This is a bit random, but three readers have asked me the same question over the past week: What do I use to backup my PCs? It’s a great question.
And to be fair, it may not be that random: Over the weekend, I did update the Backup and Restore chapter for the Windows 10 Field Guide, which is being updated (for free) for all of the changes coming in the Anniversary update. If you’ve not yet purchased the book, please do so.
In the book, I describe the various backup and restore technologies that are available in Windows 10. These include:
OneDrive sync. Thanks to OneDrive integration with the Windows 10 file system, you can sync your documents, music, pictures, videos, and other files with the OneDrive cloud storage service and ensure that they’ll always be available from all of your PCs and devices (including non-Windows devices).
File History. This interesting but well-hidden backup solution backs up your documents and other important files as well as previous versions of those files so you can “go back in time” and recover older versions of files when needed.
Reset This PC. A system restore tool called Reset This PC lets you wipe out your PC and very quickly return it to its original factory condition, while optionally saving your documents and other data files as well as some installed apps.
Refresh Windows. This tool, new to the Anniversary update, works much like Reset This PC in that it wipes out your PC and quickly returns it to fresh, cleanly installed state. And it too can optionally save your documents and other data files, though not any installed apps. But the big difference between this tool and Reset This PC is that Refresh Windows does not reapply any PC maker-supplied applications or drivers. This can be desirable, as many PC ship with terrible, performance-robbing crapware. But it may also require you to manually install some drivers after the refresh is complete.
Advanced recovery tools. Windows 10 PCs can start up in a troubleshooting mode that helps you fix problems with the PC, access its firmware, change startup settings, and access recovery tools like Reset This PC and System Image Recovery.
System image backup and recovery. Windows 10 still supports the legacy Windows Backup tool, which provides full system image backup and recovery functionality. For the most part, this feature is only available in Windows 10 so that you can access information stored in backups you created with previous Windows versions. But you can also use it to create a backup of your entire disk, including the installed OS, all applications, and all of your data and settings.
I also describe some basic backup strategies. These are:
Use OneDrive to replicate files to the cloud. Like previous Windows versions, Windows 10 provides file system integration with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service. Configured correctly, you could use this feature as a form of automatic off-site backup called file replication. That’s because every document (or other file) that you save to a folder that is synced with OneDrive is also replicated to the cloud. So these files are located in at least two places, your PC’s disk and up in the cloud in OneDrive.
Use Reset This PC before selling or giving away your PC. The Reset This PC tool lets you quickly bring your PC back to its original, factory-fresh state. But it can also be used safely erase your personal data from the PC during the reset process so that no one can recover it later. This is useful if you plan to sell or give away your PC: You can use Reset This PC to remove your user accounts, documents and other data, and installed mobile apps and desktop applications from the PC. That way, the recipient of the PC has a “clean” experience that is basically identical to how the PC behaved, looked and performed the day it was first used.
Use Refresh Windows or system image backup for a crapware-free alternative to Reset This PC. Reset This PC works well, and if you do ever need to start over from scratch, it’s a great option. But if you would prefer to restore your PC to a clean Windows install without that crapware, you have two other options: Refresh Windows, which works much like Reset This PC except that it remove all applications that do not come standard with Windows, including applications and drivers provided your PC maker; and system image backup, which its performed using Windows Backup, a legacy tool that has been in Windows for several versions now.
So. Which do I use?
Honestly, the only “backup” solution I use on my actual PCs, the ones I use every day is OneDrive—Dropbox—sync. Yes, technically cloud storage sync is not “backup.” It’s really just file replication. But that’s all I need.
I write this with the understanding that this solution is not for everyone, either because of tradition or technical (perhaps bandwidth-related) reasons. But by moving all of my documents and other important files into OneDrive and Dropbox, I ensure that they are replicated to the cloud, and I consider those cloud copies the “master” versions of the files.
I do this for documents—I still have all of my work-related documents dating back over 20 years—for photos, which are replicated to multiple services, and for music and videos too, though much of that content is now available “only” in the cloud, in the sense that I almost never need locally-stored music or video, save for some content I put on devices when I travel.
I do also use a NAS locally, but not for backup per se. That is, I don’t backup the entire contents of any PC—mine, or my wife’s or kids’—at all. There’s just no need, and with Windows 10, you can bring a broken PC up from bare metal in about 20 minutes as long as you have the Setup files on a USB stick. The NAS is really just one more place for photos, and a place for videos that I never actually stream to the TV. But I could.
And so there’s your answer: I don’t backup at all. Because it’s 2016. And I don’t have to.