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Published on 10.18.07 by Brent Trahan

Backup Files in Windows Vista

Setup Windows Vista to backup your pictures, music, documents, video, and other files periodically with the Back up Files feature of the Backup and Restore Center.


I hate it when someone comes to me asking if I can help them get precious pictures and video from a crashed hard drive. Many times I can’t because of various reasons. It would have been much easier if they had a backup.

This guide shows you how to protect your pictures, video, music, documents, and many other files from getting lost from an accidental deletion, virus, or crash by setting Windows Vista to back them up periodically using Vista’s Backup and Restore Center Back up Files feature available on most versions of Windows Vista.

Note: This type of backup does not backup the Windows Vista operating system or programs and settings. You need to perform a Complete PC Backup (only available in Vista Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise) to backup your entire computer.

Backup Basics

Before you start backing things up, there are a few things you should understand.

  • You can’t save a backup on the same drive being backed up. Example: If you backup your C: drive, the backup can’t be saved on the C: drive.
  • A backup can be saved on a separate partition on the same hard drive as the drive being backed up. Example: If you have a C: and an E: drive, for example, which are both located on one physical hard drive, the backup of the C: drive can be saved on the E: drive.
  • Backups can (and should) be backed up on a networked computer, USB/FireWire attached hard drive, NAS device, CD/DVD, or a tape drive.

Advice: I don’t recommend saving a backup on a separate partition on the same physical hard drive as the drive being backed up. If the hard drive crashes you’ll not only lose the files, but you’ll lose the backup also because it was on the same physical hard drive that crashed.

Keep your backup saved on a second hard drive, networked drive, USB/FireWire hard drive, NAS, or CD/DVD. It’s a good idea to manually create a backup saved on CD/DVD or a tape drive and store it in a separate location once a month if your data is really important.

About Back up Files in Vista

The Back up Files feature of Windows Vista’s Backup and Restore Center is a great way to keep your important files backed up. Here are a few things you should know about the Back up Files feature in Windows Vista.

What Back up Files Will Backup

Pictures, Video, TV Shows, Music, Documents, Zipped files, E-mail, Contacts, and other various files.

What Back up Files Will Not Backup

EFS encrypted files, System files (Windows), Programs (Microsoft Word), files in the Recycle Bin, Temporary Files (temporary internet files), and User profile settings.

If you need these files backed up as well, you need to see about creating a Complete PC Backup (only available in Vista Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise).

How Files Are Backed Up

Files are backed up incrementally (only files that have changed since the last backup are copied) on a schedule after the first full backup. Changed files are copied and not deleted from the backup. Up to 64 changed copies of a file will be kept. Once 64 versions of a file have been reached the oldest copies are deleted to make room for the new ones. When the backup has reached its maximum size limit, the oldest copies of the backup are deleted to make room.

Create Your First Backup

Before you can create your first backup, you must be logged in as a user that has administrative rights.

  1. Open the Control Panel (Start, Control Panel).
  2. Click Back up your computer under System Maintenance if you are in the Control Panel Home view or double-click Backup and Restore Center if you’re in the Classic view.
  3. Click the Back up files button.

  4. If you’re saving the backup on a local device like a hard drive, USB/FireWire hard drive, or CD/DVD, select it under On a hard disk, CD, or DVD. If your backup will be saved on a network location, check off On a network, and then browse to the location.

    Note: It’s not a good idea (though not impossible) to move a backup once it’s been created. Make sure you’re saving it in a good spot.

  5. Check off all the types of files you want to backup and then click Next.

  6. Setup how often, when, and at what time your computer will perform incremental backups from now on.

  7. Click Save settings and start backup to start your first backup.
  8. The backup will take place and it’ll let you know when it’s finished.

My Recommended Backup Setup

If it were my computer(s), this is how I would setup backup for it:

I would use a USB/FireWire hard drive if I only want to backup one computer. If I had a small home network of computers I’d use a NAS device and create a folder for each computer to save the backups in on the NAS. I like these devices because they are small, work well, are less susceptible to viruses, and don’t use a lot of electricity.

I would set them to backup every week at night. If you work with lots of files very often you should backup every night. If you’re backing up a few computers on a network I would set each computer’s backup time off by an hour or so from each other so you don’t overload the NAS device.

I would also manually create a full backup and save it on CD or DVD(s) and store them in a different location just in case something really bad happens.

Still need help? Ask your computer question now.

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2 Responses to “Backup Files in Windows Vista”

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  1. Charles Leavitt says:

    Thanks alot, excellent guidance information!

  2. plandon says:

    Backup and Restore, put simply, just doesn’t work on Vista Home Premium.
    Many files are not backed up, and dangerously it leads you to believe that the backup was successful! I have just learnt from this forum that it doesn’t do .exe and other files!

    Home Premium doesn’t even do complete backups.

    It is not up to the job of trying to be a professional operating system. A basic requirement of an operating system for the past 50 years has been the task of backing up (& restore if ever needed).

    Without this it should not even be released to Beta Testing.

    It is not “fit for purpose” (a legal consumer phrase in the UK) and you should get your money back from the supplier.

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