How to Backup to an External Hard Drive

In a previous article we looked at using System Imaging as handy way to backup our entire computer. The benefits being, you are able to keep a safe replica of your system in a working state. System Images though can be quite large, using a lot of hard disk space that might not be available to all users.

The next best option is Backup and Restore. First introduced in Windows Vista, this enhanced recovery solution replaced Windows XP’s dated NTBackup utility.

The benefits are convenient too, you can individually backup individual user accounts, libraries and folders. In fact, I discovered, Backup and Restore is most preferable over solutions such as Windows Easy Transfer. One of the ill-effects I discovered from using WET for backup is, it messes with your Microsoft Outlook Personal Folders.

WET does not have any idea about other locations you store important information. Neither does Backup and Restore, but you can change that easily. An example, right now I am testing Windows 7 SP1, what I realized, when I did WET Backups, then restoring on an updated build, my Windows XP Mode which I use for compatibility was never backed although its something I regularly use. With Backup, I can ensure that the specific directory where XP Mode stores its .VHD file is included all my backup sets.

Types of Backup

One of the important things to know before beginning a backup is  to know the types of backup there are.

  • Normal Backup – A normal/full backup archive all files selected to the medium. These files are marked as having been archived by clearing the archive bit.
  • Copy Backup – All selected files are copied, it however does not mark the files as having been archived.
  • Differential Backup – Back up is performed on All the files and folders that have been created or modified since either the last normal backup or the last incremental backup. Files are not marked as having been archived. Copies will be made from the same starting point until the next incremental or full backup is performed. Making differential backups is important because only the last full and differential backups are needed to restore all the data.
  • Incremental Backup – An incremental backup procedure backs up all the files and folders that have been created or modified since either the last normal or incremental backup. It marks the files as having been archived by clearing the archive bit. This has the effect of advancing the starting point of differential backups without having to re-archive the entire contents of the drive. If you have to perform a system restore, you would have to first restore the last full backup, then restore every incremental backup in order, and then restore any differential backups made since the last incremental backup.
  • Daily Backup – Daily backups only back up the files that are modified on the day of the backup. Daily backups do not modify the archive bit.

In the case of Windows 7 Backup and Restore, the initial backup is a full backup, subsequent backups are Incremental – i.e – only changed files are backed up. When certain rules (eg. a long time has passed since the last full backup or the amount of data being backed becomes too large compared to the previous backup sets) Backup and Restore runs a full backup which automatically deletes the older backup sets through ‘Manage space’. You will see a new entry with a newer backup period in the Manage space wizard whenever a new full backup is created.

External Hard disk

To efficiently, effectively, reliably and safely backup your computer, please invest in a External Hard disk. I am imploring on you seriously, please do so.

Why? Well, they are cheap, you can get a good 1 TB external hard disk below $70. Backing up gigabytes of data to DVD’s which store about 4.7 GBs of information is inefficient and is likely to produce a number of coasters in the process. I can tell you this personally from experience when I had to backup a friends computer. I remember successfully backing up a small amount of data to DVD’s, when I tried to restore the data, it just would not happen. External hard disks allow you freedom and wide open space to do more innovative types of backup. For instance, you could do a Standard Backup, create multiple system images, a Windows Easy Transfer file and if you are using Windows 7 Enterprise or Ultimate, create a bootable copy of Windows 7 installation on a partition called a .VHD Boot, so you can use a Windows 7 installation with a Virtual Machine or another computer.

Uninterruptable Power Supply/AC-DC Power

The worst backup is when the power goes or your battery dies during the backup, that’s called an immediate disaster. It is recommended you plug the External hard disk into a UPS to ensure consistent power even if a power outage occurs. A UPS might not guarantee you that you will be able to complete the backup, since most of them provide a max 30 mins of juice. But if you only have a few minutes remaining, it can be very handy or it allows you to safely cancel the backup without causing damage to external hard disk or computer. By default, laptops must be plugged in when running backup.

Starting your backup.


Click Start, type: Backup


Then hit Enter on your keyboard


This will open the Backup and Restore center. From here you will see an overview of information about your backup activities, such as your storage devices used (CD/DVD, External hard disk), time you did your last backup, when backups are scheduled, settings for adjusting backup, and information for restoring backups.

There are multiple backup methods available in Windows 7. You have System Image which creates a replica of your entire Windows 7 installation along with your personal files, installed applications and personal settings. An External hard disk is most certainly recommended for this type of backup. took a look at how to create a System Image and Restore it here Then there is the Standard backup or what is known as the full backup this only backs up your accounts and libraries, along with important information such as your personalized settings.

Beginning your Backup

Connect the External hard disk (I will be using an external USB hard disk), turn it on.

Note: If you are backing up a laptop, please make sure you are connected to AC/DC power since Backup will not execute on battery power.


If you don’t see your external hard disk show up as a backup location in Backup and Restore, click the Change settings link.


Select the Backup Destination and click Next.


Next, you will be asked to select what you would like to backup.

Let Windows choose

If you let Windows choose what is backed up, the following items are included in your backup:

  • Data files that are saved in libraries, on the desktop, and in default Windows folders for all people with a user account on the computer.Notes
    • Only local files in libraries are included in the backup. If you have files in a library that are saved on a drive located on a different computer on a network, on the Internet, on the same drive that you are saving the backup on, or on a drive that is not formatted using the NTFS file system, they aren’t included in the backup.
    • Default Windows folders include AppData, Contacts, Desktop, Downloads, Favorites, Links, Saved Games, and Searches.
  • If the drive you are saving your backup on is formatted using the NTFS file system and has enough disk space, a system image of your programs, Windows, and all drivers and registry settings are also included in the backup. This image can be used to restore the contents of your computer if your hard drive or computer stops working. For more information, see What is a system image?

Let me choose

You can choose to back up individual folders, libraries, or drives.

  • All files in known system folders (folders that contain files that Windows needs to run), and known program files (files that define themselves as part of a program in the registry when the program is installed) will not be backed up even if they are in a selected folder.
  • If a folder or drive is not selected, the contents of that folder or drive are not backed up.

I personally will be going with the Let me choose option because, there are certain directories that are not included in the default Backup option. Click Next



Individual folders I have selected and excluded for backup


Here you can see Backup allows you to select which locations you want to backup, these include user accounts, drives and folders. I personally would like to have my Windows Virtual PC folder backed up since I use it regularly and make changes to it. After I have selected what I want to backup, click Next


Backup now provides a review of the items we have selected and excluded in our backup. Your options will likely be different. Once you are happy with the options (you can always click the Back button and make adjustments if needed), click Save settings and run backup



You will then be taken back to the Backup and Restore window where you can monitor the progress of the Backup. The time it takes to backup will vary depending on the size of the backup. Other factors include processor and memory. For this particular backup I did, which is about 16 GBs of data, it took about 2 hours.


Once the backup is complete, you can click close, eject you’re your external hard disk and turn it off. That’s it! In a future article, we will take a look at restoring the backup.

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