Backups for PC

If your computer got stolen, how much data would you lose?  Wedding photos, baby photos, important documents, photos of your recently deceased grandparents?

It’s vitally important that you have a backup solution ready for when disaster strikes, and one backup isn’t enough.

3-2-1 Backup

The basic principle of 3-2-1 Backup, is you have 3 copies of your data, stored on 2 different types of media and 1 of them is off site.

A good example of this is having one backup on an external hard drive at your house (local backup) and an online backup (offsite backup).

Part 1 – Local Backup

The easiest way to do a local backup on a PC is using Windows Backup. It’s software built into Windows 7, 8 and 10, and all it requires is an external hard drive.

The greatest thing about Windows Backup is once it’s setup, it’s all automatic. As long as the drive is plugged in, it will backup. If there’s something wrong, it will bring up a little notification letting you know what happened and what to do to fix it (the most common problem is forgetting to plug the drive in).

Windows Backup will save you from things happening like: your computer dying, the hard drive in your computer failing, your computer being stolen/lost (assuming they don’t also steal the backup drive) or files being accidentally deleted, overwritten or corrupted.

What it won’t save you from: Someone stealing your computer *and* your backup drive, your house burning down and taking the hard drive with it, some types of virus (that also infect the backup drive) or the very rare situation where both your backup drive fails at the same time as your computer (eg. a really bad lightning strike that breaks both your computer and backup drive).

A quick note about Windows Backup, by default, it backs up your User Data folder. It won’t backup your applications or the system (but really, if something happens where you need to recover that, you would need to reinstall your applications etc anyway).

Choosing a Hard Drive

To use Windows Backup, you will need a USB Hard Drive, these are available in many different sizes.

Windows Backup will use all the space available on a drive to hold both the data currently on your PC and older versions/deleted files as far back as it can.  The bigger your backup drive, the further back you can recover data from.

To determine how big of a drive you need, it is recommended that you get a drive that’s approximately 2x the size of your current drive, though it will work with a drive that is the same size as your PC (and depending on how much data you have, you could have a much smaller backup drive and still be okay).

To determine how big the drive in your PC is, you need to go to Windows Explorer then This PC (Shortcut version:  Hold down the Windows Key and press E)


For Reference: 1000GB (Gigabyte) is the same as 1TB (Terrabyte)

You can see I have a 237GB Hard Drive, so a 500GB backup drive would be a good size for me.

Extra notes for buying hard drives

  • For the most part, the brand of the drive doesn’t matter.
    • Drives from companies like Seagate, Samsung, Toshiba, Western Digital, Lacie are all good.
  • You should aim for something that has USB3.  Most drives are already USB3 anyway.
  • There are two sizes of drive, 3.5″ and 2.5″. The 2.5″ drives are smaller and don’t require a power brick to use, however the 3.5″ drives come in much larger sizes.   A 2.5″ drive will be fine.

How to Set Up Windows Backup

So, you’ve got a hard drive. All you need to do now is to set it up!

These instructions assume you’re running Windows 10. The process is very similar on Windows 8, and a bit different on Windows 7.

Step 1: Press the Start button and type the word “Backup”.  Select “Backup Settings”


Step 2: With your USB hard drive plugged in, click on “Add a drive”

Step 3: Select your Hard Drive that you want to back up on to from the list.


Step 4: Once you’ve picked your drive, it may take a few minutes for it to set it up, there’s no feedback of what’s going on here either, so just let it sit for a minute.

Step 5: Click on “More Options” (just underneath the 1 Arrow above)


Here you can set your options for how often you want it to back up, every hour should be fine, it will only back up changes so if you haven’t changed much, then it will backup near instantly.

You should also set “Keep my backups” to “Until space is needed”. This way it will just delete the older backups when the drive gets full and continue backing up.  Alternately, if you’re using the hard drive for other data too, you can set it to 3 months, that way it will keep all the data on your machine and old data up to 3 months back, leaving you with space on the backup drive you can use for other things.

Also check the “Back up these folders” section. Assuming you keep most of your data in the Documents, Pictures, Desktop etc folders in your home folder, you will be fine.

Please note that some strange programs keep data in weird places like directly on the C drive. These folders would need to be added using the Add a Folder option.

It will now back up all your data onto the drive.  The first backup may take a few hours to run, so leave it plugged in and let it finish. You can force it to do a backup by clicking “Backup Now” in the more options page, or check the status of it in the same place.

From now on, whenever you plug the hard drive in, it will automatically backup. If you’ve got a laptop, I suggest you leave the backup drive on your desk at home, and whenever you put your laptop down, plug the backup drive in.

How do I know if it’s working?

If you go into the Backup Settings page and click More Options, it will tell you what’s happening with the drive (including when it last completed a backup)

How do I restore data from a backup?

If you’ve deleted a file or want to see what has been backed up, if you go to Backup Settings then More Options, right down the bottom is the option “Restore files from a current backup”


The window that comes up is the File History tool.  In here you can press forward or back to go back in time to earlier backups and select files to restore by clicking the file or folder you want then clicking the big green restore button.

Fun Fact: If you want to restore a file to somewhere other than where it was originally, you can right click the Restore button and select “Restore to”


Part 2 – Cloud Backup

There are a number of services you can use for backing up online.  My personal favourite is CrashPlan, some others include BackBlaze and Mozy@Home.  This post will explain how to set up CrashPlan.

Compared to a Local Backup, there are some pros and cons to using cloud backup:


  • Stored offsite. If your house burns down, your data is fine
  • Version Control and limited direct access.  This is a pro, because in the case of a virus on your computer that deletes files, it doesn’t have access to the Cloud Backup, thus your backups will still be safe, even if a virus wipes out your computer *and* your backup drive.
  • Once set up, completely automated. No need to plug a drive in.
  • Data is backed up with encryption, so only you can decrypt the data (using your account password)


  • High Internet usage. If you’ve got a limited amount of internet bandwidth, you may need to reconsider this option as it uploads all your data via the internet.  You can get around this a little bit by only backing up your most important data.
  • Yearly cost
  • Retrieving your data requires you to download it back again, so for a huge amount of data it can take a while

Cost: At the time of writing (January 2017), it is $5.25AUD a month for one machine, or $12.50AUD a month for up to 10 computers,  including unlimited storage.

They also include a free 30 day trial. The following is how to set it up with the trial (which you can easily update to the full version once it’s up and running)

How to setup CrashPlan

Step 1: Go to the Website for CrashPlan:
Step 2: Click the Try it Free button up the top of the page
Step 3: Click the Download button under the Free section
Step 4: Click Download Crashplan
Step 5: Once it has downloaded, run the installer. Keep clicking Next on the installer until it’s installed.
Step 6: Once the installer has completed, CrashPlan will open
Step 7: Follow the instructions to create a new account


Step 8: Once you get to the main CrashPlan screen, you can click “Start Backup” next to CrashPlan Australia to backup to the cloud.



Here’s a few things to note

  • Click on the “Change” button under Files to pick what files are backed up.  If your internet isn’t very fast or you have a download limit, you should limit how much you back up.  Eg. Backup your Photos, but don’t worry about backing up your downloads folder or your collection of pirated movies.
  • You can go into Settings to change how often it backs up. Note that if you set it to backup at night, your computer has to be on for it to backup.

Did I miss anything?  Leave a comment and let me know!

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