How-To Geek

How Windows 8’s Backup System Differs From Windows 7’s

Windows 8 contains a completely revamped backup system. Windows 8’s File History replaces Windows 7’s Windows Backup – if you use Windows Backup and update to Windows 8, you’ll find quite a few differences.

Microsoft redesigned Windows’ backup features because less than 5% of PCs used Windows Backup. The new File History system is designed to be simple to set up and work automatically in the background.

This post will focus on the differences between File History and the Windows Backup feature you may be familiar with from Windows 7 – check out our full walkthrough of File History for more information.

Only Files in Libraries Can Be Backed Up

With Windows 7, you can back up any files on your computer – not only personal files, but program files, system files, and anything else. You can also create full system images that can be used to restore your computer to its current state in the future.


There’s been a major philosophical change in Windows 8. You can no longer create full system images, nor can you back up everything on your hard drive. Instead, you can only back up files in your libraries, files on your desktop, your contacts, and your browser favorites. Windows 8’s File History feature is designed to protect users’ personal files, which are generally irreplaceable. In contrast, there’s less need to back up system files because operating systems and applications can be reinstalled from elsewhere.

If you want to back up a folder elsewhere on your hard disk, you can add it to a library and tell Windows 8 to back up that library. You can exclude certain files in your library from being backed up, but you can’t include files outside your libraries or desktop.

Continuous Backup

File History is designed to back up your files on a continuous basis, so you can easily revert to a previous version of a file or restore a deleted file. This also minimizes data loss – if your computer goes down and you lose all your files, you’ll lose very few files as they were recently backed up.

When setting up a backup with Windows 7’s Windows Backup, the default schedule is to run a backup once per month.


When setting up a backup in Windows 8, the default is a continuous backup that automatically takes a snapshot of the latest versions of your files every hour.

Easier Restoring From Backup

File History incorporates the Previous Versions feature in Windows 7, which allows you to quickly restore previous versions of a file. Restoring files from File History is a similar experience. You can do it right from File Explorer (formerly known as Windows Explorer) – just click the History button on the ribbon.

In Windows 7, you have to open the Windows Backup control panel and use the Restore My Files wizard to restore files from a backup. You can restore a previous version of a file by right-clicking it and using its properties window, but this previous version of a file may come from elsewhere, such as a system restore point – not necessarily from a backup taken with Windows Backup.


Other Features

Windows 8’s File History also has some other features that work with the way people actually use backups. For example, it’s easier to set up – when you connect an external hard drive, you’ll be asked whether you want to use it for backup. You can no longer use an internal drive for backups – you’ll need an external drive or network location. This helps enforce good backup practice – there’s no sense backing up your files to another partition on the same hard disk; you’ll lose everything if the hard disk fails.

When setting up File History, you can optionally advertise your backup drive as a backup drive for your HomeGroup. All Windows 8 computers in your HomeGroup can back up their files to this location, making it easy to set up a centralized backup location.

File History certainly isn’t for everyone – some users will want third-party backup applications that can take full system backups and back up every file on their hard drives. However, Windows 8’s File History backup feature is easier to use and may be more useful for the average user than Windows 7’s comparatively clunky tool.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/6/12

Comments (49)

  1. Jason Edwards

    Sounds like some of these concepts have been ‘borrowed’ from the OSX equivalents.

  2. kizo2703

    Windows Backup clunky?!
    I use it om all my computers since Windows 7 got out,and I have no problems with it. It backs up my whole machine once a week.
    And it saved my work a couple of times.

    And there still is ”classic” Windows Backup in Windows 8, only that it has been renamed to Windows 7 File Recovery.
    Everything else is the same.

    And for the File Recovery ,it’s only a poor copy of Apple’s Time Machine.
    And there are too many restrictions. Thank you, but no thanks.

  3. clb92


    (Doesn’t matter; Have Acronis)

  4. SuAlfons

    Oh. Libraries only. :-( I still could not find any use for them, other than being just an additional way of browsing your files.

    At work, we operate from LAN shares that cannot be included (by default and with tools allowed by employer :-) and at home, I have all my files in _one_ location anyway (in some folder structure). On the other hand, browsing via Libraries confines you to that very subset of the file system, making it extra steps to browse something like C:\Data\somefolderforlegacysoftware.

  5. Irish_IT

    Doesnt backup to internals, eh? So my 2TB internal drive named (Backups) is useless now………PERFECT!!!

  6. dguice

    Without an image backup, a recovery will take a long time to get appliciatons back to where you were. I for one will keep using Acronis True Image.

  7. BigJohn

    True image for me, as well.

  8. brojer

    I’m with dguice, talk about clunky, if you have to go through all that to restore everything it would be much better to buy Acronis True Image and save a bundle of time. I’m glad I bought it..

  9. r

    I just copy anything worth saving or backing up to an external portable hard drive –works for me

  10. Roy

    Where can I buy Acronis stock?

  11. Janet

    I also am one who uses Windows 7 backup. It’s easy and quick and I like the fact that my whole pc is backed up. Looks like I’ll be buying Acronis. Don’t plan to go to Win8 until I have to. Leave it to Microsoft to take away something we actually like.

  12. Al

    Win 7 backup is the first microsoft backup that actually worked easly and accurately and now they are doing away with it way to go Microsoft.

  13. LouieGeetoo

    @Irish_IT I’m using Windows 8 right now and just turned File History on to backup to a large internal drive. It was, in fact, the default choice.

  14. Ross Uhlfelder

    I strongly agree with the previous comments (Acronis is OK, but I like Macrium too ((and it has a free version)). Backups that don’t provide a system image are kind of like a car without and engine. Looks good, but doesn’t go.

    I’ve also found that with some folks …. an internal hard drive backup keeps the images current because sometimes folks who are running a business don’t notice when the external drive gets unplugged.

    It sounds to me that this is a misinformed decision by Microsoft …. unless they really do want to get out of the backup business.

  15. HozSoft

    Personally, I am sticking with Norton Ghost. Been around a long time and has never failed me and backs up to Network Drives.

  16. DieSse

    I use EASUS Todo Backup. For home users there’s a free version. Does everything that’s needed in a backup.

  17. IT-FishGuy

    So let me see if I’ve digested this properly. Because someone gathered reports from other machines they decided to limit the ability to backup? I use Acronis as well for a very simple reason it was a better design and had a great feature set. Now if MS would have actually spent time THINKING about a feature set rather than just renaming old things and adding something very small to give the illusion that it was new then maybe they wouldn’t need to kill the capabilities of the backup program in windows 8. Kind of like being able to manually set what the network definition is on your NICs. (Unidentified, Domain, Public) MAYBE I WANT TO DESIGN SOMETHING THAT SHOUTS vs. ROUTES because I do not require a gateway. To get it the way you want you have to use group policy to set what you want manually and it does not do a good job of that. In my tests it has made a public network a private and on another machine didn’t switch public to private and the unidentified NIC did not get processed correctly. Sounds to me like this is another step in the many of taking away control from the end user and making it more difficult for the admins that support the products. That isn’t a good business model.

  18. IT-FishGuy

    One more thought, M$ appears to be pushing your data backups to the cloud or at least I could see them allowing that easily. Your data going over the wireless network and landing on some server somewhere and possibly being replicated elsewhere.

  19. Eric

    I am an older gentleman and do not understand any of this back up business, so I use something very easy and free to back up, and have no problems, my computer got really infected and had to be wiped by my son, and he went to the website and my computer is back to its old self.

  20. imanoldgoat

    Let me get this straight: “…, there’s less need to back up system files, because the operating systems and applications can be reinstalled from elsewhere.” “Elsewhere” meaning the ” M$ Store” where, for a big price, we’ll sell you the discs that should have been included in the original purchase of the computer. Who’s more greedy, M$ or Apple ? Baa!

  21. CynicalDoctor

    Windows 8 has image backup via custom “refresh” images.
    Use the commandline recimg tool or the excellent free RecImg Manager

  22. Richard Steven Hack

    More stupid design decisions from the idiots at Microsoft who feel compelled to change things that work into things that don’t work as well…such as the entire GUI for Windows 8!

    You NEED image backups! So get any one of a dozen image backup programs, many free for home users and back up an image of your system to an external or networked drive.

  23. Paleolith

    Microsoft’s logic is profoundly flawed. Windows is inherently unstable and vulnerable to devastating pestilences. Image backups are sine qua non. Gates and Balmer live in a fantasy land.

  24. Mr. Researcherer


    “Those who need a full system backup can still use Windows Backup to create a system image.”

    “the Windows 7 backup utility is still there and can be used instead of File History.”

    My understanding is that there is “File History” and the legacy “Windows 7 Backup”

    Please correct me if I am wrong. (:

  25. KindaFarty

    What this article fails to mention is that Windows 8 includes the EXACT same backup options as Windows 7. Everything mentioned in this article is an additional backup option provided to Windows 8 users. Windows 7 backup is also included. So, please stop working everyone into a frenzy over a non issue.

  26. Matias Nino

    Ladies, ladies. Don’t get your panties in a bunch.

    You can still create and restore system images in Windows 8. They basically left it AS IS and called it “Windows 7 File Recovery” in control panel.

    You’re welcome. :)

  27. r

    I find it difficult to consider any of this as a step forward. A system that is at least optionally self-contained, like Shadow Copies, can do more things for more people in the end. I imagine that most Win8 users will end up with no backups at all cuz Win8’s File History is off by default & it needs to be configured to work.

  28. Dig-a-Ling

    GOD! I can’t stand any more of these Windows 8 articles. Windows 8 hasn’t even been released yet! And anyone wanting to see the newest RTM version can just forget about it too. That is, unless you have some sort of lip-lock on Microsoft somehow. Otherwise, you will just have to wait until the end of October when you can go buy a system (and future land-fill problem) that has Windows 8.

    I can’t say about anyone else but I didn’t go looking to read “old” Windows 7 articles retro-actively once Vista was replaced. (hint! hint!) And I’m sure there are still quite a few people still using XP too!

    Besides, Windows 8 is going to flop, big time! Right?!

    So could maybe someone there at HTG write about other things rather than bombard us with more Windows 8 stuff? Perhaps an article or two on software review, home automation, CCTV, electronics, or even – here’s an idea – getting a job in high tech maybe? You know? Real “geek” topics that answer the “how to” questions for products and services that are here now?!

    You’re darn right I’m cranky. It seems there are only 3 HTG authors who know their stuff. Two of them aren’t even writing while the third just continues to pump out more articles on an OS that most people can’t use just yet and probably won’t even want once it does become available.

    Maybe it’s me. But comments like this might be better if HTG actually had a suggestion box somewhere too.

  29. General Idea

    You should mention that the old windows backup is still available to use in Windows 8.

    (It’s called Windows 7 File Recovery.)

    So you can still backup system images, and individual folders.

  30. andyr354

    Everybody here seems to like Acronis. I can’t find many positive reviews for it other places.

    Considering getting 2013 or 2012 is on closeout in many places now as well.

  31. kizo2703

    Lots of people have subscriptions on MSDN, TechNet and Dreamspark Premium and has downloaded Windows 8 completely legally from there.

  32. Alan

    Give the setup a chance, most users aint geeks, who painfully back up the hard drive like it was made of gold, or a priceless treasure, all most people want to do is get the computer working after a bad change, crappy update. I try and save everything I need to a seperate drive I DONT NEED every file on my pc. Guys use the back up tools because thats the level YOU need, most users are happy when they startup and the get internet explorer going.
    Besides I find windows still has an issue with loss of performance over time, crap and unwanted apps running in the background, sometimes a clean restore is the better way to go..?
    I think I will live with the update for a while before I condem it


  33. Surge

    Nah. I like windows 7s backup system more. Its better because it provides more customization and for me as a geek i like to customize my computer EXACTLY how i like it to be. Plus windows 8 has copied alot from apple. Like all the “App store” ideas. My opinion; Winows 7is a bit better than 8. Not saying win 8 is bad, i just like windows 7 more.

  34. DaFoo

    App store ideas copied from Apple? Really? Even I know that Linux had an “app store” first.

  35. Dic

    “, , , And I’m sure there are still quite a few people still using XP too!”

    Yep, and I’m one of ’em. My wife (she has, and like me prefers, XP, too) and I also have, between us, six Win 7 licenses — but wish we didn’t have to (Internet the only reason). We shall forever use XP on our unconnected, non-networked m/cs, no matter what Microsoft wants to fob onto us

    I’m really sorry this is off-subject, but since it had wandered off already, and with the mention of Libraries, I thought I’d ask a question of you geeks, about something that’s been getting up my nose ever since I set eyes on lousy Windows 7. It is this: Is there a way to get rid of those damned Libraries and other junk folders I didn’t ask for?

  36. dbinfl

    This is so stupid. Regarding “just reinstall” — I’m a systems engineer and have had similar discussions with project managers at work. “How hard is it to install X? Yep, install is typically pretty easy — click click click your way through the wizard and you are done. Except you are not. Configuration of the installed app is very much customer-specific. Fonts, colors, data paths, including/excluding features, etc. That argument to “just reinstall” is, well, ignorant.

    For those who like to avoid 3rd-party software for whatever reason (for me, may not be available in the emergency I’m faced with), W8 still has the command line utility. I just ran this and got a successful backup to D drive:
    — wbadmin start backup -backupTarget:D: -allcritical -vssFull -quiet
    ..and in a pinch I can boot from the ISO and restore from that.

  37. Biff

    As kizo2703 said Windows 8 includes the “Windows 7 File Recovery” utility which appears to be the exact same utility offering the exact same feature set that was offered in Windows 7. This article seems to say that backup options/features have been removed in Windows 8 when in fact nothing has been removed: “File History” is a new option but the old (Win7) stuff is still there.

  38. mtn_lion

    I’m appalled. Windows 7’s built-in (i.e., no-cost) backup capability was a giant leap forward and is brilliant, and now they go and abandon it. They couldn’t have included both the full backup capability AND the new file recovery facility in Windows 8? That would’ve been too much value? All you loyal Acronis users–you paid for that, right?

  39. mtn_lion

    I take it back–and don’t I feel like an ass. I posted before reading the rest of the comments and poking around some more in my newly-installed Win 8. Sho’nuf, there it is in Control Panel, “Windows 7 File Recovery,” the unmodified Win 7 backup facility. I guess what’s appalling is that someone would write an article that’s 180% wrong.

  40. nathan

    GUYS….. Windows backup still exists in windows 8, you just need to look for it. Its called “Windows 7 backup” inside of win 8. to find it turn off file history and then keep diving in till you find it (im on OSX atm so i cant privde step by step instructions).


  41. Mo Jack

    nice, but not practical
    for me i use Genie Timeline to backup all my data to an external harddisk, its continuous and silent, its like Apple Time Machine for windows

  42. NicoleHayward

    You got that right old goat. It seems Disaster Recovery and system continuity is off the shelves for Windows backup. I also think it’s a bad idea to limit what files anyone can backup and from where. I personally thank god for 3rd party backup application vendors, I’ve tried them all and found my peace with Genie9’s Timeline (Time Machine)… Can’t take risks…

  43. steve

    Windows 8 Does have image backup. It’s saves in the .VHDX format. (not compatible with windows 7 even though they call it “windows 7 backup”. Booting from windows 8 disc into repair give you option to restore image.

    As for it working, well, it wouldn’t recognize the backup it made (maybe it corrupted, so I’ll have to try again another day). Good thing I did the o’l ghost image =).

    And now the joke:
    “Microsoft redesigned Windows’ backup features because less than 5% of PCs used Windows Backup. ” … so they split it into two parts and called one “Windows 7 backup” LOL.

  44. Stewart

    I will be keeping my Win 7 because of these short sighted changes. I have had to use the revert to earlier date backup a few times and it saved my ass!
    I also like the aero glass look WAY better!

    If these were still available as choices in 8 ( as should have been) I would upgrade, since there not I will not be spending a penny. (Well maybe a nexus 10 tablet as the Surface is expensive and unproven)!

  45. Sean

    Under control panel there is still Windows 7 File Recovery which creates system images.
    Mine is still configured and running just like it was before.

    What appears to not work is my script to create additional backup
    wbadmin start backup
    This reports an error saying the format of the volume is not supported.

  46. PJ

    You can backup to internal hard drives as long as it a separate hard drive than your boot drive.

  47. Joe Audette

    This article is incorrect and misleading. Windows 8 still has the same ability to do system backups as in Win 7, its a separate feature from File System history, see this article:
    just run sdclt.exe from the command prompt

  48. Subi

    On Windows 8 go to…
    Control Panel > Windows 7 File Recovery ( at the bottom )

    This is same as Backup and restore feature in Windows 7 (Create system image)

    Used it and worked like a charm…

  49. Keith

    My external HD isn’t being recognized for backup. I can safely remove it and plug it back in and I get nothing. It shows up in My Computer but it isn’t available or even viewable in the File History area.

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