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How to Backup Your Data to a Virtual Hard Drive in Windows 7

Having a solid backup plan is a must if you have important data on your PC that you don’t want to lose. Today we take a look at a unique way of using a virtual hard drive in Windows 7 to back up some files.

Create a Virtual Hard Drive (VHD)

The first thing we need to do is create a VHD. In this article we are concentrating on how to backup your data to a VHD, we’ll briefly cover how to create one, but make sure and check out our full tutorial on how to create a VHD in Windows 7.

In this example we’re creating a 2GB VHD, but you can make it whatever size you think you’ll need for your data.

Right-click on Computer and select Manage and when the Computer Management screen opens under Storage highlight Disk Management then click on Action \ Create VHD.

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Select a location on your machine where you want the VHD to live and its size. You can created it on your local drive, or in this example we placed it on an attached external drive. Decide if you want it to be Dynamically expanding or a Fixed size. Then You will see the virtual drive listed as Unknown unallocated space. Right-click the left box and Initialize Disk.

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Right-click the Unallocated area and select New Simple Volume.

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The New Simple Volume Wizard opens up and you can select to format the volume and give it a label and follow through the wizard.

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When you’re done, you will see the new VHD listed under Hard Disk Drives in Computer. Now you can use it as you would any drive, and we are going to backup to it.

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You can simply drag files to it, or set it for backup with Windows Backup and Restore or the backup app of your preference. Here we’ll use Windows 7 Backup and Restore. Type backup and restore into the Search box in the Start Menu and hit Enter.

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Click on Set up backup

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Select the VHD we just created…it might say there isn’t enough space, but we will be picking specific files to be backed up that will fit in the 2GB VHD.

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Here is where you’ll want to select Let me choose…

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Now you can go through and select the files and folders you want to backup. In this example we’re only backing up a few documents, well under the 2GB size of the VHD. Uncheck Include a system image of drives before continuing on, as you should’ve already created one.

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You can schedule the backup to run on a regular schedule if you want.

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After you have everything selected, review your backup settings and click Save settings and run backup.

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The backup kicks off and you’ll get a progress bar while it takes place.

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After the backup is finished you can go into your VHD and check out the files you’ve backed up.

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Then you can just drag the files out of the VHD or double-click on the Windows Backup and Restore icon to restore them.

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The ability to use VHDs is just another tool in for your backup strategy. The other cool thing is you can copy the VHD file to other locations. For instance a network share, external HD, thumb drive, use in a VM…etc. You definitely shouldn’t use this as your only  backup strategy by any means, there are a lot of better backup methods out there, but it’s geeky, cool, and sometimes can be handy.

Speaking of VHDs, if you want to turn a physical drive into a VM, check out our article on Disk2vhd.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/21/10

Comments (12)

  1. Bjarnovikus

    Is it also possible for vista? =/

  2. Matthew Lucas

    how is this a backup when it is on the same physical disk?

  3. gilteon

    It’s not on the same physical disc as the OS, “in this example we placed it on an attached external drive”. If you do put the VHD on the same disc as the data to back up, that won’t protect you from disc failure, but it is technically still a useful backup if all you need is an unmodified copy of the current data (say, you plan to make major changes to the current files and want a stored copy). In this way, you’d be using the VHD more like a dynamic TAR file.

  4. Yoda

    @Matthew Lucas. Thats what I was thinking. Seems like a long drawn out process when you can buy a flash drive and back everything up to that. It’s a separate drive so if your data drive has a meltdown it won’t take your backup with it.

    I may have missed something as I sort of skimmed the article.

  5. TheFu

    An interesting idea – using VHD. Interesting.

    Perhaps instead of using VHD, we should use TrueCrypt encrypted files for important data to be backed up? Then we can upload those .TC files anywhere and not worry about unauthorized people gaining access to the data (standard good security choices assumptions added). I like to set the size to be 10% less than either std CDRom or DVD sizes so quick backups to optical disks can be made with PAR2 files to handle any bit rot of the optical media over time.

    Think of the truecrypt file just like a ZIP or ISO storage file, just with enterprise strength encryption.

    If dropbox or Mozy has a software bug or I forget to remove the data from my laptop before crossing international borders, I don’t need to worry. TrueCrypt has my back .. up. Let Mozy have all your truecrypt storage and it doesn’t matter if anyone gains access or gets a copy.

  6. Alex

    Whether the VHD is on an external or the same physical disk, whats the point? Why not just use Windows 7 Back up and Restore center and copy the disks across on a normal drive and not in a VHD?

  7. chandran

    how can back up file mobile memory card

  8. Kevin

    I just do system image backups to an external drive

  9. mrbadr

    great tip ty

  10. Karlo

    PERFECT!!!

  11. Nicola Moore

    How do I backup Microsoft Office 2010? Is using a memory stick viable?

    Hope you can help

    Thanks

  12. Nadeem Ahmad

    PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!

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