It's just a matter of time until the hard drive on your device stops working, a critical error prevents your computer from starting, or files get corrupted. However, performing regular backups is one of the best ways to protect those valuable documents, photos, and configurations you worked so hard to set up your device just the way you like it.

While there are numerous third-party backup software you can opt to use, Windows 10 includes the Backup and Restore feature, which works the same way since Windows 7, and it allows you to perform a full backup of your computer automatically on a regular basis.

A full backup using the built-in tool on Windows 10 includes everything stored on your device, including the system installation, plus settings and applications, and all your files stored on your computer's primary drive and external storage. Then if something bad happens, you could restore the entire system or individual files in minutes.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to regularly create full backups of your computer automatically.

Note: Windows 10's Backup and Restore feature is still available with the Fall Creators Update.

How to set up automatic full backups on Windows 10

On Windows 10, you don't need additional software to create automatic backups to protect your system installation and files, you can just use the built-in Backup and Restore feature.

  1. Open Control Panel.
  2. Click on System and Security.
  3. Click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).
  4. Click the Set up backup link on the top-right corner.

  5. Select the external drive you want to use to store the backup.
  6. Click Next.

  7. Under "What do you want to backup?" you can select the Let Windows Choose, but to make sure everything is backed up, select the Let me choose option.
  8. Click Next.

  9. Check all the items you want to protect, and because we're creating a full backup, it's recommended to select every item under "Data Files" and "Computer." (If you have multiple drives, they will be listed under "Computer.")
  10. Check the Include a system of drives: System Reserved, (C:) option.
  11. Click Next.

  12. On "Schedule," click the Change schedule link.

  13. Use the available drop-down menus to select how often, what day, and what time, you want the backup to run. (It's best to select a time that you know you won't be actively using your device.)
  14. Click OK.

  15. Review your settings, and then click the Save settings and exit button.

Once you've completed the steps, the backup process will begin. At this time, you won't be able to change any settings, but you can click the View Details button to see exactly what's being backed up, and you'll also see an option to stop the process as necessary.

After the process completes, under "Backup," you'll be able to see the drive that's being used to store your files and the current size of the backup.

Other pieces of useful information include the date and time for the next and last backup, the contents included, and the schedule information.

Managing space

Using the Windows 10 backup system can cause an external drive to run out of space quickly, but there a few options you can use to optimize the space.

  1. While in the "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)" settings, under "Backup," click the Manage space link.

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

  3. In this section, you'll see a list of all files backups. If you need to free up store space, select oldest backup, and click the Delete button.
  4. Click Close.

  5. Under "System image," click the Change settings button.

  6. By default Windows will manage the space to store system images, but you can always select the Keep only the latest system image and minimize space used by backup option to save space.

  7. Click OK.
  8. Click Close.

Changing schedule

If you need to run a backup at a different time and day, you can always modify the schedule.

  1. While in the "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)" settings, under "Schedule," click the Change settings link.

  2. Click the Next button one every section until you arrive to the Review your backup settings page.
  3. Under "Schedule," click the Change schedule link.

  4. Use the available drop-down menus to select how often, what day, and what time, you want the backup to run. (It's best to select a time that you know you won't be actively using your device.)
  5. Click OK.

  6. Review your settings, and then click the Save settings and exit button.

If you need to create a backup immediately, you don't need to change the schedule. You can just click the Back up now button on the top-right corner.

Quick Tip: If for any reason you need to stop a backup from running, you can always click the Turn off schedule link from the left pane. Then when you're ready, click the Turn on schedule link under "Schedule."

Creating a repair disc

While it's necessary to create a repair disc to boot your computer into recovery mode to restore your system backup, nowadays most devices do not come with a disc drive. If this is your case, you can use the Microsoft Media Creation Tool to create a USB bootable media with the installation files, which you can use to access the recovery mode.

If you have a disc drive, click the Create a system repair disc link from the left pane in Control Panel, and follow the on-screen directions to create a disc.

How to restore files or entire system on Windows 10

One of the benefits using this backup approach is that you can always restore individual files as well as the entire system.

How to restore individual files from backup

Using the Windows 10 backup feature, you can quickly restore one or a set of files in seconds.

  1. Open Control Panel.
  2. Click on System and Security.
  3. Click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).
  4. Under "Restore," click the Restore my files button.

  5. Click the Browse for files button.

  6. Browse the backup and select the files you want to restore.
  7. Click the Add files button.

  8. Click the Browse for folders button.
  9. Browse the backup and select the folders you want to restore.
  10. Click the Add folders button.
  11. Click Next.

  12. You can restore the files and folder to their original location, but it's always recommended to restore them to an alternate path, as such select In the following location option.
  13. Set the restore location.

  14. Click Restore.
  15. Click Finish.

Once you completed the steps, you can access the restored files from the location you configured during the process.

How to restore a computer from backup

When your computer doesn't boot, you want to start over with a previous backup, or you're replacing the primary hard drive on your device, you can restore your entire system using the most recently created backup.

  1. Insert the disk with the system repair files (or USB bootable drive with the Windows 10 installation files) to your device.
  2. Reboot your computer.

    • Quick Tip: If your device isn't booting into the Windows Setup wizard, you'll need to change your system's BIOS settings to make sure it can boot from USB or DVD drive. Usually, you can access the BIOS by starting your device and hitting one of the functions or ESC keys, but make sure to check your manufacturer's support website for more information.
  3. On the "Windows Setup" page, click the Next button.

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

  5. Click the Troubleshoot option.

    • Quick Tip: If the desktop still accessible on your Windows 10 device, you can always go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery, and under "Advanced startup," click the Restart now button to access the Troubleshoot option.
  6. Click the System Image Recovery option.

  7. Choose the target OS. In this case, Windows 10.

  8. On the "Re-image your computer," select the Use the latest available system image option.
  9. Click Next.

  10. If you're restoring a full backup to a new drive, you can also select the Format and repartition disks option. (Use this option carefully, as it will erase any existing partition and disks on your computer.)
  11. Click Next.

  12. Click Finish.

  13. Click Yes to confirm that the backup will replace the data on the drive.

After completing the steps, the recovery process will begin, and time to finish the recovery will depend upon the amount of data and hardware configuration.

Just remember that files and system changes after the backup was created will not be included during the restore process.

If you're working with files that change quite often, it's also recommended to combine this backup system with another type of file backup, such as using OneDrive, which allows you to keep an up-to-date off-site copy of your documents, music, and pictures.

Wrapping things up

If you're still wondering, both system image backup and creating a backup using the instructions outlined in this guide include everything stored on your computer, but there are several differences.

Perhaps the best benefit running scheduled backups is that you can configure a backup once and then the tool will automatically continue to make copies regularly without you having to lift a finger.

It's also a more manageable solution. You can specify exactly what to backup, configure schedules, manage space, and you can quickly restore one or multiple files, or restore your entire system.

The only downside is that you must keep the backup drive always connected to your computer, which could be considered as a security risk as if malware sneaks into your device can not only infect your files but also those stored in the backup.

On the other hand, the system image backup also makes a copy of your entire system, but it's a manual process that is more targeted to create archival copies or temporary backups. Unlike scheduled backups, you can safely disconnect and store the backup drive in a safe location, protecting your files from natural disasters as well as from malware.

The downside with this approach is that you can only restore your device since the last backup, which means that if you're not proactively creating new backups manually, you could lose some files and system configurations. Also, a system image is meant to restore your entire device, no individual files.

Although we're focusing this guide for Windows 10 users, Backup and Restore has been around for a number of releases, which means that you can refer to these steps to create backups of your Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 device.

More Windows 10 resources

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