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Windows 10 Backup: Do That Today with These Two Free Apps

There are many options to do a Windows 10 backup, but I like the built-in File History tool and Macrium Reflect. They are both effective and don’t cost anything.

File History is sort of like Time Machine is to Mac OS. “Sort of” because it doesn’t allow for backing up and restoring the entire computer but just specific files and folders. This is where Macrium Reflect fills in.

To back up your computer, you’ll need a second storage device, be it a secondary internal drive, an external hard drive like the WD My Passport, or a NAS server like the Synology DS218+.  Make sure this second storage device is ready before you proceed with your backup.

The WD My Passport Ultra is a handy portable drive to host a Windows 10 backup.
Windows 10 backup: The WD My Passport Ultra is a handy portable drive to host a Windows 10 backup.

Windows 10 backup: File History

File History is part of Windows (starting with Windows 8), meaning you won’t need to install it. Here’s how to use it in Windows 10.

It's simple to enable File History as a Windows 10 backup solution.
Windows 10 Backup: It’s simple to enable File History as a Windows 10 backup solution.

File History: Backup

  1. Click on the Start button (bottom-left corner), then type in “Backup settings” (no quotes). As Backup Settings appears, click on it.
  2. Click on Add a drive. There are two possibilities here. If you use an external drive, select it from the list. If you use a server, click on Show all network locations and then pick the backup share folder. (Note that you can only use one backup destination at a time.) After that, the backup will turn on by itself and, by default, will back up all data of the current profile. You can stop here, but if you want to change the settings, go to the next step.
  3. Click on More options. Here you can customize the following:
  • Backup frequency: From every 10 minutes to once a day. The more frequent the backup, the more versions of the data you’ll get, and the more storage the backups will use. For example, if you choose 10 minutes, that means you can undo the changes you’ve made to a file in the past 10 minutes. Generally, 30 minutes or an hour is a suitable frequency.
  • Backup retention: You can choose to keep the backup forever, until space is needed, or up to a certain amount of months. Generally, six months are plenty.
  • Add and remove folders from the backup: In case you want to exclude an existing folder or include a new folder to the backup.
  • Stop using drive: This will stop using the current backup drive.
  • See advanced settings: This opens the advanced settings, which allows you to do all of the above, plus switching backup destinations and removing old backup versions.
  • Restore files from an existing backup.

File History: Restore

User the left and right button to browse between versions of the backup and the Restore button (middle) to restore your data.
Windows 10 Backup: Use the left and right arrows to browse between versions of the backup, and the Restore button (middle) to restore your data.
  1. Click on the Start button (bottom-left corner), then type in “File History” (no quotes). As “Restore your files with File History” appears, click on it.
  2. The File History windows will appear and show the latest version of the backup. Here you can do the following:
  • You can move back and forth between versions using the left and right arrows.
  • To restore an entire version, click on the restore button in the middle.
  • If you just need to restore one file or folder, click on it to select it and then on the restore button. By the way, you can use Ctrl + click to select multiple items.
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Macrium Reflect

Apart from being a handy tool to clone a drive, Reflect is also an excellent backup software. With Reflect you can restore the entire system to a previous point.

You need this kind of recovery when your machine is infected with a virus, or its hard drive dies. I make a Reflect backup before I make a big change to the system, like upgrading to a new version of Windows 10.

Prepare the software and your computer

Adding a boot options will allow you to boot the computer into to Reflect's recovery mode.
Windows 10 Backup: Adding a boot option will allow you to boot the computer into Reflect’s recovery mode. You can also create a USB boot thumb drive to restore to a new disk.
  1. Download and install Reflect.
  2. Get yourself a small thumb drive.
  3. Run Reflect: click on Other Task and then on Create Rescue Media, then follow the wizard to turn the thumb drive into a rescue disk. Keep it safe. You’ll need this disk to restore your computer in case its internal drive dies.
  4. Click on Other Task and then on Add Recovery Boot Menu Option. Follow through with this wizard and use the Windows PE 10.0 menu (64 Bit) as the menu option. (Any of other menu options are OK, too). This will add an option to boot your computer into Reflect recovery mode each time you start Windows.

Macrium Reflect: Backup

Make sure you pick the right drive to backup.
Windows 10 Backup: Make sure you pick the right drive to back up.
  1. Run Reflect; the software will scan and display all connected drives. Click on the drive you want to back up — generally, this is the main drive of the computer, one with the C: partition on it — then click on Image this disk.
  2. In the next window, pick the location for the backup file — an external drive or a network share folder. By default, the software will use the serial number of the drive as the name of the backup file. If you want to name it manually, uncheck Use the image ID as the file name box and type in the name of your liking. Click on Next.
  3. In this window, you have the option to create a backup schedule that will run by itself in the future. The free version only offers full and differential backup. A differential backup captures only the changes made since the previous full backup. Create a schedule if you want, then click on Next.
  4. Click on Finish. You’ll be prompted to save the backup option, which you should do if you have picked a backup schedule in step #3. If not, uncheck the Save Backup box and click on OK. The backup process will start and will take a while to complete, depending on the amount of data you have.

Macrium Reflect: Restore

There are many ways to restore from a Reflect image, depending on your situation and needs.

You can quickly mount a backup image to view/copy its content.
Windows 10 Backup: You can quickly mount a backup image to view/copy its content.

Restoring individual files or folders:

  1. Locate the backup image file, which you set in step #2 above.
  2. Right-click on the file and then on Explore image.
  3. Select the partition(s) within the image you want to explore, then click on OK.
  4. Now each partition you’ve selected will mount as a drive to your computer. You can copy any file or folder out of it. After that, right-click on the drive letter of the mounted drive and choose Macrium Reflect -> Unmount Macrium Image. The image will also be unmounted when you restart the computer.

Restore the entire system

You would choose this type of restoration when you need to bring the system back to a previous point. Generally, you do this when the machine is messed up, infected with a virus, or you need to replace its internal drive.

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Booting into the Recovery Mode is the easiest way to restore a computer using Macrium Reflect.
Windows 10 Backup: Booting into the Recovery Mode is the easiest way to restore a computer using Macrium Reflect.

1. Depending on the situation, there are three ways to start Reflect for this type of restoration:

  • If your computer still works, just run Reflect like any other program.
  • If your computer has issues — like you can’t boot into Windows –, but its drive is OK, you can boot into the Recovery Mode (assuming you have completed step #4 in the Prepare the software and your computer part above). To do this, as your computer boots up, select Macrium Reflect System Recovery. Reflect will launch automatically.
  • If the computer’s internal drive no longer works and you need to restore to a new drive, the rescue boot disk is required. Boot into your computer using that disk, and Reflect will launch automatically.
The restoration process is simple and straight forward.
Windows 10 Backup: The restoration process is simple and straight-forward.

2. Once Reflect launches fully, go to the Restore tab. You should see a list of backup image files that you’ve made. If not, you can click on Browse for an image file and locate the backup file.

3. Select an image file and click on Restore Image.

4. Click on Select a disk to restore to, and pick the target disk. Generally, this is either the primary drive of the computer or the new replacement drive.

5. Click on Next and then on Finish. Then wait for the process to complete.

Note that the restoration will erase all existing data from the target disk.

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6 thoughts on “Windows 10 Backup: Do That Today with These Two Free Apps”

  1. After I upgraded my “unauthorized” PC to Win 11 using your instructions (thanks!), it seems that using File History is a bit different than on Win 10. I use Reflect 8 Home on this computer to image its drive on a regular basis to a Synology DS220+, and was thinking of using Reflect instead of File History for daily individual folders/files backups when I came upon this post. It looks like Reflect may be the way to go, but are you aware of any downsides to switching to Reflect (other than first needing to turn off File History in Windows)? If I do switch, should I first clear (delete) the File History backups from my NAS before doing so? Thanks!

    • They are two different types of backups, Tom. But you can use both. The only issue you have is the storage space. You can also use Synology Drive in the place of File History.

      • I would appreciate just one clarification of your reference to Synology Drive in your comment above, please. I understand that the Synology Drive Server would need to be installed on my NAS. However, I’m a little unclear about the rest of the setup as it relates to my PCs and Synology Drive Client software.

        Specifically, I have two computers, each of which has several files that I would like to be synced to each other if possible, as well as be “backed up” to the NAS. Also, if it makes any difference, each machine has two separate accounts (one for me, one for my wife). Would I need to add a Synology Drive Client to each of my two machines, in addition to installing the Server on the NAS? I’m asking because I didn’t see client software listed anywhere on the Synology Packages web page. Should I assume it’s included in the Synology Drive Server package? If it is, I am uncertain how I would install the client on my two computers. My apologies for the request for clarification.

  2. Yours is the second recommendation I’ve seen of Macrium Reflect software. Should it be used in place of Synology’s backup and restore software on a DS220+ to create disk images of my 2 home PCs? Also, would it be prudent to upgrade from the MR free version, or would that be overkill for a home network?


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