Set your mind at ease

Back up your files now

By Tatsuo Yamada

Much like rotating the tires on my car every 6,000 miles or scheduling a regular checkup at the dentist, backing up the files on my computer is one of those things that I need to do, but for some reason don’t. I promise myself that I'll get around to these tasks some other time when I'm not as busy. However, I know that if a cavity-ridden molar causes me to wince in pain or I lose all the music and family photos saved on my computer, I can blame no one but myself for not taking preventive steps.

I recently decided that enough was enough. One Saturday morning, I drove my car to a local garage to get the tires rotated, scheduled an appointment with my dentist, and then returned home to back up my computer.

Backing up isn't hard to do

Once I got started, I discovered that backing up the files on my computer wasn’t complicated or time consuming. All I did was start the wizard and decide where to save the backup, what type of files to back up, and when the backup should happen. Windows Vista took care of the rest.

To start a backup, click the Start button Picture of the Start button, click Control Panel, click System and Maintenance, click Backup and Restore Center, and then click Back up files.


  • If you are asked for a password or permission to continue when following the steps above, type your password or provide permission.

Picture of Backup and Restore Center
Peace of mind is only a click away

Choose a safe place for your files

Your first decision is where to save the backups. Your options are saving them to a CD or DVD, another hard disk, or a network location. Before deciding, consider the following:

  • CD or DVD. This is an inexpensive option for storing backups somewhere safe, but might require multiple discs depending on the amount of information you back up. This option also requires you to check on the backup periodically in case you need to insert another disc into the computer after the previous one is full.

  • Another hard disk. This means saving backups to a second internal hard disk installed on your computer or to an external hard disk connected by a USB cable. This option is more expensive than using a CD or DVD, but a hard disk can store many more files.

  • A network location. If you have a home network, you can save backups to a shared folder, such as the Public folder. If you want to back up files on your work computer, you might be able to save the backup to a location on your corporate network.

Since I had a lot of files to back up and don't have a home network, I decided to save my backups to an external hard drive. Luckily, I bought a 250 gigabyte (GB) external hard drive for under a hundred dollars about three months ago for just this purpose. I connected the external hard drive to the computer, selected it from the list in the wizard, and then clicked Next.

Picture of selecting a backup location
Consider cost and convenience when selecting where to save backups

What's important to you?

The next step is deciding what to save. In Windows Vista, you can choose what to back up by selecting the check box next to specific file types. By default, all of the file types are selected, including pictures, music, videos, e-mail messages, documents, TV shows, compressed files, and all other file types.

Picture of selecting file types for backup
Pointing to a check box displays a description of the file type

However, because I never save videos or e-mail messages to my computer, I decided to limit the file types that were backed up. My highest priorities were photos of my family and friends, my entire digitized CD collection, and all of the short stories I wrote. I selected the check boxes for pictures, music, and documents, and then clicked Next.

Schedule regular backups

The final step is to set a schedule for when Windows Vista automatically backs up your files.

I decided that backing up once a month was probably sufficient for my home computer. If this were my work computer, I might schedule backups more frequently, like once a week. I scheduled the backup for the last day of the month at 3:00 A.M., and then clicked Save settings and start backup.

The first time you back up your computer, Windows creates a new, full backup. Any subsequent backups are incremental—that is, only new or changed files are backed up.

Picture of scheduling automatic backups
Choose when and how often to back up your files

In case of an emergency, please return to the Backup and Restore Center

After creating my backup, I immediately felt better. I know that if something happens to any of the files on my computer, I just need to return to the Backup and Restore Center, click Restore files, choose the date of the backup, find and add all of the files and folders I want to restore, designate where I want to save those files, and then click Start restore.

The great thing is that because I scheduled automatic backups, I don’t have to worry about finding the time to back up my computer again. Now I just need to find time to get the oil changed in my car, change the batteries in the smoke detectors, replace the air filter in the furnace….

About the author

Picture of columnist Tatsuo Yamada

Tatsuo Yamada ist Autor im Windows-Team bei Microsoft. Vor seiner Tätigkeit bei Microsoft war er als freiberuflicher technischer Autor für verschiedene Softwareunternehmen im Raum Seattle im US-Bundesstaat Washington tätig. In seiner Freizeit ist er ein leidenschaftlicher – wenn auch nur mittelmäßiger – Golfer und Snowboarder und verbringt viel Zeit mit seinem Hund Trout.

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