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How do I make and restore backups from Windows 7?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / May 18, 2012 9:18 AM PDT

How do I make and restore backups from Windows 7?

How do I make and restore backups from Windows 7? I believe they are
done with images that I do not know about. I tried and when I wanted
to restore some part of it, I was told that you cannot restore only a
part of it, rather you have to restore the full previous image. Now,
wouldn't this overwrite all my newer information?

I am a pensioner, so these technologies are getting a bit beyond me.
But what I would like to do is back up an image of Windows 7 and my
content, restore when I need to when things go wrong, and be on my way.
Is there such a thing? I need something that is user-friendly and
effective -- whether it is paid or not. Do you have any suggestions as
to what to use? If you can, I ask that you please keep the tech jargon to
a minimum as it may go over my head. I would really appreciate some
help here. Thank you.

- Submitted by Angie R.
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Windows Home Server
by lincolnhyde / May 18, 2012 10:29 AM PDT

My own solution, which unfortunately isn't cheap, was to purchase HP's Windows Home Server computer. This is a computer which stands alone (no monitor or keyboard), attaches to my home network, and automatically backs up all of my computers every night - saving only unique sectors.

When the hard drive on my PC crashed, I installed a new drive, booted from a CD (which I had previously built using the WHS software), then restored the full "image".

When I just needed a couple of files restored, I went to the server interface and chose the files I needed.

The initial setup was most of the headache - after that, I'm home free.

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by Andreas1292 / May 18, 2012 10:39 AM PDT

The simplest, cheapest and most effective way to back up your entire drive would be the
inbuilt Windows 7 system image wizard.
It makes a clone of your entire hard drive. so if anything happens you can restore the entire
hard drive.
It can also run on a schedule.
The only thing you need to restore the system image would be a win7 repair
disk or a win7 installation disk.

I have tried 3rd party software and I haven't found anything that is faster and effective
than the built in system image creator.
You will need an external drive or a partition that is larger than the drive you want to backup.

Another advantage of the system image is the ability to mount it in disk management to restore
any files you may have lost without using the restore wizard.
You can also mount the system image on any windows pc and restore your files.

I like it because it's convenient

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by Luhng / May 25, 2012 3:04 PM PDT
In reply to: backups

I simply don't trust Windows with anything I want to be sure about.

I use a commercial product because of Windows.

I got Vista several years ago, correctly installed, correctly configured.

I tried using Vista System Restore probably 30-40 times and every time, it failed.

Whilst the system was functional, I always got the message that there were errors and Windows could not properly restore the system to the selected restore point. I tried several restore points and it was the same every time. And my system was running in almost perfect order (I was restoring to make sure a newly added programme was removed fully).

So, personally, it wouldn't enter my mind to use Windows to backup or restore anything I wanted to know was done correctly. Especially when it tells me repeatedly, it just can't do it. If it can't ever read it's own files and use them what on earth would it do to anything else you throw at it? Not willing to find out!!! (Not with Vista anyway.)

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That was Vista
by DADSGETNDOWN / May 28, 2012 2:25 PM PDT
In reply to: Windows?!

And Most Windows do very well. But you didn't say what you did do or use.

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You have different situations
by jrap30 / May 27, 2012 1:30 AM PDT
In reply to: backups

Unfortunately what the first few respondant did not state.......most free back-up or imagining solutions do NOT allow you to just back-up a certain area...they are designed to create a FULL system image of your hard drive in case something goes wrong like a hard drive crash. CNET offers plenty of free solutions, and maybe at this moment, one will allow you to just back-up or image a folder, as of 2 years ago they did not, you had to buy the "paid version"...Check CNET download area for: Paragon, Macrieum Reflect, Easus TODO etc and see if one of the FREE ones will allow a foldrer back-up.......if NOT can BUY Norton Ghost, expensive or Acronis True Image cheaper which will do the job and buy one of the paid version mention, just rad the description beforehand to ensure it allows folder or just partition back-up.

You can also just copy folders or particular files you want to back up and their is a program or two that will help you do it, check CNET and other on line repositories.

There is a difference between backing up a copy and creating images of folders or the whole hard drive. If you have time try reading up on it...I did a few years ago when I also was confuse on the topic.

You may want to just make copies of folders or files you deemed critical to an exterenal hard drive orr USB drive and use W7 backup and restore every months or so.

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by lsjparalegal / May 27, 2012 9:58 AM PDT

Thanks for your reply.
I am still very confused - sorry!
I guess where my confusion stems from is some time ago I purchased an external hard drive (very small storage capacity - don't know exact terminology). Anyway, I did first complete backup. Then, about a month later, I wanted to backup data files from time of first backup to time of second backup. Gave me option of when and what (sorry - not exact language). Selected what I wanted - certain files, pictures, etc.; backed up, once and done!
Unplugged; external drive went into fire safe filing cabinet.
Already have discs of computer as coming from the factory.
Does this make things a bit clearer.
I know I don't always explain things the right way; don't have the terminology.

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There are different "image" methods...
by JCitizen / May 27, 2012 5:06 PM PDT
In reply to: Bacup

The poster who said you need a bigger hard drive to put your image on was right if you do a snapshot image, which is a complete clone of the original drive. But Macrium Reflect will do compressed images that fit into an amazingly small folder. I bought a pocket drive for my 500 Gb system hard drive backups, and it was 650 Gbs. But I've hardly scratched the capacity of it, and I have several types of backups on it already! If you select XML option, it can be restored with a click!

You can do incremental image backups with Macrium, but I didn't see if you had to pay for Reflect to get it. The website says it has file and folder masks and differential and incremental backup ability as a core feature(many others as well). To me this means FREE!

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by lsjparalegal / May 28, 2012 6:21 AM PDT

Thanks for your reply.
Unfortunately I didn't understand anything you said. Technologically challenged!
Bigger hard drive to place image on to do a snapshot image????? Huh?
And it goes down from there.
Sorry, but you have totally confused me, and I am sure I have totally confused you in perhaps not better articulating my needs as follows:
Do a complete backup of C drive (not discs for factory condition - already did that; in safe location).
Issue/question: do intermittent backup of files/data since original backup performed (not factory condition), backing up only files on C drive (?) since first backup.
I don't know how to explain it any differently.
I know many companies run tape backups daily - backing up everything and backing up data from day before to current day.
Really, that's all I know.
I don't have videos, pictures, music, etc. that I need to back up.
I run a very small home-based business. Want to backup files (work performed) from original backup to now (next backup) to next backup (perhaps a week from now) picking up work from second backup to now.
Does this help?
Some of the suggestions posted are complicated, expensive, amazingly time consuming, assume knowledge that I don't have and, I am guessing. are not really responsive to my needs.

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Using Windows backup...
by JCitizen / May 29, 2012 9:03 AM PDT
In reply to: Backup
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Not Correct
by jamestown45 / May 30, 2012 7:35 AM PDT
In reply to: backups

Some of this post is not correct, or at least not with my Win 7 pc.

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I use Image for DOS
by jjmartin1340 / May 18, 2012 10:59 AM PDT

I use Windows XP not 7, but it shouldn't be too different. I have used Image for DOS to make image backups (image means the entire contents of the hard disk) for 10 years or so. I am currently using version 2.68. I back up to an external 1 Terabyte USB hard drive, about once a month (or whenever I add a new program or update to my drive). I can restore the entire image, or I can copy individual files from the image. It's not the easiest program to use ( I am a retired computer technician, so I have no problem). It's not expensive.
I also do a daily backup of my data files, using Windows Briefcase. Just my Word docs and accounting package and photos and email files.

My external USB hard drive came with a backup program on it, but I've never used it. I stick with what works for me.

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Thank you
by joymom2t / May 28, 2012 12:35 AM PDT
In reply to: I use Image for DOS

Thank you for explaining what 'image' means...

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I like Acronis True Image
by 4Denise / May 18, 2012 11:02 AM PDT

I have never used the built-in Windows backup. I use Acronis True Image, which works great. I only do images of my C drive (the drive with the system on it). I have my data on other drives. This does not sound like your setup. The advantage of this setup, though, is that I can restore just my system and leave my data alone if I have a problem.

I also subscribe to Carbonite. This is a service that backs up most of the data on your drives automatically. Normally, there is nothing to do except let it work. I use Carbonite for my data drives. If I lose something I need, I can open up the Carbonite interface and get the information off of the service's servers up to 30 days after I lost the original. It works well for me. I also make direct backups to DVD (no backup software) every 6 months or so, just to keep around.

My setup doesn't sound like what is best for you, but I described it just in case it ever is. For you, you want software that allows you to mount your backup as if it were a drive and then pull the files off of it. According to a previous poster, the built in Windows backup will do this. If this is true, then all you need is to find out how to do it. I have no experience with this software, so I can't tell you, but I'm sure there is someone out there who is willing to post some instructions.

Be aware that getting the files off the backup is not the same as a restore. Restore will replace everything with whatever is on the backup. You are absolutely correct about that. Pulling the files off of a backup is a different procedure. I hope that someone can tell you how this is done.

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I don't know if helful or not you judge
by netsiu / May 18, 2012 11:32 AM PDT

I don't think an idividual file can be found i a back up but a clone like araid drive could make it posible.

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Okay... I have to add something
by 4Denise / May 18, 2012 4:24 PM PDT

After reading through the posts, I think that most people do not understand what you are asking for.

I know that Acronis True Image will allow you to mount your backup as a drive and extract information from it, without having to restore the backup and wipe out your other data. I do not know if you can do this with the Windows 7 built-in backup.

Subscribing to Carbonite would also give you what you need. You could make your regular backups, just as usual, in case of a complete system meltdown. You could then rely on Carbonite to keep your data backed up regularly. It isn't entirely intuitive, but it does work well. Type "Carbonite" (without the quote marks) into a search engine to find it.

If you would rather just buy a program, Acronis True Image will allow you to remove data from a backup. You will need to read the instructions to find out how, but it isn't difficult.

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Agree about Carbonite
by hazzzard / May 25, 2012 11:26 PM PDT

I recently lost my Windows XP box and had to purchase a new system with Win7. I used Carbonite to back up my old system. After I brought up my Win7 box, I simply downloaded the Carbonite app and clicked Restore. It restored all my old data file and I didn't lose anything. It took a couple of days for everything to get restore via their cloud storage, but well worth it. Another benefit of Carbonite is that is an "off site" storage. If you were simply backing up to a external drive, you would not be able to recover if you had a natural disaster in your home (I know that is a rare case).

Here is my backup/recovery strategy.
1) I build a recover set of DVD's
2) I keep a word document updated everytime I make a change (install software, delete, etc).
3) Backup with Carbonite.

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More than one way to skin a cat
by andrewbaggins / May 18, 2012 12:16 PM PDT

The free backup program called Easeus ToDo (available from CNET Downloads page) will walk you through the steps for creating a "Backup Image" of your entire setup. Another good program is Acronis True Image for around $30 in stores or online from and others.

However, as another poster here already said, it can be argued that the best method is to use Windows 7 built-in Backup and Restore program. In its simplest form the program has a couple of quirks, but it will make an exact copy of your entire Windows, documents, photos, music, etc. and there is very little effort involved on your part.

Now, about those quirks. I will describe them. Your computer stores everything (including Windows 7) on a device called a hard drive. The capacity of a hard drive is measured in GigaBytes (GB, for short) and TeraBytes (TB for short). A typical computer may have, for example, a 500GB hard drive (or maybe even a 1000GB which equals 1TB). Windows plus all your "data" (documents, photos, video, music, etc.) might take up, say, 200GB total space. That leaves 300GB of unused space. So far, so good.

A requirement for using Windows 7 Backup and Restore is that you have another hard drive of sufficient capacity to hold the Backup Image/copy/clone that you want to make. This is where a Windows quirk comes in. The Backup and Restore program sees your 500GB hard drive and requires you to provide another hard drive with at least 500GB of space on it even though all your stuff only takes up 200GB of space on your main hard drive! What you really want is to make a backup that only needs 200GB of space, you see?

There is, of course, a way around that quirk. If you use that Acronis program or Easeus ToDo I think they may just require 200GB on the spare hard drive to hold the Backup copy.

With Windows 7 you can do a few extra steps before starting the Backup and Restore program to accomplish the same thing. Basically, you tell Windows 7 to shrink the 500GB "partition" that Windows occupies down to a smaller size, just a bit larger than the the stuff you want to copy, say 202GB or so. Then, Backup and Restore will only require the spare hard drive to accomodate 202GB for the Backup copy, thus saving almost 300GB of space on the spare drive for your next Backup or for other data.

To do this:
Click on Start
Right-click on Computer and select Manage. A new window opens.
On the left side of new window click on Disk Management and wait for the chart to open.
Right-click on your main hard drive (usually labeled C: drive) and select Shrink Volume. A new window opens
Here it will tell you how much you can shrink the size of your C: drive partition. Choose any number up to that available maximum and proceed.
When it's done you have shrunk the 500GB C: drive down to a smaller size.

Now, close all the windows.
Click on Start and type Backup and Restore and select that same result in the list above where you typed.
The Backup and Restore window opens
On the left side menu click on Create a System Image
Follow the instructions, selecting the spare hard drive as the "target" location where you want to save/store the Backup "System Image".
When it has finished you should use the Create a System Repair Disk option in the Backup and Restore program. If Windows ever totally crashes or won't boot up you can use the Repair Disk you created to boot up the computer and Restore the System Image (the Backup copy) from the spare hard drive, no problem.)
Good luck !!

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Windows 7 Image and Backup
by GEO2003 / May 18, 2012 2:04 PM PDT

Just want to clarify.

Using Win 7 builtin Image, will ONLY create an image of the C drive up to the amount that has been used plus if your computer came with a hidden partition to restore from.

In other words - Following the instructions from Andrew at the point stated - To do This.

You will see,
C - Your main Partition

A small partition of about 100 megabytes called System. - This one is the one used when you start your computer and at the splash screen or the Manufacturer's Name is shown.

Below that a combination of F plus another Key - It may be label - Restore your computer - Contains Booting process code as you press the F key combination and it starts the process of restoring your C partition to when you first bought your computer.

Another one named Healthy Restore Partition - This is Supposed to be Hidden from view except viewing it from the Computer Management Console / Disk Management - And is tied to the one named System.

The F key combination access the System Partition, from the System Partion, it initiates access to the Restore Partition from the Manufacturer, and from there it copies everything over to the C drive, completely wiping and replacing everything on C

If you installed Windows 7 on your own - There will be no Restore Partition or the Small System Partition.
It will only show C as Healthy / Boot/Primary/System.

When you initiate Create an Image - Both C and the partition called System would be the ones that will be image.

If C only contains 30 GB / or gigabytes, but it is a 500 GB Hard Drive, Imaging will not Image 470 GB of free space, only 30 GB plus 100 MB from the System partition with no letter for a total of 30100.00

AN IMAGE ALONE - It's used if you loose your C drive to an infection, erratic Programs, anything that won't allow your computer to work the way it should.
If you keep it updated - then the better you are - When you install other program(s) Microsoft Update/Patches.
Deleting the old one and re-creating a new one will have everything - again up to the date created.

And yes using an Image, will completely replace the C drive up to the date which you created the Image. So anything new that does not exist in AN IMAGE dated a month ago, will not restore anything more recent then the date of the Image.

And you CANNOT do partial restores from an IMAGE, but you can do PARTIAL restores from a Backup - Because the Backups are incremental. In other words, the next time you use Backup, Windows will only backup the NEWER files.

Backup on the other hand - will allow you to LET WINDOWS DECIDE, or LET YOU DECIDE what YOU want to back up from the available options. And you can do partial or full RESTORES from those backups.

Backup WOULD allow you to create a backup of the Entire 500 GB if you choose to do so by selecting - LET ME CHOOSE - Go through the steps and select - Let me choose, at the very bottom even the choise for - Include an Image of C will be available.

Click on the Start Orb, Click on Help and Support - type Using System Image for a full explanation what is an Image, how it works, and within the results will be - Backup your Programs, System Settings and files.

Or you can type - Using Backup for explanations as well.

Again it's recommended that you have an external drive equal or larger then your main internal drive. Depening on how you want to maintain your Images - and - Backups.

Hope this will help.


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make and restore backups
by Shaynacnz / May 25, 2012 11:03 AM PDT

Will this work for WindowsXP Professional?

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Reply to Shaynacnz
by andrewbaggins / May 25, 2012 12:03 PM PDT
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Yeah! Easeus is another one!!...
by JCitizen / May 26, 2012 9:07 AM PDT
In reply to: Reply to Shaynacnz

And another good one too! Isn't that one mostly free? I mean free but still useful - not a gutted version? The name of that one slipped my mind - thanks Andrew! Happy

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Re make and restore backups, shaynacnz
by Shaynacnz / May 26, 2012 9:19 AM PDT
In reply to: Reply to Shaynacnz

Thank you for your reply, yes it was very helpful.

I am a bit uncertain if I should download the free version or buy one of the ads on the right that covers my computer?

Thank you, Shayna.

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by lsjparalegal / May 26, 2012 10:06 AM PDT
In reply to: Reply to Shaynacnz

It might be helpful to read some of the pros and cons on Easeus' site.
I personally came away very confused - in my case, not hard to accomplish!

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reply to andrewbaggins by shaynacnz
by Shaynacnz / May 26, 2012 1:59 PM PDT
In reply to: Easeus

I did read the pros and cons and came away like you very confused. That's why I wrote back to you. It is helpful, I just wish I knew more about all of this tech stuff. LOl

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I'm using Macrium Reflect...
by JCitizen / May 26, 2012 2:15 PM PDT
In reply to: Easeus

and I can attest that it is way easy and has full backup capability. The paid version just has fancy whistles and bells for IT professionals.

I'd bet if you read the user reviews on Easeus at CNET, you will find that the majority of folks think the world about it. IT Pros everywhere recommend it. I haven't tried it, or I'd say honestly what experience I've had with it.

CNET is the best source ever for reading about software. I don't really put much credence to what the editors at CNET think about the product. They run counter to what is actually happening sometimes.

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To shrink or not to shrink...
by sfomikedean / May 27, 2012 6:23 AM PDT

Will my operating system drive now read 99.9 percent full, or is the shrink job temporary?

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Not all Correct
by jamestown45 / May 30, 2012 7:37 AM PDT

Some of this post is not correct, or at least not with my Win 7 pc.

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RE: even though all your stuff only takes up 200GB of space
by waddlepat / August 2, 2012 11:20 PM PDT

In your reply, you talk about how much space is taken up on the hard drive. How does one find this information?


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Get a download here on CNET...
by JCitizen / August 3, 2012 4:36 AM PDT

called "Treesize". This handly utility will give you a simple graphical representation of all your data separated by type and size, in Gb, Mb or whatever is necessary; and where in your files, it resides.

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Re: space on hard drive
by Kees_B Forum moderator / August 3, 2012 4:43 AM PDT

Right click on the drive in Windows Explorer, choose Properties and you'll get a summary (total, free and used space) both in a table and in a pie chart.


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