History’ option. However the reference to Windows 7 bothers me – am I really backing up in an appropriate way for a Windows 10 system? I would appreciate your advice on this.

As I wrote in my initial reactions to Windows 10 backup, its options disappoint me.

In fact, built-in Windows backup continues a history of disappointment. Like Windows 7 and 8 before it, Windows 10 backup is at best only “acceptable”, meaning it has enough functionality to be better than nothing at all. Sadly, even that represents an improvement over previous versions of Windows.

And, no, I don’t consider “better than nothing” to be a ringing endorsement.

Read moreWhat about Windows 10 backup?

How Can I Tell If My Computer Can Run Windows 10?

Can my computer run Windows 10?

That’s actually a very good question. It’d be great to know if your computer can run Windows 10 before installing, right?

What’s frustrating is that even when the answer appears to be “yes”, it may still be “no” – which means at best, all I can say is … “maybe”.

Microsoft provides criteria to determine whether or not your computer can run Windows 10. The problem is that several months after its release, it’s clear that that those criteria aren’t enough. Even after supposedly meeting the requirements for Windows 10, some upgraded machines still run into trouble.

I’ll review the issues I’ve heard about, and make some recommendations as to what you should do.

Read moreHow Can I Tell If My Computer Can Run Windows 10?

Restoring an Image Backup from One Computer to Another

If I want to restore an image backup from a previous computer, complete with its operating system, onto another computer with a different operating system, will the operating system on the backup be allowed to install and override the operating system on the other computer? If so, how do I get around this?

It’s not a question of “allowing”.

Restoring a full image backup will completely overwrite everything that exists on the hard disk, replacing whatever was there before, no matter what it was. The previous operating system, along with everything else on the hard disk, will be overwritten and replaced with the contents of the image backup.

The real question is: will the result work?

Most of time, the answer is no.

Read moreRestoring an Image Backup from One Computer to Another

Are backup image files more fragile than just having copies of all the individual files?


I’ve been suffering from some minor disk corruption over the past couple of years. I ran every test I could think of. Eventually it turned out all four sticks of RAM, when used together, caused data corruption, but any two worked fine. I still can’t figure that out, but anyway, it’s replaced now and works fine.

However I now have some corrupt files, including some Macrium reflect disk images. Fortunately even if the backup is corrupt you can still browse it to get individual files out, but you can’t restore the whole backup.

So my concern is that if you have one huge backup image (which for me could be 2TB+) or even one logical backup file split into say 1GB chunks it’s relatively easily to corrupt that single file/backup set. If each file (or folder, or some subset) is backed up individually corruption is likely to take out a small subset of your backups, not the whole backup.

Interested to hear your thoughts on this, and if you know any programs that can do something along these lines.

Actually I have several thoughts, but I’ll answer your last question first: no, I’m not aware of a backup program that works as you’ve outlined.

Your line of reasoning isn’t at all new; I get comments similar to this relatively often. Nor is the concept limited to just backups, believe it or not.

There are reasons individual file backups can be useful.  However, while I could be wrong, I don’t think the solution you’re proposing actually solves the problem you think it does.

Read moreAre backup image files more fragile than just having copies of all the individual files?

Do You Back Up?

This past month I’ve focused a little more specifically on backups. Not that every month isn’t “backup month” here at Ask Leo!, but at the risk of over-saturating you with backup-related information, I elected to try and run with a little bit of a theme.

Today, I want to explain why.

I’ve been running a little survey, and the results are not encouraging.

Read moreDo You Back Up?

How Do I Create a New Machine Image?

I have a new machine, but I wasn’t able to get true installation media, only recovery disks. I’ve heard you say that instead, I should make a backup image of my new machine as soon as I possibly can, so that I always have that to fall back on if I need to start over. Great. But, how do I create a new machine image?

Installation media – true installation media – appears to be a thing of the past.

It used to be that you would get an actual CD or DVD of the operating system with each new machine. Then it became an extra-cost option. Then it became an on-request-only option.

Now it appears to no longer be an option at all – at least not when you purchase your machine.

The alternative, then, is to create a new machine image as soon as you get your machine.

I’ll show you how.

Read moreHow Do I Create a New Machine Image?

How I Deal With Inexplicable Change

Something I’ve said for a long time is that your approach to change – particularly change that’s out of your control – is one of the biggest factors that will determine just how successful you are at using technology. The better you can handle change, the happier you’ll be. I’m absolutely convinced of it.

Note that I’m not saying you need to like all change. Not all change is good.

I’m currently working on my next book, Saved! Backing Up with Windows 8 Backup, and I’m running into some changes that are so incomprehensible it’s making me think “WTH Microsoft?!”

Let me explain how I avoid ulcers in this ever-changing world of technology.

Read moreHow I Deal With Inexplicable Change

Can I just keep making incremental backups after I’ve made a full image backup?

Leo, I’m using a shareware backup utility called AISL backup, which seems similar to Macrium Reflect that you recommend. Here’s the question. I made a disk image backup and every day I add an incremental backup. I’ve been doing this for about a year and so now have 300 plus files in the backup. Can I keep doing this? Or is it bad practice? I notice that somewhere you can recommended a full image backup once a week and an incremental in-between.

Nope, it’s not practical and to be blunt, it’s downright dangerous.

Let me explain why that is and what I recommend you do instead.

Read moreCan I just keep making incremental backups after I’ve made a full image backup?

How do I restore my backup to a new machine?


My wife’s PC, which was running Vista, died. Fortunately, we have a backup hard drive. We’re replacing our old computer with a new machine running Windows 7. Can we do a complete restore using the new machine? Or will that overwrite Windows 7 as the operating system? How do we restore all of her content including the applications that were on the old machine? Do we just copy folders? Sorry, but I’m a Mac guy and I know very little about PCs.

There are several approaches to restoring what you have from a backup. Unfortunately, when you’re restoring to a new machine,  things aren’t nearly as clean as you might want them to be.

Read moreHow do I restore my backup to a new machine?

Is cloning to a second internal drive a viable backup strategy?

Leo, I’ve reformatted my PC several times in the past which is a real pain. Since then, I’ve done things a little different. Now, I just use another internal hard drive hooked up via USB adapter to clone my present hard drive. It takes less than an hour to do so and I do this every six months using flash drives in-between to save anything new. It seems to work well for me. Can you think of problems that may occur from doing this sort of backup?

Backing up puts you ahead of the game. You’re doing more than probably half of the people out there today.

Cloning your hard drive is a reasonable solution, but personally, I’m not comfortable with it because you can run into a few “gotchas” every now and then.

Read moreIs cloning to a second internal drive a viable backup strategy?

Can I Just Run Macrium and Do a Restore?

I have one technical question before I try running a backup using Macrium, the free version. Would it be possible to just open this program and go to restore and then run a previous image backup into the PC? Would this restore action, without first reformatting the C: drive, overwrite everything on the hard drive and practically set up the PC the way it was on that backup? The reason for this maneuver is to preserve all kinds of programs obtained (mostly free) and without the possibility of installing them individually again and having them activated again?

To start with, I’m a little concerned about your question. I suspect that some of your assumptions about creating and using an image backup may not be entirely correct.

Let’s start with something that might sound obvious, but I have to be super clear about it.

To restore a back up, you must already have made a backup of your machine. In your case, I assume that you already downloaded Macrium’s free version, installed it, and took a full image backup of your machine.

Now, if that’s the case, what you want to do is possible, if you restore in a certain way.

Read moreCan I Just Run Macrium and Do a Restore?

Can I create rescue disks for any point in time?

Can I create rescue disks for any point in time? If there’s a problem, I don’t want to restore to the factory settings at the beginning. I want to restore to a recent time when I created rescue disks (if this is possible). I’d like to do this weekly so I don’t lose the most recent settings, program, files, etc.

Absolutely. You can do this, but I wouldn’t call them “rescue discs.”

What you’re talking about is something I’ve long recommended: performing an image backup.

Read moreCan I create rescue disks for any point in time?

Do I need to have a separate data backup if I backup my system regularly?

I’m evaluating a free version of Macrium Reflect. If I make a disk image, it contains everything that I need to restore my Windows XP and also my data such as documents and settings, etc. Now if I do incremental backups to this full disk backup, it backs up my data and the OS files. Given that, why do I need to have a separate full backup of my data only and then make differential backups of the data only? Is not all of that covered in the system backup?

It sounds like there’s some confusion here about the types of backups and when you may want to use them.

No, you don’t necessarily have to do an additional backup of your data. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re working on and what you can withstand to lose.

Read moreDo I need to have a separate data backup if I backup my system regularly?

Can I Back Up Files to Save Space?

Is it OK to backup files on Windows XP to free more space?

Well, the answer is yes, but your question raises a number of very important issues about backing up and deleting files that I want to address.

If you’re using your backup program as a glorified copy program, that’s OK, but I wouldn’t call it backing up. Remember the golden rule: if there’s only one copy of something, it’s not backed up.

Read moreCan I Back Up Files to Save Space?

What good are image backups if I can’t restore an old backup to my new machine?

I’m good little backup-er. I follow all of your instructions and happily use Macrium for regular image and file folder backups. Recently, the video system on my aging PC died and I decided to buy a new PC. I thought I could easily restore the image backup to my new PC, thereby saving me hours of reinstalling my software. But no, I can only restore an image to the same sort of hard disk on the same PC. What a waste! Surely, most people will want to replace their whole PC when they have a failure that requires them to think about restoring an image. How many people, and in what circumstances, find an image backup has been a lifesaver?

I understand your frustration, but restoring an old backup on to a brand new machine is not exactly what image backups are for.

And to be really honest, it’s not why you back up.

An image backup includes settings about your hardware, the configuration that Windows went through, and other information. When you place the image backup on a new machine, those settings in the image backup no longer apply. The backup can still be useful, but not for what you’re trying to do.

So, when is an image backup useful? Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

Read moreWhat good are image backups if I can’t restore an old backup to my new machine?

What’s the Difference Between an Image Backup and a Files and Folder Backup?


Recently, I bought a one terabyte external hard drive and Macrium Reflect backup software as you recommended. But now I’m very much confused about two features of it… and that is “Create Backup Image Wizard” and “Backup Files and Folder Wizard”. What is the difference between the two? What are the respective purposes? I’ve Googled about this and even searched on your site, but I couldn’t figure it out, so I finally decided to write you my first

In this excerpt from Answercast #48, I look at the difference between a full image backup of a hard drive and selectively backing up files and folders.

Read moreWhat’s the Difference Between an Image Backup and a Files and Folder Backup?