Windows 10 automated backupSource: Windows Central

Creating frequent backups is one of the best strategies to protect your documents, pictures, videos, custom configurations, and Windows 10 files against software problems, hardware failure, hackers, and malware (such as viruses and ransomware) attacks.

Although there are many third-party utilities that you can use, Windows 10 ships with the legacy "Backup and Restore" experience, which allows you to create full backups automatically at regular intervals.

A full backup using this tool means that Windows 10 will make a copy of everything on your computer, including installation files, settings, apps, and all your files stored in the primary drive, as well as those files stored in different locations. Then when your device suddenly stops working, a critical error prevents the device from starting correctly, or files get damaged, you can use the "Backup and Restore" feature to recover individual files or the entire system as necessary. Backing up should be an essential part of everyone's regular routine, whether you work in an office or work at home.

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In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to set up full backups of your device automatically.

How to configure automatic backups on Windows 10

To configure automatic backups on Windows 10, use these steps:

Important: Backup and Restore is no longer a maintained feature on Windows 10. You can still use it, but in the future, it may stop working. Also, as a deprecated feature, Microsoft can decide to remove this tool in future releases completely.

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Looking for an older backup" section, click the Go to Backup and Restore option.

    Windows 10 backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Under the "Backup" section, click the Set up backup option on the right.

    Control Panel set up backup optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Select the removable drive to store the automatic backups.

    Select backup drive option Source: Windows Central

  7. Click the Next button.
  8. Under the "What do you want to backup?" section, select the Let me choose option.

    Windows 10 backup manual file selection optionSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: You can select the Let Windows choose option, but if you want to make sure that everything you want is getting backed up, the Let me choose is the option that you want to select.

  9. Click the Next button.
  10. Under the "Data Files" section, check all the items as necessary.
  11. Under the "Computer" section, check the Local Disk (C:). (If you have multiple drives, they will also appear in this list.)
  12. Check the Include a system of drives: System Reserved, (C:) option.

    Select items to be backed upSource: Windows Central

  13. Click the Next button.
  14. Click the Change schedule option.

    Windows 10 change backup scheduleSource: Windows Central

  15. Check the Run backup on a schedule option.
  16. Specify the frequency, date, and time when Windows 10 should backup your computer.

    Backup schedule settingsSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: If you're working with essential data, such as work files, you should consider backing up using the "Daily" option.

  17. Click the OK button.
  18. Click the Save settings and exit button.

Once you complete the steps, an initial backup of your device will be created, and then incremental backups will be performed on the schedule you specified.

During the process, you can click the View details button to see more information about the files being copied and an option to interrupt the process (if necessary). After the backup is complete, in the "Backup" section, you'll be able to view the current size of the backup and drive location as well as the date and time of the next and previous backup.

How to manage backup settings on Windows 10

After configuring the automatic backup feature on Windows 10, you can manage many of the settings to prevent running out of space in the backup drive and changing the schedule to a different date and time.

Freeing up backup space

To free up space on the backup drive, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Looking for an older backup" section, click the Go to Backup and Restore option.

    Windows 10 backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Under the "Backup" section, click the Manage space option.

    Backup manage space optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Under the "Data file backup" section, click the View backups button.

    View backups optionSource: Windows Central

  7. Select the oldest backup.

    Delete old backup on Windows 10Source: Windows Central

  8. Click the Delete button.
  9. Repeat steps No. 7 and 8 to delete additional backups as necessary.
  10. Click the Close button.
  11. Under the "System image" section, click the Change settings button.

    System Image Change Settings OptionSource: Windows Central

  12. Select the Keep only the latest system image and minimize space used by backup option.

    Windows 10 backup retention settingsSource: Windows Central

  13. Click the OK button.
  14. Click the Delete button.
  15. Click the Close button.

After you complete the steps, the external drive should have more space to allocate future backups.

If you have a lot of data to protect and optimizing the backup drive storage doesn't make a difference, you should consider getting a larger external storage. If you don't know which one to pick, check out our external hard drive guide to select the best option for you.

Changing backup schedule

To set a different schedule to run backups automatically on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Looking for an older backup" section, click the Go to Backup and Restore option.

    Windows 10 backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Under the "Schedule" section, click the Change settings link.

    Windows 10 backup change settings optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Continue with the on-screen directions (without changing the settings) until you arrive in the Review your backup settings page.
  7. Click the Change schedule option.

    Backup change schedule optionSource: Windows Central

  8. Specify a new schedule for the backup.

    Windows 10 backup daily scheduleSource: Windows Central

  9. Click the OK button.
  10. Click the Save settings and exit button.

Once you complete the steps, backups will run automatically during the new schedule that you specified.

Creating restore media

When the time comes to restore your computer from backup, you'll need a bootable media. Although the tool includes an option to create a disc to boot your device to restore a backup, newer devices don't come with disc drives anymore.

If you don't have a disc drive, you'll need to use the Media Creation Tool to create a USB bootable media, which you can use to access the recovery environment when your computer doesn't boot.

In the case that you still have a disc drive, insert a writable blank disc, and use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Looking for an older backup" section, click the Go to Backup and Restore option.

    Windows 10 backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Create a system repair disc option from the left pane.

    Create System Repair Disc optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Click the Create disc button.

    Create recovery disc on Windows 10 Source: Windows Central

After you complete the steps, you can use the disc or USB bootable media to start your computer in the Advanced startup mode to recover your files.

How to restore backup on Windows 10

When the unexpected happens, you can use the Backup and Restore feature to restore files individually or recover your entire system and data.

Restoring files using full backup

To restore one or multiple files, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Looking for an older backup" section, click the Go to Backup and Restore option.

    Windows 10 backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Under the "Restore" section, click the Restore my files button.

    Windows 10 backup restore my files optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Click the Browse for files button.

    Backup restore files optionSource: Windows Central

  7. Select the files that you want to restore.

    Windows 10 backup select files to recoverSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the Add files button.
  9. Click the Browse for folders button.
  10. Select the folders that you want to restore.

    Windows 10 backup folder recovery optionSource: Windows Central

  11. (Optional) If you don't know the location of the file, use the Search button to find it.
  12. Click the Next button.

    Windows 10 backup file and folder recoverySource: Windows Central

  13. Select the In the following location option (recommended).
  14. Click the Browse button.
  15. Select the restore location.

    Windows 10 backup restore alternative locationSource: Windows Central

  16. Click the OK button.
  17. Click the Restore button.
  18. Click the Finish button.

Once you complete the steps, you'll be able to access the files and folders from the location that you specified during the recovery process.

Restoring computer using full backup

If your computer doesn't boot or you're replacing the hard drive, you can restore your device using the most recent backup. However, before you can proceed, you have to make sure the computer can start from USB (or CD-ROM drive), which means that you may need to change the boot order inside the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on your device.

Usually, the process involves pressing one of the function keys (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12), the ESC, or Delete key as soon as the device starts. The only caveat is that the process is often different depending on the manufacturer and even the computer model. So make sure to check your device manufacturer's support website for more specific instructions.

While in the firmware interface, find the "Boot" section, and configure the boot order to start from the USB bootable drive (or CD-ROM drive), and save the new changes.

To perform a system restore using a backup, use these steps:

  1. Start the device with a bootable media drive.
  2. On "Windows Setup," click the Next button.

    Windows 10 SetupSource: Windows Central

  3. Click the Repair your computer link at the bottom-left corner.

    Windows 10 Setup repair computer optionSource: Windows Central

  4. Click the Troubleshoot option.

    Advanced settings troubleshoot optionSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: If you need to restore your device from backup, and you still have access to the desktop, you can access the Advanced startup settings from Settings > Update & Security > Recovery, and clicking the Restart now button from the "Advanced startup" section.

  5. Click the System Image Recovery option.

    Advanced settings system image recoverySource: Windows Central

  6. Select the Windows 10 option as the target.
  7. Select the Use the latest available system image option.

    Select a system image backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the Next button.
  9. Select the Format and repartition disks option if you're restoring a full backup to your computer or replacing the hard drive.

    Windows 10 backup recovery format and repartition optionSource: Windows Central

    Important: If you have multiple drives with data that you don't want to erase, make sure to click the Exclude disks button to change the settings to prevent the process from wiping out those drives.

  10. Click the Next button.
  11. Click the Finish button.
  12. Click the Yes button.

After you complete the steps, the recovery process will start, and it'll restore everything since the last backup. The completion time will depend upon the data and hardware configuration.

If you work with files frequently, and you don't create backups daily, it's recommended to complement the backup with another kind of file backup. For instance, using a OneDrive subscription allows you to keep a more up-to-date copy of all your personal files in the cloud.

Backup and Restore vs. system image backup

In addition to the Backup and Restore tool, you can also use the system image backup tool to create a full copy of your entire computer, but there are a few key differences between these tools.

When using Backup and Restore, you can create automatic backups during a specified schedule, and you get more options. For example, you can configure the data that you want to protect, manage the storage, and you can restore one or multiple files as well as the entire device.

However, this solution also has at least a couple of things to consider. When doing backups automatically, it means that the backup drive has to be always connected to the computer, which could be a risk as if malware infects the device, it may also damage the backup.

In contrast, the system image backup feature allows you to create a full backup, but you must go through the process manually every time that you want to protect your files and installation. Typically, this feature is more suited as a temporary backup when modifying the system settings or replacing the hard drive.

One significant benefit is that unlike the automatic option, you can always disconnect the backup drive and store it in a safe location, which can protect your data from malware and hackers as well as from natural disasters.

Similar to the automated process, system image backup also has a few caveats. You can only restore files since the last time you ran the feature. As a result, if you're not proactive in creating backups, you could lose a lot of data during the restore process. Also, this feature is meant to restore your entire system, not individual files.

We're focusing this guide on Windows 10, but the Backup and Restore tool has been around for a long time, which means you can refer to these instructions if you're using Windows 8.1 and even Windows 7.

More Windows 10 resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources:

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