Make flaw­less back­ups

Pro­tect your pre­cious data from any dis­as­ter with our es­sen­tial ad­vice

Windows Help & Advice - - WINDOWS HELP & ADVICE -

The Au­tumn Cre­ators Up­date is com­ing! Here’s how to backup your es­sen­tial files

Back­ups may not be the most glam­orous of sub­jects, but they’re worth pay­ing at­ten­tion to. Think about what your data is worth. Some files are more valu­able than oth­ers – it could be a mat­ter of the time taken to cre­ate a doc­u­ment, while other files, such as photos hold sen­ti­men­tal worth.

Most peo­ple know the im­por­tance of back­ing up, but can you be sure your backup plan is up to scratch? Many peo­ple keep one backup copy of their files, but what hap­pens if it is de­stroyed along with the orig­i­nal? See­ing as most peo­ple keep their backup drive in the same lo­ca­tion as their PC, that’s not a fan­ci­ful no­tion.

We’ll help you cre­ate a multi-lay­ered backup of your data, en­sur­ing it’s stored in at least two sep­a­rate lo­ca­tions, and prefer­ably more. We’ll re­veal the best tools to use – both Win­dows’ own backup tools, as well as great third­party tools. We’ll also look at back­ing up your en­tire sys­tem drive, so if you run into prob­lems, you can roll back to a work­ing Win­dows in­stal­la­tion with­out hav­ing to re­in­stall.

These days, keep­ing at least one backup in a re­mote lo­ca­tion usu­ally means tak­ing ad­van­tage of cloud­based ser­vices, such as Drop­box or Mi­crosoft’s OneDrive. There are many po­ten­tial is­sues with re­ly­ing on third par­ties, whether it’s se­cu­rity, con­stantly chang­ing pric­ing plans, or what hap­pens to your data if the com­pany ceases trad­ing. If these are deal­break­ers, we’ll look into alternatives, from shar­ing backup space with fam­ily mem­bers to set­ting up your own en­crypted cloud stor­age, where you have no wor­ries about sub­scrip­tions.

We’ll also make sure you know what to do should dis­as­ter strike and you need to re­store a copy of your data.

You may al­ready have a ba­sic backup plan in place – Win­dows 10 makes this easy by of­fer­ing you two routes, in­clud­ing both ‘Backup and Re­store’ from Win­dows 7, and File His­tory from Win­dows 8. They’re easy to ac­cess and set up – search the Start menu or Cor­tana for ‘backup’. Both fo­cus on pro­duc­ing back­ups of key doc­u­ments, photos and other data, and can back up to any drive that’s vis­i­ble to your PC, in­clud­ing net­work-at­tached stor­age.

Rule one of our backup strat­egy is to make use of mul­ti­ple backup lo­ca­tions (see ‘Se­lect your backup de­vice’, be­low-left). Nei­ther ‘File His­tory’ nor ‘Backup and Re­store’ al­low you to back up to al­ter­nate lo­ca­tions, but if you’re run­ning Win­dows 10, you can em­ploy both to­gether to get around this re­stric­tion. Con­fig­ure ‘File His­tory’ to back up to one lo­ca­tion – we rec­om­mend a drive phys­i­cally at­tached to your PC – and use ‘Backup and Re­store’ to back up to an­other drive, prefer­ably a shared folder on your net­work drive. File His­tory con­stantly mon­i­tors for changes and backs up as nec­es­sary, while you should sched­ule ‘Backup and Re­store’ to run weekly at a time that won’t in­ter­fere with PC use.

Sys­tem back­ups

Your data is taken care of, but what about Win­dows? If dis­as­ter strikes, you could find your­self spend­ing days get­ting your PC set up again – but if you take a full sys­tem backup (known as a ‘drive im­age’), you can have your PC up and run­ning again within an hour.

Win­dows of­fers to cre­ate a sys­tem im­age when you set up ‘Backup and Re­store’, but there are weak­nesses. First, each backup re­quires tens of gigabytes of space on your PC. Sec­ond, im­ages aren’t ver­i­fied when they’re cre­ated, so you’ve no way of know­ing if you can rely on them. And third, im­ages are only stored on a sin­gle drive.

Elim­i­nate all three weak­nesses by em­ploy­ing the ser­vices of our favourite drive-imag­ing tool, Macrium Re­flect. We’ve used it to back up (and res­cue) Win­dows count­less times over the past six years, and noth­ing comes close to it. Start with the pow­er­ful Free ver­sion at re­flect­free.asp, which solves the is­sue with space by us­ing dif­fer­en­tial im­ages that take up much less room by only

record­ing the changes made since the last backup was taken.

Launch Macrium Re­flect Free once in­stalled, and click ‘Cre­ate an im­age of the par­ti­tion(s) re­quired to backup and re­store Win­dows’. Next, set your des­ti­na­tion – a folder on your backup drive. You might want to change the file name to some­thing more eas­ily recog­nis­able, and take the time to click Ad­vanced Op­tions to se­lect Auto Ver­ify Im­age to en­sure your backup is checked for er­rors af­ter it’s been taken. Once done, pick a backup sched­ule – we rec­om­mended pair­ing one monthly full backup with weekly dif­fer­en­tial back­ups, or choos­ing the Dif­fer­en­tial Backup Set tem­plate for more fre­quent daily back­ups. Click ‘Next’ fol­lowed by Fin­ish.

In the spirit of data re­dun­dancy, you should then re­peat the process, cre­at­ing a sec­ond def­i­ni­tion rule point­ing to­ward your se­condary backup drive – speed things up by right-click­ing the rule you just cre­ated and choos­ing Du­pli­cate. Don’t for­get to cre­ate the res­cue me­dia (DVD or 4GB USB flash drive) when prompted by Macrium – this en­sures you’ll be able to re­store your sys­tem even if Win­dows won’t boot.

If you want more fea­tures – in­clud­ing in­cre­men­tal back­ups, and the abil­ity to back up files and fold­ers – up­grade to Macrium Re­flect Home Edi­tion.

The power of the cloud

These days, back­ups are syn­ony­mous with the word ‘cloud’, the logic be­ing that stor­ing back­ups in the cloud en­sures one copy of your data is kept off-site in a se­cure lo­ca­tion in case of fire, theft, or worse. It makes sense, although there are some draw­backs. The ob­vi­ous choice when back­ing up to the cloud is to em­ploy a known so­lu­tion – Mi­crosoft’s OneDrive ser­vice is baked into Win­dows 10, but al­ter­nate trusted sources in­clude Drop­box (www.drop­ and Google Drive (

Each ser­vice of­fers lim­ited free plans of around 5-15GB of free stor­age space, which is fine for per­sonal files, such as doc­u­ments, photos, and even some video, but if you run out of space, you’ll need to up­grade to a monthly or an­nual sub­scrip­tion. One of the best value so­lu­tions is to in­stall Of­fice 365 – your sub­scrip­tion in­cludes 1TB of cloud stor­age and ac­cess to the lat­est ver­sion of Mi­crosoft Of­fice for up to five users.

How­ever, there are some rea­sons to treat cloud stor­age with sus­pi­cion. These in­clude on­go­ing costs, the se­cu­rity of your data, and what hap­pens if the com­pany in ques­tion ei­ther goes out of busi­ness or dis­con­tin­ues its prod­uct, as users of Wuala and AVG LiveKive cloud stor­age ser­vices have dis­cov­ered to their cost over the years.

In terms of fees, con­sider pri­ori­tis­ing what data you store in the cloud – do you need your videos backed up on­line, for ex­am­ple? As you have a lo­cal backup in place, you could fo­cus on stor­ing im­por­tant doc­u­ments and photos in the cloud, where you’re un­likely to run out of space quickly. That way, you can usu­ally get away with free stor­age plans.

If you don’t trust your cloud provider’s en­cryp­tion, add a se­condary layer of en­cryp­tion to sen­si­tive files be­fore up­load­ing them to the cloud. The best tool for this pur­pose is Vi­ivo (https:// vi­, which works with mul­ti­ple cloud providers, and in­cludes tools for shar­ing ac­cess to files with fam­ily and friends. It’s free for per­sonal use, but make sure you keep a sep­a­rate, un­en­crypted backup of this data some­where safe, too, to en­sure you’re not locked out of your files.

Al­ter­nate strate­gies

There are two main alternatives to putting your data in the hands of a third-party provider. Both can be used over the in­ter­net if you have a fast and un­metered con­nec­tion, but you can also use them ex­clu­sively over your lo­cal net­work, too, en­sur­ing your data never touches the cloud in any shape or form.

The first of these op­tions in­volves sync­ing data from se­lected fold­ers di­rectly be­tween two or more com­put­ers. It works over your lo­cal net­work, as well as the wider in­ter­net, if nec­es­sary. It’s per­fect for keep­ing files in sync be­tween com­put­ers you own, and cre­ates a copy of your files, so there are no is­sues with pro­pri­etary file for­mats. Nat­u­rally, the con­nec­tion is en­crypted, and the soft­ware is open source.

The pro­gram in ques­tion is called Sync­thing, and it works across Win­dows, Linux and Mac, and can even be di­rectly in­stalled to se­lected net­work drives. We rec­om­mend in­stalling the GTK build

from­thing/ sync­thing-gtk – in­stall it on both com­put­ers, then se­lect the folder you wish to sync on your main com­puter, be­fore con­nect­ing it and your other PC to­gether. Once done, the files are kept in sync au­to­mat­i­cally when­ever Sync­thing runs – con­fig­ure it to start with Win­dows, to en­sure it’s al­ways back­ing up.

Files are trans­ferred di­rectly be­tween com­put­ers, so they both need to be on and con­nected for files to sync. If you wanted to store back­ups re­motely on other PCs, take a look at Bud­dyBackup (www.bud­, which en­crypts your data so it’s un­read­able on the com­put­ers you back it up to.

Your per­sonal cloud

If you’d like to store files cen­trally (cre­at­ing an ad­di­tional backup of your files in the process), with­out re­ly­ing on a third party, then con­sider set­ting up your own us­ing a spare PC or net­work hard drive as the file server.

Some net­work drives come with their own pro­pri­etary cloud sys­tems – My Cloud from Western Dig­i­tal, for ex­am­ple – but we rec­om­mend choos­ing some­thing open source and more widely sup­ported, such as OwnCloud (https:// which works across a va­ri­ety of plat­forms. The server part can be in­stalled to many net­work drives – in­clud­ing Zyxel and Synol­ogy (the lat­ter via https://syn­o­com­mu­ – as well as Linux-pow­ered PCs, in­clud­ing the Rasp­berry Pi 3, if you’re look­ing for a low-cost so­lu­tion. You then down­load and in­stall the desk­top and mo­bile clients on Win­dows, Mac, Linux, An­droid,

iOS and other sup­ported plat­forms, to en­able you to both sync and ac­cess your files from any­where.

Think of OwnCloud as be­ing your own per­sonal cloud stor­age sys­tem – you’re not tied to any third par­ties, there are no fees, and your cloud can be re­stricted to your lo­cal net­work or opened up for ac­cess over the in­ter­net. It works with mul­ti­ple users, too.

Some ini­tial con­fig­u­ra­tion is re­quired, but ev­ery­thing’s point-and-click, with a use­ful man­ual on hand to steer you in the right di­rec­tion. When asked to set up your ini­tial ac­count, be sure to click ‘Stor­age & data­base’ to se­lect the MySQL op­tion, rather than the de­fault SQLite one. This will dra­mat­i­cally speed up the server’s per­for­mance when it comes to sync­ing large batches of files.

Restor­ing from back­ups

Dis­as­ter has struck – you’ve lost data, so what next? Thanks to your backup plan, you should find you’re able to re­store the data you lost. If you’ve used File His­tory, nav­i­gate to the folder with the miss­ing data in File Ex­plorer, and click the His­tory but­ton on the File tab.

A win­dow opens dis­play­ing all the backed-up files in that folder – dou­bleclick the miss­ing file to pre­view it, then click the Set­tings but­ton and choose Re­store to save it to the cur­rent lo­ca­tion, or ‘Re­store to’ to save it some­where else. If you’re try­ing to re­cover an ear­lier ver­sion of a file, use the left and right but­tons at the bot­tom of the page to nav­i­gate be­tween avail­able ver­sions.

If you’re re­cov­er­ing from ‘Backup and Re­store’, browse to the drive or folder con­tain­ing your backup, then dou­bleclick it and choose ‘Re­store my files from this backup’. Click ‘Choose a dif­fer­ent date’ if you’re look­ing for older ver­sions of your files, or use the search and browse but­tons to lo­cate what you want to re­store. You can re­store them to their orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion, or choose an­other – make sure you leave ‘Re­store the files to their orig­i­nal sub­fold­ers’ ticked, be­fore click­ing Re­store.

Need to re­cover your en­tire PC? Macrium Re­flect makes things straight­for­ward. If you can boot into Win­dows, launch the app and switch to the Re­store tab; oth­er­wise, boot from your res­cue me­dia. Se­lect the backup you want to roll back to from the list given, or click ‘Browse for an im­age file’ to lo­cate it man­u­ally. Se­lect ‘Re­store Im­age’ to re­store the im­age, or choose Browse Im­age to mount the im­age as a vir­tual drive, en­abling you to browse it as a vir­tual drive in Win­dows it­self – a good op­tion for re­cov­er­ing in­di­vid­ual files and fold­ers from the backup. Tick ‘En­able ac­cess to re­stricted fold­ers’ to al­low you to re­cover data from user fold­ers and other pro­tected places.

Restor­ing files from the cloud isn’t usu­ally an is­sue, but if you need to re­store a file you’ve deleted, then tak­ing OneDrive as an ex­am­ple, log into your ac­count through your browser. Click the main menu but­ton and se­lect ‘Re­cy­cle bin’ un­der your PC’s en­try.

Re­cov­er­ing data from OwnCloud is sim­ple, too – when you re­in­stall the soft­ware and log in as your own user, you’re prompted to choose which folder on your hard drive to store your OwnCloud con­tent on – once done, the folder syncs up with what’s on­line, restor­ing any miss­ing data, or you can log on through your browser to down­load in­di­vid­ual files.

Wor­ried about sen­si­tive data? Vi­ivo adds more en­cryp­tion.

Keep data synced (and backed up) across all your PCs with Sync­thing.

We’ve trusted Macrium for over six years.

Mi­crosoft’s OneDrive of­fers a re­mote backup so­lu­tion.

Make File His­tory your first port of call.

Win­dows 7’s Backup and Re­store is avail­able in Win­dows 10.

Re­store your PC even when it won’t boot with Macrium Re­flect.

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