How do I backup my computer?

There are three steps to developing a good backup plan

1. Know what to backup

There are several folders that are common repositories for files. The most common we'll list here:

Folder/Data Windows XP Location Windows Vista and 7 Location
Windows Live Mail Contacts C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Application Data\Contacts C:\Users\User Name\Appdata\Local\Microsoft\Windows live\Contacts\Default\15.4\dbstore
Windows Live Mail E-Mail C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Local Settings\Application Data\Windows Live Mail C:\Users\User Name\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Live Mail
My Documents * C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\My Documents C:\Users\User Name\Documents
Favorites for Internet Explorer C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Favorites C:\Users\User Name\Favorites
Videos * * C:\Users\User Name\Videos
Music * * C:\Users\User Name\Music
Pictures * * C:\Users\User Name\Pictures
Desktop C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Desktop C:\Users\User Name\Desktop
Outlook Account Settings HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\ Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles\Outlook HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\ Windows Messaging Subsystem\Profiles\Outlook
Outlook Data C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook C:\Users\User Name\AppData\Microsoft\Outlook
Outlook Signatures C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Application Data\Microsoft\Signatures C:\Users\User Name\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Signatures
Outlook Express E-Mail ** C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities C:\Users\User Name\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Mail
Outlook Express Addresses ** C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Application Data\Microsoft\Address Book C:\Users\User Name\Contacts
Mozilla Bookmarks C:\Documents And Settings\User Name\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\profile name\bookmarkbackups C:\Users\User Name\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\profile name\bookmarkbackups

* Contains Pictures, Music and Videos in XP, separated out in Vista

** Renamed Windows Mail in Microsoft Vista

2. Have a good tool to backup.

While there are many ways to backup there are several vital traits in a good backup program.

For a walkthrough of setting up Syncback, read our Syncback backup tutorial

In some cases a complete image of a drive can be more useful, particularly when data isn't the priority, but rather recovering without having to reinstall programs. Drive Image XML is a great tool for automating this process.

3. Perform REAL tests of your backups by recovering data

If you followed step 2 this will be quite easy. First, browse through to a frequently accessed location on the backup, such as your My Documents folder. Then, find a file that you changed recently and open it up. If you didn't follow step 2 then be prepared to discover why most people ignore the single most important step in backups. Recovering files with a custom system can be arduous at best. Never, ever, ever trust logs. I've watched many people in shock at the discovery that they lost all their data. They could not believe it because: "the logs said my data was backing up just fine". If you can't see it with your own eyes, it's not happening. No exceptions.

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Last updated: 8/10/2013

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