How-To Geek

Geek School: Learning Windows 7 – Backup and Recovery

In this installation of Geek School we take a look at our options for Backup and Recovery. This is an important one, so come on and join us.

Be sure to check out the previous articles in this Geek School series on Windows 7:

Note: Backup and Recovery is a fairly straight forward concept and thus there is not much theory to be covered. Rather, we take the approach of showing you how to get a backup plan in place, and point out things as we go.

Backing Up Windows

Windows 7 includes a utility that enables you to create and restore backups. For those uninitiated, backups protect your data in the event of a catastrophic failure by allowing you to store a copy of your data on another storage medium, such as a hard disk, CD, DVD, or network location. When a catastrophic event occurs, examples of which include corruption, deletion or media failure, you will be able to restore your data using one of your saved backups. In order to set up your backup plan you need to head into the Control Panel.


Then click on System and Security.


Here you will see a Backup and Restore link. Click on it.


Once you enter the backup section, you will need to click on the Set up backup link.


Now choose where you want to save the backup, then click next. We will opt to save our backup on a Hard Drive, however you always have the option of using a network location.


You also have the option of letting Windows choose what to back up or rolling your own backup strategy. We will roll our own.

Note: If you choose to let Windows pick out what to back up, it will basically include anything within common Windows folders, the contents of your libraries as well as a system image which can be used to restore your “C” drive should anything happen to your computer.


The advantage to rolling your own backup strategy is that you can choose individual folders that you want to back up, and the contents of these folders will be available for restoration without restoring a system image. If you let Windows choose what to backup and you suddenly need to restore a single folder, you would need to restore your entire “C” drive using the system image, losing any files you have created since the backup. Of course, we will include our libraries as well as a system image in our custom backup.


Once you have chosen what you want to be backed up, you will be given a nice overview. If you are not happy with the default schedule, you can change it by clicking on the change schedule link, however Sunday at 7PM suits us perfectly. After confirming everything you need is included, kick off the backup.


That’s all there is to it.


Restoring Your Data

If you ever need to restore a single file from your backup, simply open the Control Panel.


Then click on System and Security.


Now click on the Restore my files button in the bottom right hand corner of the Window.


Then click the Browse for files button.


Now simply browse and select the file you want to restore, then click the add files button.


Then click next.


You can now restore the file to its original location or choose to restore it to an alternative location. This could be useful should you want to compare the files.


That’s all there is to restoring a single file. Next, let’s take a look at the Windows Recovery Environment, which can help you restore your PC from a system image following a system-wide failure.

The Windows Recovery Environment

Windows includes a set of tools that you can use to troubleshoot and revive your system should a serious error ever occur. Collectively, these tools form what is called the WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment). Since we already have a guide on creating a recovery disc, lets take a look tools the WinRE includes.

Note: You can also boot into the WinRE without creating a disc by holding the F8 key while your computer boots, then choosing repair your computer from the advanced boot options screen. Alternatively you could also access it using your installation DVD.


  • Startup Repair: Fixes certain problems that are preventing Windows from starting. For the most part it does this by verifying the integrity of core Windows files.
  • System Restore: Allows you to restore your computer’s files to an earlier point in time.
  • System Image Recovery: This is the option we will use to restore a system image.
  • Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool: Scans your computer’s memory for corruption.
  • Command Prompt: Opens a new command prompt Window from where you can run command line utilities.

In the event that your PC won’t even boot, you will want to restore your data using the system image that is included in the Windows backup. To do that, select the System Image Recovery option.


You will then be asked which system image you want to restore to. By default, it will detect the latest system image on any valid backup medium. In our case this is in fact the image I want to use, however if you want to restore to an older image you can always choose the select a system image option.


Then you have the option of formatting your systems disks. Just be careful to exclude the disk which your backup is on should your backup be on an internal disk. Then click next.


Finally, confirm your actions by clicking on the finish button, which will kick off the restore process.


That’s all there is to it.



This has been a long one, but you’re not done yet. There are still some miscellaneous topics you need to cover regarding Windows’ backup features.

  • Learn about the Volume Shadow Copy Service.
  • Learn about System Restore Points.
  • Learn about Previous Versions.

Taylor Gibb is a Microsoft MVP and all round geek, he loves everything from Windows 8 to Windows Server 2012 and even C# and PowerShell. You can also follow him on Google+

  • Published 03/22/13

Comments (16)

  1. rushunter

    I use EaseToDo Free to clone my SSD to a HHD. Is this the same?

  2. pajafumo

    ok, for a few days I saw to many post about windows and nothing else. Windows is not for geeks… or at least those easy task with the gui… well I think this blog lost his path…

  3. michel

    I only back up my files manually, by burning to dvd. Why? Every back-up solution I’ve ever used had failed me in one way or another. The last one I used was in fact this Windows back-up centre. On trying to recover the back-up from a separate hard disk, it completely failed and would not recognize the file.

  4. Chemical

    @pajafumo You reek of ignorance. Sometimes it’s better just to remain silent rather than open your mouth and talk out of turn. This was one of those times.

    Taylor I’m looking forward to the new set of articles next week. Three weeks have been completed so far; props to you for writing clear cut and easily understandable guides.

  5. Ushindi

    Unfortunately, in my case (and many others, from what I see on the Internet) nothing happens when I click on “Set Up Backup”. Possibly some software conflict? Regardless, I have never been able to use the Windows 7 backup you show here. Wish I could…

  6. Cho

    Hey Taylor~~~~
    Any input on this issue?

    Major problem with Win7 Create System Image……
    No matter how large of backup media we select (3times bigger than internal disk);
    the process ALWAYS fails saying “….backup media not large enough to contain…..”
    It appears the “shadow drive….” (or some such) is boundless and causes the problem.
    Epic FAIL….

  7. Erik

    Does not work with TrueCrypt-encrypted drives. And Windows Backup does not recognize Truecrypt-mounted drives, either (it sees the RAW partition only).

  8. Taylor Gibb

    @Chemical We do try, next up is PowerShell and we did our best to cover everything despite there being no official guidelines. Hope you continue the journey with us!

    @Cho Something doesnt sound right, how big is the drive you backing up and how big is the drive you are backing up too?

  9. Ushindi

    No thoughts for me? Now I feel sad and neglected. :-)

  10. David

    7 Home premium (or w/e MS called it this time) doesn’t support network backups which is a massive oversight imo. It either has to be a local HDD or Optical drive, also, never allow windows to choose the files to be backed up, they select based upon file extension types, meaning you will back up thousands of files you don’t need to and fail to back up some very important file types it doesn’t consider “mainstreet” enough. I lost several visual basic projects this way about 4 years ago.

    Good article though. :)

  11. Chemical

    MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-680) is available on TPB and for purchase for $69.99. It includes an eBook, webcasts, study guide, practice test, etc.

  12. Taylor Gibb

    @Ushindi – Sorry never saw your comment there, what do you mean nothing happens. So you click on the button and no Window opens ?

  13. Andrew

    Just a heads up. Windows backups will stop backing up once the target drive is full. It requires manual deletions to free up space. Big headache for IT to have to babysit peoples backups.

  14. Ushindi

    Exactly, Taylor. My cursor turns into a little hand with the finger pointing up, I click on the “Set up backup”, but nothing ever happens. As I mentioned – in googling this, many others seem to have the same result. Software conflict? I have Nero 10 on my Windows 7, but don’t have the Nero backup activated – don’t care for it. I’m at a loss on how to get Windows backup to work and can’t find a solution online.

  15. Chemical
  16. Ushindi

    Thanks, but I have the same problem as this guy that commented there…”I tried to follow this as I have the backup problem, but for some reason, the options that come up on my screen bear no resemblance to your instructions so they can’t be followed? I simply cannot find some of the options you mention. I’m on Win 7 Home Premium 64 bit”.
    Going to “Processes”, I have NO “Go to services”, and if I click the “Services” tab, I have NO “Windows Backup” there to select “Automatic” nor are any of his other suggestions available in my Windows 7 Premium 64 bit system. In other words, my Task Manager seems to come from a different planet than his.
    I appreciate the attempt, though.

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