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All The Ways to Backup a PC For Easy Data Recovery

Updated on October 06, 2016
Glenn Stok profile image

After working in IT and systems management in two major corporations, Glenn Stok has managed his own corporate business for over 35 years.

Do you have copies of your files quickly available on another source in case your PC fails or you need to find an older version of a file?
Don't let this happen to you. Make sure you have a data recovery plan.
Don't let this happen to you. Make sure you have a data recovery plan. | Source

It’s important to have a routine backup policy for many reasons.

The most obvious is losing data due to a hard disk crash. But other computer malfunctions can cause data loss too.

Other things can happen as well. You may make a mistake and delete files you later realized you needed. Or the worst thing happens, you turn on your computer one day to discover it won’t boot. Even viruses can wipe you out.

If the unexpected happens, you will want to be able to recover from a loss of data without any frustration. Planning ahead is the only way to accomplish this.

Programs exist that can scan a crashed drive and sometimes restore a few working sectors. There are also programs that can undelete files to get them back. But both of these methods may only rescue pieces of your data. Not entire files.

The Only Sure Protection is to Backup Your Data

The solution that will let you sleep at night is to backup your data. You need to make a data backup policy that you will stick to. Make a plan of backing up your data at the end of each workday. All files that you may ever need to recreate your work should be saved in duplicate somewhere other than your computer's hard drive.

The easiest way to maintain a duplicate backup of everything is to use an external hard drive. Technology today has brought the prices of the drives down to very affordable levels.

And they are huge, with definitely enough storage space to copy everything with a simple copy command or "drag and drop." There is no need for complicated software to backup and restore.

That's what I do. And it came in handy already for me, more than once. There were times when I messed up something I was working on and I just needed to set the hands of time back a few days.

All I had to do was restore a backup of the file that I screwed up and use the version from a few days earlier. I had it on my external hard drive so it was a non-event. I restored the backup and continued on with my work.

Did you ever lose your data and didn't have a backup?

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Backup Files to the Cloud, Flash Drive, or External Drive

Saving a duplicate of your work on another device is very important, especially if you are serious about your work as a money making venture.

There are Internet sites that offer services to backup your data files to their server so you always have access to it. You store your data in the cloud. You are really storing your data on a computer server somewhere. That's what cloud computing is all about.

I don’t trust online backup. In my opinion I think it’s too easy for it to get hacked. There are often stories on the news about computer servers of companies and government agencies being compromised by cyber attacks.

Flash Memory Functions As A Hard Drive

If you don't have too many large files to back up, then a flash drive may be sufficient.
If you don't have too many large files to back up, then a flash drive may be sufficient. | Source

What is a safer solution? An external device that you can attach to your PC.

Flash memory plugs into a USB port and functions as a hard drive.

For backups that don't require much space, you can use a flash drive. If you work mostly with text files then this should be all you need. You can order them cheap from Amazon In a variety of sizes.

I recommend using two flash drives and flip-flop between them for each successive backup.

I say this just in case something goes wrong with the flash drive. At least you'll have the prior backup.They are cheap enough that two won't break your bank account.

Flash drives are good for text files. But if you backup a lot of images too then they may fill up your flash memory before you know it.

Nevertheless, it's a good way to take care of your backup at really low cost if you don't have huge files.

USB External Hard Drives Hold Up To 2 Terabytes

External hard drives are the best solution when you have large amounts of data, especially images.

Just like flash memory cards, external drives are plug-and-play, connect with ease to a USB port, and are easy to use.

Either way, it's as simple as copying your files to another drive letter from your C: drive.

It's important to back up everything. All your work files, all your notes, and all the images and pictures that you have. You need it all so that you can recreate everything if you need to.

It's not really expensive to have a really good external hard drive. Amazon sells external hard drives made by Western Digital, Cirago, Toshiba, and others. They range in sizes from 120 GB up to 2 Terabytes.

Large capacity high-speed external hard drives by various manufacturers are available at reasonable prices from Amazon and free shipping is included. These hard drives connect to your USB port just as easily as those little flash drives.

Most external drives take advantage of the high speed of USB 3.0 ports, but they also work with older USB 2.0 ports.

Western Digital My Passport External Drive
Western Digital My Passport External Drive | Source

The hard drive you see here is my external hard drive, known as My Passport and made by Western Digital. I bought this one a long time ago and it's only 500GB.

If I bought another one today I'd get the 1-TeraByte WD My Passport. But my 500GB WD is doing just fine.

You can back up everything without using special software because your PC will recognize the drive as another hard drive that you can drag and drop your directory of files onto.

In addition to your articles, you can back up your music, your photos and your videos in the same quick process. These are all data files that require a lot of space and 500 GB will go a long way to save all your data.

These drives are all around the size of a smart phone. So you can even carry it around with you. At times I've taken my external drive to a friends house so I would have access to my files while working on their computer.

You should get one of these drives and make a habit of backing up each day before you shut off your PC. You'll sleep easier knowing that everything will be there in the morning.

Plug-N-Play External Drives

External drives are plug-n-play, which means your computer will recognize it when you plug it into your USB port. There's nothing else to do.

Some drive manufacturers include a software CD with their special drivers. In some cases the drivers can be found on the drive itself, but you can also download from their websites.

However, I recommend not using their software. If you read the feedback people leave on Amazon you will usually find negative comments about the software. I personally just use the drive as is since they are usually plug-and-play anyway.

Manufacturer's software usually includes methods of copying and backing up files, but you can copy files and entire directories just by dragging and dropping. Anyway, the software just adds another resource hog that slows down your PC.

How To Copy Files to a Flash Drive or an External Hard Drive

There are many ways to copy your files. If you work on Windows you can drag individual files or complete folders between two windows, or you can do it from a single window. You can even use a DOS command. I'll explain all three methods.

Assuming you have all your files under "My Documents" or in individual folders under "My Documents" you can backup the entire folder to be sure you get everything you need for later recovery of your files. This will not back up the system files. We are just concentrating on saving your work files.

Send To Destination

This is how to send a file to an external device on Windows:

  1. Click "Start"
  2. Click “My Documents”.
  3. Right-click the folder in your “My Documents” that you want to backup.
  4. Right click and select “Send To”
  5. Select the flash drive or external hard drive letter. It may show as "Removable Drive"
  6. Wait for it to finish copying.

If this is not the first time you are backing up, it will ask you to confirm that you want to overwrite the prior files on the destination. There is nothing wrong with doing that. Windows does not have an option to backup only new or modified files.

Drag and Drop Between Two Windows

This is the methods of Drag and Drop for Windows:

  1. Click "Start"
  2. Click “My Documents” and a window will open.
  3. Click the folder you want to backup.
  4. Now click "Start" again.
  5. Click "My Computer" and another window will open.
  6. Click the drive letter for the external drive
  7. Resize and position the two windows side by side.
  8. Highlight the files, folder or folders in the source window that you want to copy to the external drive.
  9. Drag them over to the other window where you have the external drive.
  10. The files will all copy and display the results as it's progressing.


I come from the old DOS days and I still like taking advantage of DOS's XCOPY in a DOS batch command because XCOPY allows you to backup only modified files. This speeds up the process. If you don't know what DOS is, don't worry. Be happy you are still young.

DOS was the first operating system Microsoft used prior to Windows. It used line commands such as XCOPY. Here is how you can use XCOPY to backup all files in your "My Documents" folder. If you are using Windows, click "Start" and then "Run" and enter "CMD" to run the DOS command processor. Then enter the following command...


This will copy all files and folders under "My Documents" to drive G, which in this case is the external drive. If your external drive is not G: then use the correct drive letter.

The letters after slashes are control parameters...

  • /s means to include all subdirectories
  • /d limits it only those files newer than destination.
  • /y means to overwrite files on the external drive without asking.
  • /I assumes destination is a directory if copying more than one file.


If you're serious about protecting yourself from losing your important work files, all you need to do is have a daily backup routine. Someday you'll be glad you did.

I have a question before you go...

Do you backup your files to a flash drive or external hard drive?

See results

© 2011 Glenn Stok

Share your backup and restore experiences...

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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      I had my laptop die once and thankfully had already backed most everything up.

      I do recall working once on a large document years ago, a big presentation for a scientific conference, that I had not been backing up through the day as I worked on it. This was back in the days when auto backup within a program did not exist. I lost a half of days work when the computer crashed. It was a minor crash but all the work from that afternoon had been lost - it was so frustrating:)

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      I agree that backing up your files is very important. I recommend backing up in more than one method whenever possible. When my hard drive crashed, I had backup 3 1/2" disks, but one of them was corrupted. I now have an external hard drive, and also store CDs away from the computer and off site, so if the house burns down, all my stuff doesn't go with it.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Kris Heeter ~ Thanks for sharing your experience, although I am sorry you had such a terrible lose. Half a days work is a lot to have to recreate from scratch.

      Millionaire Tips ~ I agree, the more redundancy you can have the better. Keeping a backup away from the premises is a good idea in case of a fire. Thanks for adding that important idea.

    • princesswithapen profile image

      princesswithapen 5 years ago


      It was early 2010 when I suffered the pain of losing all my work due to a computer crash. Luckily I got the data recovered but ended up paying a considerable amount of money to an IT expert. Fast forward to 2011, I use a ScanDisk flash drive for a daily backup and a WD external hard drive for a monthly backup. I had someone tell me about xcopy in DOS but I prefer the easy drag and drop windows has to offer.

      Losing data is one of those things that we think "Oh this will never happen to me" but when it does, it hits you like a rock. This is a nice hub and I hope it helps hubbers and writers in general to take the necessary steps to back up their writing work.


    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      princesswithapen, Thanks for sharing your story. You are handling it well now and you'll never experience that nightmare again with costly data recovery.

    • Highvoltagewriter profile image

      William Benner 5 years ago from Savannah GA.

      Very important subject and I am glad someone covered it as well as you did. I have learned the hard way and have lost some real valuable stuff by not backing up! Thanks for this great hub!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Highvoltagewriter, Thank you for the comment. Sorry that you lost your valuable data once. At least now you are backing up so you're protected.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Some great tips - this is what I do: Dropbox.

      I put everything I want to keep in Dropbox which means it is on all of my various computers and is synced automatically. If any one of the devices fail, it still resides elsewhere.

    • baygirl33 profile image

      victoria 4 years ago from Hamilton On.

      Hi Glen,thanks for the great information!

      I have a backup I bought from Future shop and every so often it tells me that everything is backed up.

      Problem is I don't know how to get it back.I just lost a hub somehow and tried using the backup.But it only warned me not to change anything so I back off.

      I think it's called seagate free agent goflex.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      baygirl33, Those software backups are a pain. I like using the hard drive backup as simply a hard drive. I don't use their software. That way I can get access to my backup files simply by browsing the backup hard drive and dragging the files.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      I need to back up more often! I use Google+ to store photos, and just a little thumb drive for docs. I should get an external backup, I know.

      Thanks for all the good info. Voted UP, etc.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      mary615 - That's good that you are backing up your photos, but make sure you backup your doc files daily just after you finish writing a new hub or other article. One never knows when we might have a hard drive crash and it would be terrible to lose what we are working on. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the vote up.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 19 months ago from Massachusetts

      Glenn, this is an excellent explanation of data backup options and the pros and cons of each. I use a combination of Carbonite online backup and a Seagate Backup Plus 5TB external hard drive (I create a lot of images and Photoshop files) and I can sleep a lot better at night since I added the external HD to my online backup. As my late father would have said, it's always best to use "a belt and suspenders." ;) I'm sure this article will help many of your visitors!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 19 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Margaret Schindel - That's a good idea, having two different kinds of backups. One local on your external drive and one in the cloud. That way you're protected if one or the other fails. I like the analogy your Dad would have said. Sorry he is no longer around.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 19 months ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks very much for your kind reply, Glenn. I'm very sorry he is no longer with us, too.

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