Today I will show you how to optimally backup all your personal files, folders and data in a way that is easily read and used in any operating system, not just Windows.
As I have mentioned in earlier guides, Windows Backup & Restore is great if you are sticking with a Windows operating system, but messy and complicated if you want to use that backup in MAC or Linux (its inside a container file) and System Repair Discs are only good for your Windows system, not your personal data. It is far better to manually backup your personal data, preferably in addition to Windows built-in backup, rather than relying solely on the Windows backup format.
Before we begin, you will need either a USB flash drive or external USB hard drive (see example images below) with the capacity to hold all your personal data, which I will go through with you first, before commencing the backup process.
How to manually backup your personal data (Vista, 7 & 8)
1. Calculate how much space you require
- Windows XP/Vista/7: Click on the Start Menu icon bottom-left of your screen, then click the Computer menu item
- Windows 8/8.1: Press the Windows Logo key on your keyboard, click on the File Explorer icon on your taskbar, then click Computer from the left-pane
- Click on your System (C:) drive or the drive where your Windows system is installed
- Vista/7/8 user folders location: Computer > System (C:) > Users > [yourusername]
- XP user folders location: Computer > System (C:) > Documents and Settings > [yourusername]
- Right-click on your user folder (named the same as your logon name) and select the Properties menu item
- Look for the Size on disk: XX.XXGB item where XX.XX will be the size of your personal files and data (ie. 15.56GB, MB=Megabyte, GB=Gigabyte, TB=Terabyte)
- Repeat this process for all Users > [username] folders you want to backup
- For USB flash drives, I recommend buying one-size-up from the size calculated, such as: if the size calculated is about 30GB you should buy a 64GB USB flash drive (not 32GB) as this will allow for headroom (you’ll need it).
- If you have more than 128GB of personal data, I recommend buying an external USB hard drive instead of a USB flash drive (see below) as it is more affordable and faster.
- For external USB hard drives, as a minimum I recommend buying a 500GB unit or larger, and USB3.0 rather than USB2.0. They come in sizes up to 4TB as of 2014.
- Obviously you should purchase an external hard drive capable of holding all your personal data plus 100% headroom, in other words double the size of your personal data.
2. Locate important data files
Rather than explain how to find important data files located outside of your user folder (which would make this guide far too long), I will instead give you some links showing how to find the most common ones.
- Find your Outlook data files (.pst .pab .ost .dat .xml etc)
- Find your Windows Mail emails & data
- Find your MYOB company files & backups
- Find your Quicken company files
There may be more data files you need to back up, go through your programs and assess which ones do before proceeding, but most programs will (and should) store data files inside your Users > [username] folder.
3. Copy the data to external drive
- Plug in your USB or external hard drive
- Open your user folder: Computer > System (C:) > Users > [yourusername]*
- You should now see all your user folders (Contacts, Desktop, Downloads, etc)
- Starting at the top of the list, right-click on the first folder
- Mouse-over the Send to: menu item
- Click on the USB or external hard drive from the list, it will usually be named the same as its brand, WD_Elements (E:) or SanDisk (F:) etc
- Windows will now copy the selected folder and it’s contents to your backup drive
- Repeat this process for each folder but be aware, it can take some time (hours) to transfer large amounts of data (ie. My Documents or My Music) especially to USB flash drives
- When finished transferring all your user folders, copy over any extra data files to your backup drive too (Outlook, Quicken etc)
- Backup of all your personal data is complete*
*Please note that sometimes your user folders will be on a different partition or disk, particularly if you have a high-end workstation. Be sure you have at least copied the following folder list…
- My Documents or Documents
- My Music or Music
- My Pictures or Pictures
- My Videos or Videos
- Saved Games
- Any other folders or files inside your user folders
There may be more files related to custom programs installed on your PC (Adobe Creative Suite, Corel etc) you will need to find these files and back them up also.
Cheers guys! and any questions leave them in the comments below.