Making a regular backup of your PC is like buying an insurance policy - it’s something you hope you’ll never need, but you’ll be grateful for if you ever do.

You shouldn’t attempt anything that carries a potential risk to your data - installing a new version of Windows or upgrading a hard drive, for example - without first having an up-to-date backup. Fortunately, Windows 7 has a capable backup tool built in.

Check out the video above to find out more.


Step 1: Choose a storage device

Portable hard drive

Before making a backup, you’ll need something to store the backup on. An external hard drive is the safest option, but an internal hard drive can also be used.

[Related article: Seven ways to expand your PC's storage]

Always use a second hard drive and never use a partition on the hard drive you’re backing up, though - if the drive fails, all the data on all its partitions will go with it. Connect the drive you want to use to your PC before continuing.


Step 2: Locate Windows backup

Locate Windows backup

Open the Windows Control Panel and select Back up your Computer under System and Security. Click the Set up Backup option at the top right of the window.


Step 3: Saving it

Saving it

Windows will then ask where you want to store the backup by opening a window with a list of available drives. Select the drive you want to use and click the Next button.


Step 4: Create a System Image

Create a System Image

Within the Set up backup screen select Let Windows choose. If your backup drive is large enough to store the entire contents of your current hard drive, Windows will backup the entire drive as a ‘system image’ that makes it much easier to restore a hard drive when needed.

Otherwise, you’ll see a warning about the backup drive being too small and you’ll need to choose which files and folders to backup.

Click the Next button to continue.


Step 5: Backing up

Backing up

Windows will display a confirmation of its backup settings, so click the Save settings and run backup button to begin.

How long the backup takes depends on the amount of data being saved so large backups are usually best performed overnight when the PC isn’t being used. When the backup is complete, the backup window will show its size, together with its time and date.


Step 6: Regular backups

Regular backups

Unless you’ve made it for a specific purpose (such as immediately before a hard drive upgrade), a one-off backup is of little use and you’ll need to update it on a regular basis.

Fortunately, updating a backup is much quicker than making the initial one, since Windows only needs to backup the files that have changed in the meantime.

You can update a backup at any time by heading to Control Panel - System and Security - Backup and Restore and clicking the Back up now button.


Step 7: Set the schedule

Regular backups

Windows will automatically set a backup schedule once the first backup is complete, so you can just leave your backup drive connected to your PC and Windows will update the backup automatically.

In the Backup and Restore menu, click the Change settings option under Schedule to choose a more convenient time than Windows default. Click through the backup screens until you get to Review your backup settings and then click Change schedule.


Step 8: Restore individual documents

Restore individual documents

You can restore individual files and folders from a backup by heading to Backup and Restore - Restore my files. A new window will open with three buttons for Search, Browse for files and Browse for folders. You can click these in any combination to add user files to the list of files to restore and then you’ll be able to choose where to restore them.


Step 9: Restoring your files to a new hard drive

Restoring your files to a new hard drive

If you want to restore a complete system image backup to a new, empty, hard drive, make sure the backup drive is connected and boot your PC using your Windows 7 installation disc.

Choose the Repair your computer option when it appears, then the Use recovery tools that can help fix problems starting Windows option.

Next, select System Image Recovery and Windows will find the most recent backup on the drive, before leading you through the Re-image your computer process.