Windows 10 includes several different types of backup and recovery tools. And we'll see it all.
Sometimes bad things happen to a good computer. Fortunately, Windows includes a number of tools you can use to make sure your files are backed up properly and restore your computer if necessary. On the backup side, File History is the primary backup tool in Windows 8 and 10. It not only offers full backups, but also a way to restore previous version files. Microsoft also includes the old Windows 7 Backup and Restore in Windows 8 and 10 and works in the same way as before, so you can perform selective or even full image-based backups. And while it's not an actual backup solution, the inclusion of OneDrive does not let you create a little redundancy into your file storage.
On the Recovery side of things, Windows offers a full recovery environment that you can use for troubleshooting and recovery, as well as the ability to reset your PC completely to its default settings. Here's how it all fits together.
Built-In Backup Tools in Windows
You've heard the advice one million times, but it's still surprising how many people do not take the time to make sure their files are adequately backed up. We've covered all kinds of ways to make sure your computer is backed up and we've even talked about what files to back up. The good news is that Windows itself provides some solid enough tools to get things done. Remember, this is not just about backup external hard drives. You also need to create offsite backups - or at least save your backup copy at different locations.
File History was first introduced in Windows 8 and continues to be the ultimate in-built backup solution in Windows 10. The History File does not make a complete copy of your entire PC. Instead, it focuses on ensuring that your personal files are backed up. You set up File History to back up all your files to an external drive and you can actually let it do its job. It not only regularly backs up files, but also retains previous versions of files that you can recover easily.
By default, File History backs up important folders in your user folders-such as Desktop, Docs, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos, and parts of the AppData folder. You can exclude folders you do not want to back up and add folders from elsewhere on the PC you want to back up.
When you need to recover files, you can view the entire collection of supported files and folders.
Or you can restore the previous version file from right into File Explorer.
File History gives you a pretty reliable way to make sure your personal files are backed up on a regular basis. Make sure to check our full guide for using File History for instructions on how to install it and use it.
Built-In Recovery Tools in Windows
Backups are vital, but Windows also includes a number of recovery tools that might just help you avoid having to restore those backups.
If you have a Windows problem that is normally handled by a common troubleshooting tool, System Restore must match the list of things you should try. This is good at fixing some types of issues, such as when apps or newly installed hardware drivers break stuff.
System Restore works by creating a "restore point" every so often. Restore points are a snapshot of your Windows system files, certain program files, registry settings, and hardware drivers. You can create a restore point at any time, even if Windows automatically creates a restore point once per week. It also creates restore points right before major system events, such as installing new device drivers, apps, or running Windows updates.
Then, if something goes wrong, you can run System Restore and redirect it to a recent restore point. This will restore system settings, files, and drivers, restoring the underlying Windows system to its previous state.
Be sure to check our complete guide for using System Restore, for details on how System Restore works, what files and applications can affect, and how to make sure it is enabled on your system.
Advanced Startup Options
Windows always offers some kind of recovery environment to help you solve problems when your computer can not run. In Windows 7, you can access certain advanced startup options-such as booting into Safe Mode or up to Command Prompt-by pressing F8 when your system starts.
In Windows 8 and 10, the advanced startup options work a little differently, but stay there. If Windows can not load normally, you will see the startup option automatically. To access it, go to Settings> Update & security> Recovery> Advanced Startup and click "Restart now." You can also hold down the Shift key when you click Restart in the Start menu.
From here, you can restore Windows from the system image you created, using System Restore to fix the problem, and perform other maintenance tasks. If you are running a Windows creation preview, this menu allows you to go back to the previous build if the current build can not boot or work properly. The same menu should also appear if your PC can not load Windows normally.
Recovery Drive Creator
Windows also lets you create a recovery drive that lets you access this advanced startup option even if your Windows installation is totally damaged and you can not access this menu-or if you have to replace the hard drive and its desire to restore the image backup
To create a recovery drive, press Start, type "recovery", then select "Create a recovery drive."
All you have to do in the "Recovery Drive" wizard is to choose the drive (CD / DVD in Windows 7, USB on Windows 8 or 10) and let it copy.
Reset This PC
This "Reset PC" feature has become one of the best additions to Windows 8 and 10. It is used to restore your computer to the default operating system state. This essentially replaces the need to reinstall Windows from scratch using a DVD installer or USB drive. Just say on Windows to reset your PC and it will do the job for you-all while letting you save your personal files if you want.
Note that Windows 8 has separated the "Refresh your PC" and "Reset your PC" options. Refresh saves all your file and personalization settings, but defines your PC settings to the default and uninstall your desktop applications. Reset deletes everything, including your files-such as performing a complete Windows reinstall from scratch. Windows 10 simplifies things with only the reset option, but allows you to decide whether to save your personal files during the reset process.
If you delete everything, you can also tell Windows to remove the driver safely - something you need to do before getting rid of your Windows 10 PC or other device.
In the end, the best backup and recovery tools in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t use them. Backing up your computer is so easy these days that there’s really no excuse not to. So, back it up, keep a backup offsite as well, and learn how to use those recovery tools for when you need them.