Backing Up to an External Hard Drive in Windows 7

By Jonathan Wylie

Did you know the average lifespan of a computer hard drive is between 3 and 5 years? Some last longer, but many fail before that. So, if you don’t have a proper backup routine in place, you could be in danger of losing family photos, vacation videos, and other important files when you least expect it.

Windows 7 has a built-in backup tool that can help you safeguard against data loss, but it takes a little bit of setting up in order to ensure that your files are completely secure. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Start by making sure that you have an external hard drive that is at least as big as the hard drive on your computer. If you don’t already have one, the good news is that they are as affordable now as they have ever been. A 1TB (1000GB) drive, for example, costs less than $100 and will likely be more than enough storage for the average user.
  • Once you have your external hard drive hooked up to your computer, it is time to set up a backup schedule so that your computer knows what you want backed up and when you want it done. So begin by clicking the Start button and typing backup and restore in the search box. Click the first result you get to launch the Windows 7 backup utility.


  • Once the program opens, click the button that says Set up backup and select your external hard drive from the following list, so that Windows knows where you want your backup files to be stored, and click Next.


  • The next window you see will ask you to choose exactly what files you want backed up. The first option, Let Windows choose, is going to be the best choice here because it includes all the default files and folders that are stored on your computer. These are the most common locations for your data and include your desktop,  Pictures library, Music library, Videos library, and so forth so just click Next to proceed.


  • The last thing that you need to do is set up a schedule for your backup, so click the Change schedule link, and put a check next to the box that says Run backup on a schedule. For the backup to run successfully, you need to pick a time when your computer is actually going to be on, and I would also recommend you make this a daily occurrence. Once you have chosen a time, click OK.

  • Now you are ready to begin your first system backup, so click the button at the bottom of the screen that says Save settings and exit. This will start the backup process to your external hard drive.


The first run will likely take some time. This is because Windows is locating all the files on your computer and copying them over to your external hard drive one by one. Future backups, however, will not be this lengthy as they will only involve files that have been changed or updated in some way.

Backing up files is important, especially when you consider all the digital media that we use in our daily lives today. We might think that our computers will never fail us, but they do. Don’t be a cautionary tale for your friends. Back up today.


Jonathan Wylie

Jonathan Wylie

Jonathan Wylie is the owner of The Education Technology Blog, a website dedicated to helping teachers advance the use of technology in the classroom. He is a teacher, husband, and proud father, but also works as a freelance writer for several online publications. Jonathan is originally from Scotland, but now lives and works in rural Iowa. He has a love for education, photography, computers, and just about any gadget that he can get his hands on.



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