Get started with Google's Backup and Sync app

Learn how to set up Google's new desktop app and what it can and can't do.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read
Watch this: How to get started with Google's Backup and Sync app

Google's new Backup and Sync app replaces both the company's Drive and Photos desktop apps for Windows PCs and Macs. You can use the app to back up the contents of your entire computer -- or just selected folders.

Set up Backup and Sync

First, download the app from the Google Drive page or from the Google Photos page. You'll end up with the same app either way.

Next, launch the app, sign into your Google account and select which folders you'd like to continuously back up to Google Drive. For photos, you have two options: High quality or Original quality. High quality will compress photos larger than 16 megapixels and videos with a resolution higher than 1080p but these compressed files will not count against your data cap. Google Drive provides 15GB for free but after that, you'll need to pay. You can get 100GB for $19.99 a year (about £15 or AU$25), or 1TB for $99.99 a year (about £75 or AU$125).

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

There's also a checkbox to Upload photos and videos to Google Photos. Use this option if you want all of the photos you have stored on your computer to show up on Google Photos. 

I left this unchecked, because I already have the Google Photos mobile app backing up every photo I take on my iPhone and don't want all of the old photos on my Mac jamming up my Google Photos feed. I just want my Mac's photos safely backed up to Google Drive and don't feel the need to be able to browse through them on Google Photos.

Next, click the OK button and Backup and Sync will start uploading.

Sync can be a two-way street

Backup and Sync not only syncs folders on your computer to Google Drive. It also can sync folders you have in Drive to your computer, so you can access them when you're offline. You can choose to download and sync your entire, top-level My Drive folder on Google Drive, or you can select specific folders.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Set a delete rule

After setting up Backup and Sync and completing your initial uploads and downloads, when you return to the app and open Preferences, you'll see an area labeled Removing items. Here you can choose how Drive reacts when you delete a file on your computer. It's set up to ask you if you also want to delete it everywhere, meaning from Drive, too, but you can also set it to delete files from Drive without asking first or to keep files there when you delete them from your computer.

New Computers folder on Google Drive

The folders you selected for Backup and Sync will show up in a new Computers folder on Google Drive. You'll see any computers on which you have Backup and Sync running listed in this folder. Click on a computer and then you'll see your hierarchy of folders that you choose to back up. 

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Google must be constantly monitoring your folders, because changes to files show up immediately. When I made a change to a file on my Mac, the synced file on Google Drive already showed the change by the time I clicked over to check.

Not a restore tool

I'll leave you with a caveat: Backup and Sync is great tool for keeping safe backups of your important files in the cloud, but it is not a replacement for a restore tool. If your computer crashes, you will not be able to use Backup and Sync to restore your OS.

Keep whatever restore tool you're using to back up your computer and think of Backup and Sync as a simple, streamlined replacement for Google Drive and Google Photos -- you no longer need two separate apps to create cloud backups of your files and photos. 

And the best part? You no longer need to manually drag files to Google Drive to create those cloud backups. You just point Google to the folders on your computer that you want it to keep an eye on and keep continuously backed up.