Windows 8.1 Backup Strategies

Posted on January 11, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 8.1 with 0 Comments

The latest Windows includes a number of technologies for replicating and backing up documents and other files on your PC, wiping out the PC to start over from scratch, and imaging the drive so that you can recover in the event of a hard drive failure. Which of these technologies you choose will depend on your needs.

Note: This article is excerpted from my e-book, Windows 8.1 Field Guide, which offers over 500 pages of Windows goodness for just $2! You can purchase Windows 8.1 Field Guide from the Field Guide Books web site. Thanks for reading! –Paul

The following backup and recovery tools are available in Windows 8.1.

OneDrive sync. Thanks to pervasive OneDrive integration in Windows, you can configure your libraries—Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos—to use OneDrive-based folders, automatically replicating your data to the cloud as you work.

File History. This intriguing 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 an older file version when needed.

Push Button Reset. A set of system restore tools called PC Reset and PC Refresh that let you wipe out your PC and very quickly return it to its original condition, while optionally saving your documents and other data files as well as your installed Modern mobile apps.

Advanced recovery tools. PCs running the new Windows can start up in a troubleshooting mode that helps you fix problems with the PC, access its UEFI firmware, change startup settings, and access recovery tools like PC Reset, PC Refresh and System Image Recovery.

So how do you choose? Everyone’s needs are different. But the following sections describe a few backup strategies to consider.

Just use OneDrive for file replication

In the Files chapter, we discuss how you can integrate Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service with the libraries functionality in Windows so that your documents—and potentially other files, such as photos—are automatically synced with OneDrive. That way, your most important files are available at any time on any device. Not just on Windows PCs, but also Windows RT devices, Windows Phone handsets, iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and Android handsets and tablets, using the OneDrive mobile app that is available on each.

This capability is really a form of automatic offsite backup called file replication. That’s because every document (or other file) that you save in Windows, to a folder that is synced with OneDrive, is also replicated to the cloud. That means that these files are located in at least two places, your PC’s hard drive (or solid state storage, or similar) and OneDrive.

(At least? Sure. If pyou have multiple PCs, you can sync your OneDrive contents to all of them.)

We feel that all Windows users should configure their Documents library to point solely to a OneDrive-based folder on their personal PCs, as described in Files, and then configure other libraries similarly if needed. But depending on the type of Windows device you’re using, this OneDrive-based replication might be enough. That is, you may not even need the more full-featured but complex file and full PC backup features that are described in the book.


Before deciding, be sure to read through his chapter to more fully understand the file and PC backup features that are offered by the new Windows. And understand that this file replication capability, combined with automatic OneDrive-based syncing of Windows settings, and the ability to quickly reset or refresh the PC and basically bring it back to factory-fresh condition (also described later in this chapters), may simply be all the backup and restore functionality you actually need.

Note: You can also mix and match. For example, you can use OneDrive file replication and File History together. So if you configure your Documents library to point only to a folder in OneDrive, that folder will be replicated to the cloud (and to your other PCs) but will also be included in your File History backups.

Use System Image as a crapware-free alternative to Push Button Reset

The new Windows includes an incredible set of Push Button Reset tools—PC Reset and PC Refresh, respectively—which allow you to restore your PC to its factory-fresh condition and, in the latter case, while retaining your user account, (many of) its settings and documents, and any installed Modern mobile apps.

Push Button Reset works incredibly well, and incredibly quickly, and if you do ever need to start over from scratch, this is the way to go. With one exception: If you obtained the new Windows with your PC—that is, you didn’t upgrade from a previous Windows version or buy the new version and install it on an existing PC—it’s likely—far too likely—that your PC maker installed a lot of non-essential Modern apps and desktop applications and utilities on your PC. This type of bundling is sometimes called crapware, and while some of these apps and applications are obviously useful, many are not. And because of the way Push Button Reset works, it is typically modified by the PC maker so that when you reset or refresh your PC, that factory-fresh Windows install you come back to is their customized version, complete with the crapware.

If you don’t reinstall Windows that frequently, you can simply use Push Button Reset and then uninstall the apps and applications you don’t want and get on with life. But if you would prefer to restore your PC to a clean Windows install without that crapware, the simplest way is to skip Push Button Reset and use the System Image Backup utility instead.


Using System Image Backup for this purpose is not difficult, but can be a bit time-consuming. First, you get your PC to a state at which you think is ideal, one that you will want to return to later. Ideally, if this is a new PC, you do so after first signing in, removing the crapware, and installing any pending Windows Updates. Then, just use the System Image Backup utility; if you want to restore the PC to this point in time at a later date, you can just use System Image Restore.

Use PC Reset before selling or giving away your PC

PC Reset and PC Refresh are great tools for quickly bringing your PC back to its original, factory-fresh state. But PC Reset—the more destructive of the Push Button Reset tools, which removes your user accounts, data, and any installed apps and applications from the PC—has a useful side use. It can be used safely erase your personal data from the PC during the reset process so that no one can recover it later.


Why is that useful? If you plan to sell or give away your PC, you can use PC Reset 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. During the PC Reset process, you’ll eventually be asked if you want to fully clean your drive.

If you plan to sell or give away the PC, choose the second option, “Fully clean the drive.” The reset process will take longer, a lot longer, but any personal data that might have otherwise been hidden on the PC’s drives will now be wiped out and inaccessible by others.

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