Methods for backing up your files

You can lose files by accidentally deleting or replacing them, because of a virus or worm attack, software or hardware failure, or a complete hard disk failure. To protect your files, you can create a backup: a set of copies of the files that is stored in a different location from the original files. Windows provides tools for backing up files, programs, and system settings.

Types of backups

You should back up your personal files, programs, and system settings. You should also create restore points so that you can restore your computer to a previous state when necessary. The table below describes each of these options.

To back up
When to use

Personal files such as pictures, music, and documents

Back Up Files wizard

You should regularly back up the files you create and modify. It's also a good idea to back up your files before making any system changes, such as adding new hardware, updating drivers, editing the registry, or making large changes to Windows, such as installing a service pack. For more information about backing up files, see Back up your files.

The Back Up Files wizard is included with Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, and Windows Vista Ultimate.

Your entire computer

Windows Complete PC Backup

When you first set up your computer, you should create a Windows Complete PC Backup image, which is like taking a snapshot of the programs, system settings, and files on your computer. You can use this backup if your computer ever stops working. Although this type of backup includes your personal files, we recommend that you back up your files regularly using the Back Up Files wizard. You should also update the Windows Complete PC Backup image every six months.

Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore is included with Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Enterprise, and Windows Vista Ultimate.


  • You should set up regular restore points so that you can undo any settings, such as driver updates, that might cause your computer to become unstable. For more information about restore points, see System Restore: frequently asked questions.

Ways to store backups

You can back up files to any of the following storage types:

  • Hard disks (internal or external)

  • Other removable disks

  • Writeable DVDs and CDs

  • Network locations

The first three options are often known collectively as media. You can also use an Internet-based file storage service. To decide which option to use, compare convenience, price, and ease of use, and consider the amount and size of files that you want to back up.

Storage devices

Internal hard disks. You can install (or have someone else install) a second internal hard disk in your computer and use it to back up files. Hard disks are relatively inexpensive and are not affected if you have a problem with your operating system. You can even install the disk in another computer if you buy a new computer and you still want to use the disk for backups.


  • Never back up files to a location on the same hard disk that Windows is installed on because if your computer gets a virus or has a software failure, you might have to reformat the disk and reinstall Windows to recover from the problem.

External hard disks. If your computer has a USB port, you can attach an external hard disk to it and then back up files to the external disk. Be sure to buy an external hard disk that has plenty of space for your backups (200 GB is a good choice). For maximum protection, keep your external hard disk in a fireproof location separate from the computer.

Writeable discs

You can also save your files to DVDs or CDs. Make sure the discs are writeable, which means that you can add, delete, or change the content. If you decide to use this method and have a lot of files to back up, be sure you have enough discs to finish the job. The Back Up Files wizard tells you how much space you need each time you perform a backup and recommends the type of media to use. If you label the discs with the date and time of the backup, they will be easier to find later. For maximum protection, keep the discs in a fireproof location separate from your computer.

Network locations

If your computer is on a network, you can back up to a network location. Make sure that you have the right permissions for the network and that other users can't access your backup.