How to Back Up Your Computer in Windows 10

By Andy Rathbone

Windows 8 introduced a backup solution called File History that lives on in Windows 10. Your hard drive will eventually die, unfortunately, and it will take everything down with it: years of digital photos, music, letters, financial records, scanned memorabilia, and anything else you’ve created or stored on your PC.

That’s why you must back up your files on a regular basis. When your hard drive finally walks off the stage, your backup copy lets you keep the show on the road.

After you turn it on, File History automatically backs up every file in your main folders every hour. The program is easy to turn on, is simple to figure out, runs automatically, and backs up everything you need.

Before File History can go to work, you need two things:

  • An external hard drive: For dependable, automatic backups, you need a portable hard drive, which is a relatively inexpensive hard drive in a little box. A cord connects from the box to one of your computer’s USB ports, and when the drive is plugged in, Windows recognizes the drive immediately. Keep the drive plugged into your computer, and you’ll have completely automatic backups.

    It’s hard to keep a portable hard drive constantly plugged into a laptop or tablet because they’re constantly being moved around. If you can’t remember to plug in the drive as soon as you return home, you have another option: Insert a flash drive into your laptop’s USB port or a memory card into your tablet, and use it for your File History backups. Beware, though: If your device is stolen, you lose your backups

  • Flip the On Switch: The File History program comes free in Windows. But the program can’t do anything until you tell it to begin running.

Follow these steps to tell your computer start backing up your work automatically every hour:

  1. Plug your drive or its cable into your USB port. (Alternatively, insert a memory card into your tablet’s slot.)

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    The rectangular-shaped plug on the end of the drive or its cable plugs into the rectangular-shaped USB port on your computer. (If the plug doesn’t fit in the first time, flip it over.)

    If you’re backing up to a memory card, check your tablet’s manual to see what size and type of memory card it will accept.

  2. Open the Control Panel.

    Right-click the Start button and choose Control Panel from the pop-up menu.

    Hold your finger down on the Start button. When a square appears, lift your finger, and the right-click menu appears. (Holding and releasing like that almost always works as a right-click on a touchscreen.)

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  3. Select the System and Security category and click File History.

    The File History program jumps to the screen, shown in the following figure. The program takes a guess as to which drive you want to begin filling with your backups, and it displays the drive’s name onscreen. If the program guessed correctly, jump to Step 5. If it guessed incorrectly, move to Step 4.

    File History guesses as to which drive should store your backups.

    File History guesses as to which drive should store your backups.
  4. If you need to switch the drive, click the Select Drive link from the window’s left side and select a different drive.

    The Select Drive window appears, listing all of the available storage spaces. Click the one you want, and click OK. If your drive isn’t listed, then Windows isn’t recognizing it. Try unplugging it, restarting your computer, and then plugging it back into a different USB port.

    The Select Drive window also offers a Add Network Location for storying your drives on a networked storage space.

  5. Click the Turn On button.

    Click the Turn On button to start the backup process rolling. File History may ask if it should recommend your new File History drive to members of your Homegroup:

    • Click Yes only if you’re backing up to a large drive that won’t be moving around: a wireless hard drive, for example, or a large shared network drive.

    • Click No if you’re running File History on a memory card in your tablet, or on a portable drive that you plan on carrying around with you.

Although File History does a remarkable job at keeping everything easy to use and automatic, it comes with a few bits of fine print, described here:

  • If you try to save to a networked drive on another PC, Windows asks you to enter a username and password from an Administrator account on the other PC.

  • File History backs up everything in your main folders: Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, Desktop, Favorites, as well as the Public folders. To exclude some (perhaps exclude your Videos folder if you already store copies of your videos elsewhere), click the Exclude Folders link along the window’s left edge.

  • Windows normally backs up changed files automatically every hour. To change that schedule, click the Advanced Settings link from the window’s left edge. Then choose the backup frequency, which ranges from every 10 minutes to once a day.

  • When you turn on File History, Windows immediately starts its backup — even if one isn’t scheduled yet. That’s because the ever-vigilant Windows wants to make sure that it grabs everything right now, before something goes wrong. After backing up everything, Windows backs up only the changed files every hour. It keeps the original files, as well, giving you plenty of backups to choose from should you need them.

  • File History also provides a handy way to move your files from an old PC to a new PC, a tiresome chore.

  • That section is worth looking at now, though: not only does File History work in emergencies, but it also enables you to compare current files with versions you created hours or days before. It lets you revive better versions of files that you’ve changed for the worse.

  • Windows saves your backup in a folder named FileHistory on your chosen drive. Don’t move or delete that folder, or else Windows may not be able to find it again when you choose to restore it.