How to backup your installation of Windows 7

Now that you have upgraded to Windows 7, you will need to create a backup of your installation. One of the major reasons why I recommend you do this immediately after installation is to avoid some of the chores associated with reinstalling Windows 7. For instance, if your computer crashes or becomes unstable and you need to reinstall Windows, you will have to do a couple of extra steps if you purchased the Upgrade version of Windows 7.

The upgrade version of Windows 7 requires that you have a qualifying version of Windows (XP or Vista) already installed on your system to be in compliance with the upgrade license. In addition to that, the qualifying version of Windows must be activated, this is unlike past versions of Windows which only required that you provide the Windows disk for verfication. So creating a System Image right after installing Windows 7 can avoid these procedures if the need ever arises in the future. Of course, you will need to have an external hard disk if you plan on backing up your installation, especially if you have a large data set (install size of all your personal files, installed programs combined). External hard drives are abundantly affordable today, you can pick up a 1 TB hard drive for less than $80 from some computer retailers. So its a definite recommendation, especially for this guide.

Windows Vista introduced a powerful suite of backup tools that made securing your installation of Windows a more confident experience. All editions of Windows 7 include System Image, which provides options for backing your personal data such as Libraries, Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos and other application files or your entire installation of Windows 7 either to an external hard disk or remote location such as a Network drive (Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions only).

Pre-requisite: To do a successful backup of Windows 7, you must have a few things in place:

  • Enough available storage to perform the backup, whether you are backing up to a Network drive or an external drive is necessary. A System Image will create a backup of your entire installation of Windows 7. If you are doing an initial backup, each successive backup copies only the files that have changed since the previous one. The old copies are saved, just in case one of your backups are altered or a file has been deleted and you need to go back to a previous version. So enough space to accommodate these scenario’s is very important. Backup and Restore intelligently manages storage space, if there is not enough space on the disk, one ore more of the older backups will be discarded starting with the oldest.
  • If you are backing up your laptop, ensure that your AC/DC power adapter is connected, since a backup might take longer than the available battery power can support. For my desktop, I have a UPS connected just in case a power outage occur’s.

Windows 7 backup and restore features are designed to make protecting your data and system easier. The combined file and system backup wizard delivers a simplified configuration experience, and the folder selectivity functionality for file backup provides users greater control over their backup content. Managing backup is easier with the new space management user interface and integration with Action Center. Recovering your system is made easier with simplified interface and better guidance for choosing a recovery method. Lets get started:

 Search Backup

Click Start, type: Backup

Search Backup - 2

Hit Enter

Setup Backup

New backups must be setup before beginning

Back wiz1 Back wiz1 searching

Searching for available Backup devices

If this is your first time creating a backup, you will need to set it up first. Click the Setup Backup link which will initiate the Backup wizard. The wizard searches your computer and displays a list of all destinations that you can use to store your backup. Because I have not turned on my External hard disk which is where I plan to save the system image of Windows 7 installation, it does not appear in the list. I will now turn on my External Drive and click the Refresh button.

 Back wiz3

Now that the backup device has appeared, I can select it and click Next to proceed with the Backup. Windows provides two options for back up in version 7:

Back wiz4

Let Windows choose (recommended) Windows will back up data files saved in libraries, on the desktop, and in the default Windows folders. Windows will also create a system image, which can be used to restore your computer it stops working. These items will be backed up on a regular schedule.

Let me choose You can select libraries and folders and whether to include a system image in the backup. The items you choose will be backed up on a regular schedule.

The decision primarily comes down to available storage. Letting Windows choose is the best choice because everything will be backed up and provides the best option in the case of scenarios such as Windows unable to boot or the Startup Repair is unable to get your Windows installation working again. If you want some detailed options, the ability to choose is also great because you might have libraries you might not want to backup because they contain large amounts of data that might exceed your available storage space, so the option to exclude those makes it easier to backup what is most important to you.

I have chosen to backup my entire computer which includes all accounts along with a System Image of my Windows 7 Installation. The Review your backup settings, notes that you will need a System Repair disc to restore an System Image. Please refer to my recent recovery options article here for more details if your PC does not include one. You can also use your Windows 7 installation DVD to assist with the restoration of your System Image. Once you have reviewed everything, its time to start the back up, click Save settings and run backup button.

Back wiz5 Preparing Backup

Preparing to Backup your Windows 7 installation

Backup process View Details

One of the changes you will notice in Windows 7, the Backup and Restore explorer is utilized for monitoring the progress of your backup. You can click the View Details button which will reveal more information such as percentage completed and what is happening during the backup itself. The time it will take to complete the backup will vary depending on the amount of data. Based on past experiences, if its your first backup, it will take some time, future incremental backups will be shorter.


I did come across some problems during my backup experience. The program seem to not be responding at all and remained stuck at 7% trying to create a Shadow Copy. After several failed attempts and restarts, I tried the following:

Click Start, type Services, hit Enter. Scroll down down to Windows Backup and Restore service make sure that it is set to start automatically. Right click the Service, click Properties > under the General tab > click in the “Startup type:” list box, and select ‘Automatic’, click Apply and OK. Click the ‘Play’ button on the Toolbar to Start the service. Do the same for Windows Shadow Copy service. My installation of Windows 7 was actually an upgrade from Windows Vista SP1, so its possible there was some anomaly that occurred during the upgrade that caused problems with certain services and tools. After doing this though and clicking the ‘Create a system image’ task link in the Backup and Restore explorer, I was presented with the option to backup my Windows 7 installation which proceeded without any issues from there on.

Doing the Restoration

Doing the restoration is a very simple process, if you need guided assistance you can use the the System Recovery Environment item in Action Center located in Control Panel to help. In my case, I will simply insert my Windows 7 DVD, boot from it and choose the the System Image Recovery option. Lets take a look at doing that.

Recovery Environment 2 Startup Clean 2

Booting from my Windows 7 DVD which is loading the Recovery Environment


After selecting your Language, click the ‘Repair your computer’ link which will take you to the recovery options.


Checking for Windows installations


In our case, we will be doing a restoration, so select that option


The System Image Wizard will now begin, click ‘Next’


Here you can see I have a collection of System Images, I will select my desired image, in this case WIN7X64-ACER and click Next.


The Backup name and date listed will be restored to the selected location, in this case ‘C:’


If I had created any changes to the drive lay out after my last System Image Backup, such as creating additional partitions, I can have those partitions formatted and removed so it matches exactly to the System Image I am restoring from my external hard disk. You do have the option however to exclude attached storage devices and partitions.

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Confirm your selected options, and click Finish to Start the restoration of your System Image.


Once the restoration is complete, you will be prompted to restart your computer.

The restoration will take some time depending on the size of the image, my Windows 7 System Image which totaled about 69 GB’s took more than an hour to restore.


There you have it, a powerful way to protect your computer and personal files. Backup in Windows 7 has never been easier. You can also schedule your backups, which will ensure that your information is always safe. I am very impressed by how easy the process is both backing up and restoring. My recommendation is to get a dedicated external drive, backing up GBs of data to DVD which is an available option is both time consuming and unreliable. Also, backing up to an internal partition defeats the purpose of Backups in the first place. With System Image and External hard disk, you are able to keep a protected off site copy of your Windows 7 Installation in case something catastrophic happens.

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