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.
One of the common questions I get after talking about image backups is “Great – how do I make one?”
There are many ways and tools with which to make image backups. Detailed instructions will vary, of course, depending on exactly which tool you want to use.
In the brief video linked above, I’m going to show you the steps to create an image backup using Macrium Reflect’s free edition (there’s a link to the transcript of the video at the end of this post). This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive how-to, but rather a very quick demonstration of just how easy it can be to create an image backup. As brief and simple as it is, it’s possible that this may be all you need to create your own backup image.
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.
On your recommendation I recently purchased an external drive to use as a place to put my backups. I was surprised to find that it came with free backup software included. Why wouldn’t I just use that instead of downloading or even purchasing something else?
I get this question a lot, so you’re most certainly not alone in wondering.
Here’s my take on the situation: I don’t know what free backup software came with your drive.
I have a mental ‘block’ on backing up which unnerves my approach to it. I have managed one full backup (32gb) on an external hard drive. I have just read your article on maintenance but do not understand what is meant by “incremental backup”. Does it simply ‘update’ or overwrite the existing backup or does it create something else that only contains whatever is new since the previous backup? I think the latter is what I would prefer.
What you prefer is, indeed, what it is.
There are actually typically three different types of backups: full, incremental, and differential. Understanding which is which, and how they should be used is pretty important to making sure you’re appropriately backed up, while not simultaneously eating up disk space at an exorbitant rate.
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.
Leo, first, thanks for all I’ve learned from your newsletter and your books. A couple of weeks ago I bought Saved! Backing Up With Macrium Reflectand began learning how to use Macrium Reflect. I registered the book and downloaded the pdf version. A few days ago, I downloaded and installed on my Windows 7 laptop the trial version, version 5.2. Now that I’ve succeeded in creating the rescue CD and booting from it and creating several daily scheduled full backups on a 1 TB external drive, I decided to purchase it.
But when I went to the website to buy a personal version for home use, I found that there are two options. A standard version 5 or a professional version 5. The web page explains that the professional license offers the features of the standard license plus “Dynamic disk support” and “Restore images to new hardware using Macrium ReDeploy”. I think I understand why Macrium Redeploy might be very helpful sometime in the future but dynamic disk support begs a few questions. What is a dynamic disk? Does my Windows 7 laptop have a dynamic disk? What is dynamic disk support? Does a home user, like me, need dynamic disk support for a Windows 7 laptop?
It seems like a disk would be a really simple thing. You put some data on it, add a little organization around it to find that data and your done. Right?
Dynamic disks are a little more complex, but the good news here is that most folks really don’t need to worry about dynamic disks. But they are kind of interesting, and I’ll go into some detail on the different things they can do.
Is Macrium Reflect superior to the disk imaging utility included with a 32-bit version of Windows 7? And if so, in what regard?
To begin with, I wouldn’t call Windows 7’s backup program a disk imaging program exactly. Yes, it can create what we would call an image backup. But the term “disk imaging utility” really implies, to me, a lot more functionality than the Windows 7 backup program actually has.
While the Windows 7 backup program is perhaps the first utility built into Windows that meets what I consider the bare minimum necessary for a backup program, I definitely prefer solutions like Reflect.
Leo, I followed your advice and have been doing system backups with Macrium Reflect in Windows XP. My current 8-year-old Dell Desktop computer is showing signs of failing and I will probably have to replace it soon. Maybe concurrently with the April loss of support of Windows XP. Can the XP backup be used on the Windows 8 computer?
First of all, good on you for backing up. Like I’ve told many people, that puts you ahead of something like 90% of the people out there, so that’s fantastic. I love to see people using backup tools and backing up regularly.
Now to the question of whether you can use your Windows XP backup on Windows 8.
Kind of. Maybe. It depends on how you expect to use it.
I’m planning on upgrading my Windows PC to Windows 7 in April when Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP but I’d like to keep XP Pro on my laptop, well, for reasons that are just too long to go into in an email. I’ll continue to be using Malwarebytes and Super anti-spyware on my laptop along with McAfee full security center and firewall for protection, and I only use the laptop when my PC isn’t working which is infrequent.
Here’s my question: Will Macrium Reflect free version, which I’m currently using on both my PC and laptop for imaging purposes still work with my laptop after Microsoft discontinues support for Windows XP or do you think Macrium will discontinue the use of it on Windows XP?
The short answer here is that I honestly don’t know. However, I do want to speculate a little bit because this is a really important issue for XP users everywhere, and it applies to so much more than Macrium Reflect.
Hi, Leo. Will autorun programs be prevented from running if I lock my computer so that it can only be opened with a password? Specifically, will Macrium’s scheduled backups be prevented from running if I lock my computer?
Macrium will run just fine. As for any autorun programs,… well, it depends.
My last hard drive yesterday gave me a blue screen of death while I was online. After that, my computer wouldn’t even recognize that the hard drive was plugged in. The thing was about 2 ½ years old and it was a replacement for the original drive that was making noises, but still works. This was my first total failure before I could get a complete backup. I have backups, but they were a week or two old. What would cause this if you had to guess? Like a sector zero problem? Shouldn’t I have a gotten a read failure (the drive shows up in the BIOS)? Or a grinding noise? I’m not sure, but I did not hear the thing spin anymore. I don’t know what the symptoms of a sector zero failure are. I’ve never experienced it. Of course, that would leave circuit board failure (with unknown symptoms.) The old drive was a PATA. The replacement is SATA. I’ve tried several PATA cables and got the same results.
Ultimately, a drive can fail in so many ways that it’s not at all surprising that you didn’t get any warning – other than the failure itself.
It sounds like you’re expecting symptoms associated with a failure. While some do have signs (and I’ll go through a few that indicate that your hard drive is failing), you don’t ever want to rely on these absolutely.
I run Windows XP mode, which is Windows virtual PC on my Windows 7 Pro PC. Now I also use Macrium Reflect to backup Windows 7. Does restoring the Macrium image also restore the Windows XP mode? Or do I have to use an image program in XP mode to create an image and then restore that image in XP?
First, let me congratulate you for backing up. Understand that having a backup, doing it regularly, and even being able to ask this question puts you miles ahead of all the other people who run into problems when they fail to backup their computer.
As for your question, the short answer is you don’t need to do anything extra.
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.
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.
Is there a way to automate the process of taking full backups and then incremental backups using Macrium Reflect and automatically thinning the backups out over time? I’m seeking something that works like Time Machine does on OSX (but with incrementals less frequently than hours.) If there’s a way to set this up with Reflect, it certainly isn’t evident looking at the software.
I agree, disk management settings are not evident when looking at the software. But it absolutely is possible to manage the number of backups kept to disk – and to manage it automatically. That’s the way I have it set up on my machine.
Macrium Reflect can be scheduled to do full backups, followed by incremental backups every night. Combine that with what I would call “auto clean,” and you have your setting.
To sort it all out we need to first think about how incremental backups work, and then find the settings.
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.
Hi Leo, I’ve been using the free Macrium Reflect program to backup my Windows XP computer. However, I’m finding that when I try to do an image or a clone backup, I’m prompted each time to update the software. This requires making a new rescue disc each and every time, which can be fairly time consuming as I’m using Macrium Reflect to backup up my desktop PC and my laptop, too. I’m concerned that if I don’t make a rescue disc each time the software asks me to update (which is every time I open it), my backups won’t work and I’ll be “you know what” out of luck! Can you advise?
The short answer is you don’t need to make the rescue media every time you backup.
I’m kind of surprised that Macrium is updating itself that frequently. It’s OK, but the important thing is that you are not required to make a new rescue media every time you back up or update the software.
I recently posted a recommendation for a specific backup program, but it got me to thinking about backing up in general.
It’s a common topic here on Ask Leo! for a good reason. Not a day goes by that I don’t see somebody suffering for lack of a backup. Not a day goes by that I don’t see somebody who could have avoided a serious problem simply by having taken a backup.
I consider backing up to be one of the fundamental necessities for anyone who uses a computer.
As anyone with even a little experience will tell you, you will lose something important someday without a backup; it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. And someone with more than a little experience will also be able to share horror stories of how and when they learned this important lesson.
In my opinion, that’s why it’s critical that you backup your computer and data regularly. As I’ve said repeatedly, if your data is in only one place, it’s not backed up.
Over the years, I’ve developed a set of criteria – a set of features and characteristics – that I want out of a backup program before I recommend it.