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How to back up the files on your computer

However good your security, both online and physical, sometimes the unthinkable can happen – your computer could fail, be a victim of theft or water damage, or you could accidentally leave it on a train or bus.


Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to guarantee your computer never falls foul of any of these disasters. You can minimise the heartache though by backing up your files regularly.


Types of back up


There are two main types of backup – Manual and Automatic. Both work exactly as they sound – a Manual backup has to be started by yourself when you want the backup to occur. An Automatic backup runs automatically – usually on a customisable schedule.


A Manual backup is more relevant when you want to backup a laptop to an external hard drive which is not connected to the laptop all the time.


An Automatic backup is more relevant when you have a desktop computer, or a laptop which spends most of its life on a desk. For an Automatic backup to work, the external hard drive is connected at all times.


Where to back up to


In order to be of any real protection, you must back up to an external hard drive. Backing up to a hard drive in the computer itself is of little use, as if the computer is stops working (or worse) the backup is unlikely to be accessible.


For computer networks, it is possible to back up more than one computer onto a single network attached storage (NAS) drive. However, third-party software is required to back up like this, so for domestic and small businesses it’s often easier to have an external hard drive for each computer.


Obviously, you need an external drive large enough to store copies of all your files. At minimum, you want a 1Tb (Tb = 1 Terrabyte = 1,000,000,000,000 bytes) drive, but it’s worth getting a 2Tb one as they are generally only a few pounds more than a 1Tb one.


Setting up an automatic backup on Windows Vista or Windows 7


Windows Vista and Windows 7 include a scheduled back-up system which allows you to automatically back up at a pre-set time – daily or weekly.


To set-it up, open the start menu and select All Programs. Then select the Maintenance group of applications from the list that appears, and then Backup and Restore.


From the window that appears, click on the link that reads “Set up backup”. If this link doesn’t appear, it means backup has previously been set up on this computer – if this is the case, click on the “Change settings” link instead.

In the next window, you need to select the drive you wish to back up to. Select your external hard drive, and press “Next.”


From the next window, select “Let windows choose (recommended)” – Windows will automatically work out what needs to be backed up. If, for some reason, you only wanted to back up a particular set of folders, you can use the second option. Then press “Next.”


You’ll be asked to review your backup settings. The one thing you may wish to change here is the schedule. By default, this is set to back up once per week on a Sunday at 7pm. You can change this to any other day or time, or make it weekly by clicking on the “Change schedule” link.


Finally, click “Save settings and run backup” to finish. Windows will create an initial backup immediately, so leave your computer on and the external hard drive connected until the backup completes.


Automatic backups will be made whenever the schedule dictates – for example, every Sunday at 7pm. Make sure the computer is switched on and the external hard drive is connected at this time for the backup to occur.


Running a manual backup on Windows Vista or Windows 7


You can run a manual backup on Windows Vista or Windows 7 at any time, by opening the Backup and Restore window (using the same method as with an automatic backup), and then pressing the “Backup now” button.


If the “Backup now” button doesn’t appear, you need to set up where and what to back up in the same method as when creating an automatic backup – simply change the schedule to “Manual” at the end.


Setting up backup on Windows 8, 8.1 or 10


Newer versions of Windows do not create scheduled backups – instead, they have something known as File History. This automatically creates a copy of files periodically.


The up-side of this is that you don’t have to wait until the scheduled backup – whenever you edit and save a file, it will be backed up automatically, most likely within the next few minutes.


The down-side is that manual backups are difficult (but not impossible) to perform.


To set up File History, open the Control Panel, select the external hard drive you want to back up to, and click the “Turn on” button. That’s all that needs to be done.


Running a manual backup on Windows 8, 8.1 or 10


As mentioned above, the File History system is continuous, which makes manual backups a little more difficult. Basically, in order to make a manual backup, you need to follow these steps:


Firstly, connect the external hard drive you want to back up to.


Set up File History as for an automatic backup, then click on “Advanced Settings” and change the “Save copies of files” to “Daily”.


Leave the computer backing up – there is no method for knowing how long this will take or when it is completed, so leave it for a couple of hours. After that, try to eject the external hard drive – if Windows says it’s still in use, the backup is probably still going.


When you’re confident the backup is completed and the hard drive removed, go back into File History and turn it off.


Setting up and automatic backup on a Mac


Mac computers – both Macbooks and iMacs – use a system called Time Machine.


To set up Time Machine, simply connect an external hard drive, click on the Time Machine icon (a modified clock symbol) and select the external hard drive and switch the time machine on.


Running a manual backup on a Mac


A manual backup can be performed quite simply on a Mac – simply connect the external hard drive, setup Time Machine as for an automatic backup, and wait until the Time Machine drop-down menu (click on the Time Machine icon) indicates that the backup is complete. Then remove the external hard drive.


You don’t need to switch off Time Machine afterwards, as it will patiently wait there until the external hard drive is reconnected – next time you want to make a manual backup, just reconnect the hard drive.


Checking backups


A backup is only any use if it’s up to date, and the right time to find out that backups haven’t worked is not when your computer has died!


Therefore, make sure you check the status of your automatic backups frequently. For both Windows and Mac computers, this can be done by going into the backup settings (using the same method as setting up the backup) and checking when the last backup is indicated.



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