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How to backup your PC automatically on Windows 10

Windows 10 automated backup
Windows 10 automated backup (Image credit: 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Select items to be backed up

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  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Click the Change schedule option.

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  1. Check the Run backup on a schedule option.
  2. Specify the frequency, date, and time when Windows 10 should backup your computer.Quick tip: If you're working with essential data, such as work files, you should consider backing up using the "Daily" option.

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  1. Click the OK button.
  2. 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.

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

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

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  1. Select the oldest backup.

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  1. Click the Delete button.
  2. Repeat steps No. 7 and 8 to delete additional backups as necessary.
  3. Click the Close button.
  4. Under the "System image" section, click the Change settings button.

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

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  1. Click the OK button.
  2. Click the Delete button.
  3. 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.

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

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

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  1. Specify a new schedule for the backup.

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  1. Click the OK button.
  2. 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

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

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  1. Click the Create disc button.

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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.

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

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  1. Click the Browse for files button.

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  1. Select the files that you want to restore.

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  1. Click the Add files button.
  2. Click the Browse for folders button.
  3. Select the folders that you want to restore.

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

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  1. Select the In the following location option (recommended).
  2. Click the Browse button.
  3. Select the restore location.

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  1. Click the OK button.
  2. Click the Restore button.
  3. 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.

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

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  1. Click the Troubleshoot option.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.

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  1. Click the System Image Recovery option.

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  1. Select the Windows 10 option as the target.
  2. Select the Use the latest available system image option.

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

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  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Click the Finish button.
  3. 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.

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

18 Comments
  • Great post, Mauro! I have been doing this already, but there were a couple little hints about space management that I had forgotten about. Thanks!
  • Hey frett, thanks! Yup, this guide is good for those who don't know about the feature, and it's also a reminder for those who do know. :-)
  • Great post indeed. Never did backups of the entire system, nor a repair disk. I'm on windows 10, the most stable OS to date, but I'm following your advice, we'll never know.
    One question, though: how big does the usb pen has to be? Can it be a DVD?
    Cheers
  • Yes, you can use a DVD to create a bootable disc. The size of the USB has to be 4-6GB depending on version of Windows 10 you have installed (32 or 64-bit). Thanks,
  • Thanks for your answer. I've got the 64 bits version. That means a DVD won't work since it has less that 6gb of space, right?
    Cheers
  • The best way to tell is to download the Media Creation Tool and see what the app tells you. Alternatively, you can simply create a repair disc which uses the size of the normal CD. Thanks,
  • This is a good example of how something that could be so simple is made so difficult by Microsoft. Sure all of us geeks can follow these procedures just fine, but its the neo-phytes that need the help. Those are the people I help all day long every day. 99% of them stopped reading pretty quickly and just gave up. What Microsoft needs to do is have an additional backup tool that is simple; saves chosen folders; defaulting to Docs, Music, Pics, and Videos, pointed to an external device, that simply; perfectly syncs all files over to that device. This is so Gdamn easy for them to do, but they make us go looking for these tools instead of just building it in. SyncToy is great for this, but its not a built in solution for average joes. File History is just confusing, and does not give a proper status window for whether or not it is currenlty saving files etc. Any good backup tool should also warn folks to unplug the drive when done, and plug it back in if it is not visible when re-initiating the backup. Just my opinion. JF
  • True. Infact they're deprecating all this stuff from Fall Creators Update on. That's why I see weird an article NOW in this site. This things is gonna be removed in the next iteration (FCU is saved, but considers this DEPRECATED, as MS already stated in their technet site). Thus I'd arguably be safer to download any other backup third party software stuff (AOMEI, Reflect, whatever) and proceed that way.
  • Isn't this backup/restore tool being removed in a future version of Windows 10? I believe they said it's going away. Maybe next year.
  • Why would Ms remove it? then again this is MS, thjey will move something works and replace it with something that is useless.  While I do not use the built in Wijndows backup, I know some who do.  
  • Seems crazy that microsoft is removing this feature.I use it all the time.
  • I believe it is important to note that if you're using an external hard drive, that it be compatible with Windows Backup and Restore. I've got a 2 TB external Seagate HD, which refuses to work with Windows Backup and Restore. I get the feeling they want you to use their software agent on all Windows clients.
  • <p>Very detailed post! However, Microsoft is just like if I can make things complicated, why should I make it easier. Anyhow, AOMEI Backupper free edition is always my favorite. At least, it make things much easier.</p>
  • i think that is too late for this guide as Microsoft has deprecated this function. You also forgot to tell that you have to create a recovery CD after every '6 months' update. I.e., system recovery brutally fails if you recover a 'fall creators update' image using a Cd made with 'creators update'. The same problem brutally happen if you forgot to remove the 'recovery' partition that Windows creates automacally after these updates, destroying the bootmanager
  • 20 articles about games then this... This is WINDOWScentral right?
  • I suppose they justify removing it because "not enough people use it". But they buried it so it's hard to find and made it perhaps more complicated than necessary or I should say the simplest form is not simple enough but don't remove features either. To quote Einstein, make it as simple as possible but not simpler. The one drive backup is NOT a replacement for an offline backup, it's just not. This should not be removed. File History should not be removed. It's just dumb, lazy, & stupid to remove these features.
  • I'm new to Windows since 10 but I've heard countless people tell me this tool is unreliable crap. And I agree with the person who asked why does MS make something so simple so hard. Back when I was a Mac user they had a button that did all this. Attach an external hard drive, push the button, done. And I used it now and again. It just worked. Why this OS drags its damn heels I'll never know.
  • Does anyone know how licensing works in this case? Is my serial read from the backup? Does it need to be provided when launching the bootable media?