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Using Windows Backup and Restore in Windows 10

These notes are specific to Windows10.  For Windows 7 click HERE.

For an informative article, click HERE.

 Some important caveats:

1) The most important thing to note is  that the default backup settings make assumptions about what files should be backed up.  It does a good job with everything in your C: disk My Documents folder and your e-mail but it does not back up everything in the folder one level above My Documents.  The folder probably has a name based on the name your computer has, in my case it is called "Bill". Different computers are set up differently.  Mine has folders like My photos and My Music there that are backed up fine but others like My Webs were not so I would not use that directory to store anything of importance other than My Music, My Pictures and similar files.  In particular do not put anything in there that was not already put there by Windows.
2) For reasons only known to Microsoft, this utility only works with backups made with more recent versions of Windows, I know longer remember how far back the current software supports but the bottom line is this is not a good way to back your files up for ever.  It does go back 2 or 3 versions of windows, probably through XP.
3)  The default assumes you only need to back up your data files on the C: drive. If you have data you want to back up on another drive, as is typically the case if you have a SSD (Solid State Device) for your C: drive, you will need to modify the defaults.  It does backup, Desktop, Downloads, Music and Pictures but not Videos. In particular it does not back up My Documents.

To force it to also backup you data on the D: drive, Schedule>Change Settings>Select what to backup>What files do you want to backup>Let me choose. The default is called Data Files but this is mostly just the data files on the C: drive.  You will need to also check the D drive.  It looks like the only option is all of the D: drive which wastes space but the non-data files on the drive should not change much so it will not continually add more.

4)  The backup software assumes you always back up to the same drive so it only asks for the drive when you are first backing up.  If you wish to change the drive you are backing up to then click HERE to see how to change the drive.
5) Windows 10 is always being "improved". One of the ways they do this is by continually changing how you do things that use the "Control Panel" or "Settings" so instructions such as these or others you read online may be out of date.  My instructions always have a date of the last major revision at the bottom of the page.  If you are stuck finding some sort of setting, try the search window in "Settings" the gear icon you see when you hit the windows icon in the lower left of the screen.

Windows Backup, General comments:

Windows 10 has two types of backup and some related operations

1.    System Image Backup:  This backs up everything so you can return to the configuration the computer was when you made the image.   If you use the system image to restore your PC you will loose any files created since that date so be careful. It can also be use to Install everything on a new hard disk.

2.   File History:  This backs up your most important files, it is not a system backup so it does not back up things like your programs.   You would normally set it up to keep your PC backed up all the time.   If a System Image has been made previously, The two can be used to replace everything on your computer up to the time of the last File History backup.
3.   System Recovery Disk  Kind of a poor man's System image backup but has the advantage that it can be made on a different computer as long as it is the same operating system, i.e. Windows 10 64 Bit.  The file is on the order of 8 to 20 GB.
4.   System Repair disk. This is a bunch of troubleshooting tools on a bootable disk to get your system back up and running.  Like the System recovery disk, it can be made on a different computer.  It fits on a CD.
5.   System Restore.  This is a procedure to to go back to various points in the past, typically when new programs were installed. This fixes problems caused by installing new programs or updating drivers.  It does not change data files at all but does remove  programs installed after the date you select.  One catch is that beginning with Windows 10 it is turned off by default.  You definitely want it on, it has been a life saver for me numerous times. Some programs ask if you want to create a restore point before making changes such as ccleaner before optimizing the Registry and they will have turned it on but if you have not run one of those, you can click HERE to see how to turn it on.. One other side note, twice I have had System Restore fail until I totally uninstalled my ant-virus program.  Disabling it was not enough.  Also 20 GB is plenty of space for storing the restore points.  The computer does not even have to be bootable to use this option. To see how to do that look further down HERE for Accessing Advanced Startup.

6.  Refresh Windows 10.  This is fairly drastic.  It saves your data but basically gets rid off all software other than windows like it was when the computer was new (or at least when the latest version of Windows was installed)  See the section called "Refresh Windows HERE.

7. Reset Windows 10.  This is described as the nuclear option.  It buts your computer back to the state it was at the beginning with all you data on the C: drive removed.  To see how to do this look down near the bottom of this link.


For a general summary of recovery options click HERE.

Making a System Image Backup

Note the amount of free space on the disk you are backing up to.  You will need a lot, 80 Gb for a small system.  You can not see the size of the backup, it is always listed as 0, but you can see now much less free space there is on the hard disk. For the first backup, this can be used as a crude verification of a successful backup.  For later backups, it replaces the earlier System Image Backup so you can only see the change in the size of the backup but ht is some indication of the success or failure.  Note: Later backups also do not change the date on the file because you are looking at the creation date of the folder, not the date of  the latest contents. The best way to see the date of the latest backup is to do t he initial steps for a restore.  It will give you the date of the backup before you have to commit to the restore, but it still is a time consuming process.

1. In the search window in the lower left of your screen, type "control panel" (if the search window is not visible, click on the circle in the lower left of your screen.  

2 Click on "Control Panel" in the pop up window

3.  Then select "System and Security" if listed, if you see lots of items skip this step.

4.  Then select "Backup and restore (windows 7)" even if you are on a windows 10 system.

5.  Now select "Create a system Image"  (It will be in the menu on the right. It will take a LONG time coming up with the listed drives available and then it will not include network drives. You may need to use the drop down menu to bring up  the hard disk you want.

6. Next pick the drive to backup to. If you want to back up to a network drive, click the button for that window then click Select. (It will ask for the login user name and password you use to log into your ROUTER. Then click OK. You will be back to the previous screen with the drive filled in the network location.

7. Click “Next”    It will list what it is backing up.  Make certain it is all the drives you want.  When in doubt back it up. For example, I have all my data on my D: drive but it does not default to backing that up.  One of the things it will be automatically backing up if you have relatively modern computer is the "EFI System Partition" This is a basic part of the disk operating system.
9. The backup takes a long time. During the first part of the backup when the files to be backed up are arranged in the form to write to the hard disk, you see a progress bar but once it starts writing to the hard disk the progress bar is hidden behind the first window.  Just move that one to the side.

10.  When the System image is done being created, it will ask if you want to create a rescue disk.  This is a bootable disk that rescues you from a mired of problems so if you have not made one in a while, you might as well.  It fits on one CD.  If you get any error messages be very suspicions of your backup even if it only says it could not back up something that makes no sense to you,.  Check the remaining size of the free space on your backup disk.  Did it decrease a plausible amount.  Checking the size of the backup file, WindowsImageBackup is no use because it always lists a negligible number for some reason.  Consider moving WindowsImageBackup to a named folder to keep better track of it.  A new system image backup will erase the old one unless the old one is renamed or moved to a subfolder.


To set up File History:

Start>Settings (the gear icon)>Update and Security>backup (along the left side)>Add a Drive (Under Backup using File History) then select your backup drive (this option will not appear if one has already been selected, If you backup drive is not listed, it is probably because it is an external drive connoted to a router and does not show up under This PC either.  In this case you need to map the drive  if you want to change it or just see what the settings are, click HERE for details.  Then  make certain  the option to Automatically back up my files is turned on (Assuming your backup drive is always connected) then select More options.  Some options you may want to change the backup frequency,  the default is every hour, For a home computer, every day should be adequate.  You can set how long to keep the backups, the default is forever, you might prefer to choose "Until space is needed".  Then review the folders it is backing up, you can add additional folders or delete folders it is backing up.  If you have a ram disk for your C: drive, you may be storing your files on the D: drive so there would be a lot of folders on the C: drive that do not need backing up (although they are black so they do not take a lot of space).  Adding folders is not as strait forward as it might seem.  My "Documents" is D:/SOP/Documents. I said to backup D:/SOP but it only backed up the "AppData" folder on SOP.  I changed my settings to specify backing up D:/SOP/Documents and the problem went away.  I suspect that if you were just using the C: drive the defaults would take care of most everything.  If the computer is off when the backup is scheduled, the backup will happen when the computer is next turned on regardless of the time.

A good reference is HERE.

For a good reference for what to do when your backup drive is out of space, click HERE.


If you get a "File History Doesn’t Recognize This Drive" it is probably related to changes you made in the disk you are using for backup.  Click HERE for a fix.

See when your last backup was done.
Start (The gear icon) > Update & Security > Backup (Along the left side of the page) then under Backup in the main menu area, select "More options"  The resulting page will tell you when the last backup was and what your settings are.

Restoring:  It is good to test this out prior to needing it.  You learn how to use it and you verify our backups really exist.

The easiest way to initiate a file restore is by  opening File Explorer, the the program you use to see the files and directories on your computer.  Select a file you want to see the version history of by highlighting it. then click "Home" along the top. It is a folder like icon  most of the way to the right. This brings up a new menu.  Select "History". 
The window that opens shows all the contents of the file you opened.  At the top of the page is the date of the backup, the number of backups and which one you are looking at.  For example, it it says 17 of 24 it means you are seeing the date and contents of the files on the 17th of the backups. The date of the latest backup is  the date of the latest backup of any of the files in the selected area.  It may be quite old of none of the files have changed in a long time.  If you wan to move forward or back use the forward or back arrows at  the bottom of the page.  If you want to restore a file or folder use the green counter clockwise arrow in the bottom center after you have highlighted  the file or folder to restore.  You will be given the option of Replacing the current file, skipping the restore or compare the files. The compare compares the date and file size but also gives you the option to restore the older file with a number stuck on the end of  the file name.  To do this check the boxes for both files then click on "Continue"

If you wish to restore multiple files in a folder or previously in a folder, then do the same thing but highlight the folder rather than the file.  If the file has been deleted, it may not show up in the latest backup, you may have to go back a ways to find it.


Restoring your PC from a System Image when the computer is running smoothly:  

1) Settings (the gear icon)> Update & Security>Recovery (along the left side of the page)
2) then under Advanced Startup click >Restart Now>
3) The PC will reboot into the recovery mode
  > Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > System Image Recovery.
4) It will ask you which computer identity you want to recover, there will probably be only one option, next it will ask for your password, you will NOT be able to log in with your number or other methods.
  For some reason I had to use my previous password, not my current one so be prepared for that possibility. 
Make certain it is pointing to the drive you want,  If not select “Select a system image’ > Next > and select the image you want > Next > Select  backup image you want > Next  >
5)  if "Format and repartition disks" is grayed out then click Next anyway.
It will worn you that everything on the disk will be destroyed.  You are doing a complete reinstall so that is not a problem.   The installation will take hours if you have a lot of stuff or the connection with the backup drive is slow.  It will also say it is restoring drive C: but it is actually restoring everything you indicated you wanted backed up regardless of what disk it was on and will include any later File backups.

 If you still have problems you can try some desperation moves. Try uninstalling your antivirus program and completely shut down your computer waiting 30 seconds or so and starting it up again. Now repeat the restoration process process (I know, it did not help me either but it fixed a related problem for me once) 

Restoring your PC from a System Image when it is not running correctly:
 (Try using restore from a previous point in time before a complete recovery because a recovery will remove any data files created after the backup point.  One time when I had to do this it kept failing until I completely uninstalled my antiviruses.)
This procedure assumes your PC will not boot up to windows at all.  You have to boot from your rescue disk or a windows installation disk.  To boot from a windows or recovery disk you will probably have to change the boot options so it boots from the DVD drive before the hard disk.  First try to see if it will boot from a hard disk bout it probably will not.  To see how to change the boot sequence you will need to edit the BIOS (UEFI) settings, look HERE to see how.  You will then be at step 3 above in the recovery mode.



Restoring Files from file history:

Click on “Restore my files”

If you do not want the latest version, then click on "Choose another date"

Then you can choose a date, then search for files or folders to restore individual files or folders

When you have navigated to the file or folder, click on “Add File” or “Add Folder”, you can then select more files or folders if you want

When done selecting, Check the box next to the files you want and select “Next” at the bottom right of the box.

It  will then ask if you want it restored to the original spot or a new one.  Keep in mind that if you restore it to the original spot it may overwrite the file you have there now.  That may or may not be a problem.

Then Click Restore then End or Exit.


Restoring individual files from the System Image (as apposed to the more usual of restoring from File History).  Click HERE for details. It is  a mess so best to be avoided.


Some General notes:

1) Even though it only backs up the changed files, when you do a restore and choose a backup date, you will see all the files that were on the computer at that date, not just the ones backed up on that date.

2)  What size backup hard drive do I need?  Mine is a 2 Terabyte (2,000 GB) internal hard drive.  Lots of people use external drives.  That is about 10 times the size of all the material on my hard disk and it fills up in around a year with daily backups.  When it is full, you can use some options to delete older copies of files or what I usually do is erase the backup hard disk, create a new system image and start the backup process over again.  This means that I have no backup for a short while and I will never be able to restore files to an earlier version.  If you were really paranoid, you could use 2 external backup hard disks swapping them when they get full so you only erase the older one when you need to use it again.

3) To see how to change backup drive click HERE.

4) To see how to choose what files to back up, click HERE.

5) To see how to map network drive: https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/map-network-drive-windows-10


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