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How to back up your Windows 7 computer

We brush our teeth, we pay our bills, but far too many of us fail to back up our data regularly. Don't let your first hard drive failure be your wake-up call.

Almost all of us know someone who's lost data--or have lost it ourselves--yet far too many of us keep putting off our next (or first) backup. Given how easy it is, especially for Windows 7 machines, there's just no good excuse for it any more. Here's how to get started and get back in good habits: 

  1. Before you get started, take time to think about your important files. Most of it likely lives in the standard folders (documents, e-mail, etc.), but if you've stashed anything away in a folder you created, note it down for later. You also need to shut down any programs that are using the data you want to back up, like e-mail clients. 
  2. Click the Start button, select Control Panel, then select "Back up your computer" under "System and Security."
    Step 2: Back up your computer.
    Step 2: Backup your computer.
  3. If you've never backed up this computer before, you'll need to click "Set up backup" and let the wizard guide you. If you're not the administrator for this computer, you may have to get help with permission (but if someone else is the admin, maybe you can talk them into backing up your data). 
  4. It's best to save your backup to an external hard drive, or a DVD if you don't mind filing it away somewhere memorable. (If your version of Windows is fancy enough, you can back up to a network hard drive.) 
  5. Most users can let Windows choose which files and folders to back up, but if you have some extras squirreled away that you noted in Step 1, now is the time to add them. 
    Step 5: Select files and folders.
    Step 5: Select files and folders.
  6. You can also choose to schedule regular backups, which you should certainly do. Depending on your needs, choose Daily, Weekly, or Monthly. This is the step that makes your life much easier and, potentially, much less stressful. 
    Step 6: Schedule regular backups.
    Step 6: Schedule regular backups.
  7. Windows will immediately configure the backup and get started. It can take quite a while the first time, so make sure you leave your computer on until it's done. 
    Step 7: Backup in progress.
    Step 7: Backup in progress.
  8. Finally, ensure your backups are backed up. Make a copy of your first backup and save it somewhere off-site, like a friend's house or even a safety deposit box, and then switch it out every now and then (more often is better, of course, but the first time is the most important). There's no such thing as too many backups! 

That's it. It's easy to get started, and for the most part, getting started is the hardest part. Do it today--the sooner you start, the less likely you are to lose it all in a crash.