Windows 7 and 8 Backup and Restore suits you in case you do not need to protect your backups with passwords or encryption, or you do not have hard disks in RAID. This is a simple solution for automatic backups. You can encrypt the whole target disk with BitLocker or create a TrueCrypt container instead for added protection - but this will reduce performance of backups.
For encrypted and password-protected backups, use free AOMEI Backupper instead. This also applies to Windows 8.1 that has no traditional backup program anymore.
In Windows 8, open Settings search using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W, type "windows 7" and click Windows 7 File Recovery.
If you have not yet scheduled any backups in Windows 7, you will soon see "Solve PC issues: 1 message" while you hover your mouse pointer over Action Center icon in Taskbar Notification Area (aka System Tray).
Now click Action Center icon and click Set up backup item.
This message in Action Center will be gone only after you configure automatic backups or choose to turn off messages about backup.
Later you can open Backup and Restore in Windows 7 by opening Start menu (press Windows Key on your keyboard) and typing "backup" in Search box. Click Backup and Restore.
Now it is time to connect your external hard disk or USB flash drive. Make sure the drive is dedicated for backups - it must have enough free space for at least one full backup, otherwise you will not see it listed in the next step.
Backup and Restore states that Windows Backup has not been set up. Click Set up backup again.
Select the drive where you want to save your backup. I definitely recommend an external hard drive over optical discs because CD-s and DVD-s get spoiled easily - just a scratch is often enough. Another good reason for a hard drive is large amount of data, such as videos, music, photos, etc. You wouldn't want to switch around 100 DVD-s to save 500 gigabytes of data, would you? Plus, hard drives are so much faster while backing up or restoring!
Those who want to back up to network drives (NAS, for example) must remember that System Image Restore does not support Wi-Fi (wireless) connections. Your PC must be on a wired network for this.
Click your external hard drive in the list and then click Next.
Next, the What do you want to back up screen appears. If you do not have multiple hard drives or partitions, you can safely leave Let Windows choose (recommended) selected and click Next.
If you are not sure about multiple hard drives or partitions, or you know that you have such case, select Let me choose and click Next.
Only those who selected Let me choose will see this screen. Under Data Files, your own Libraries (in bold) are always selected. You can deselect some profiles (user names) you do not use or want to backup, but make sure you leave Back up data for newly created users check box selected.
All hard drives and partitions on them are listed in Computer section. Do not select the drive with Windows icon (usually with "(C:)" in the end) - this one will be included in system image! If you have some other drives/partitions and you want to include them in backups, click to select them.
Make sure that Include a system image of drives: <your Windows drive/partition name and letter> is checked.
In Review your backup settings screen, click Change schedule link. By default, Windows Backup runs weekly (every Sunday), but what we really need is a daily backup. Don't worry, only the first backup will take long time (up to several hours), but the next ones will be incremental backups and normally just around 20 minutes long (unless you've added several gigabytes of data to your drives).
Leave Run backup on a schedule (recommended) selected. Then select Daily from How often box and set a time when your computer is most probably turned on in What time box.
Please remember to have your external hard disk or USB flash drive connected at that time each and every day!
Click OK to accept changes.
Back in Review your backup settings screen, click Save settings and run backup.
Your first backup will start. This one will take at least an hour, so you can safely do something else meanwhile. The following daily backups will copy only changed and added files, so they will normally take just around 20 minutes. Once a week or two, a full backup will be refreshed, and this will take about an hour or more again.
Each time a scheduled backup is in progress, you will see a black clock mark on the Action Center icon in Taskbar Notification area. Do not restart or shut down your computer until the clock mark disappears - wait until backup is complete!
After your first backup is complete, Windows will offer to create a bootable system repair disc on a CD or USB (the latter is available in Windows 8 only). This CD or USB includes both repair and restore tools (excluding a screwdriver ) and it might come in handy when Windows will not start or you want to restore a system image. You can read more about repairing Windows 7 or 8 in the Troubleshooting Windows section.
I suggest clicking Yes here.
If you want to select a different time for backups or change what and where is being backed up, click Change settings in Backup and Restore window.
In case Backup and Restore is not open yet, open Start menu, type "backup" into Search box and click Backup and Restore.
In case you need to turn off scheduled backups for a few days, open Backup and Restore by typing "backup" in Start menu Search box and clicking Backup and Restore.
Do not forget you've done that - no backups, no restore options later!
To turn schedule back on, click Turn on schedule.
Windows 7 and 8 Backup manages disk space on the dedicated hard disk or USB flash drive itself - if free space falls below requirements for a new backup, an older incremental backup will be deleted automatically. One full system image will always be retained, though.
Sometimes you might need to use the external hard disk for transferring files. If your computer and Windows are working fine, you can delete some older backups to free up disk space.
Open Backup and Restore by typing "backup" in Start menu Search box and clicking Backup and Restore. Click Manage space.
In the Space usage summary section, you can see how much disk space currently available backups consume. I never recommend messing with System Images - you do want to restore a working Windows.
Click View backups... in Data file backup section to manage data file backups.
Data file backups are grouped by backup periods. If you turn on your computer rarely, these periods include several days. Normally, a period involves just one day.
Select one or more older backup periods - you can hold down Ctrl key on your keyboard to select multiple periods. But do not select all periods available!
Windows Backup and Restore will confirm deletion. Click Delete.
After the selected backups are gone forever, click Close.
Automatic backups are almost like set and forget - just do not expect Windows to turn on your computer by itself at scheduled time. But what if you forget to connect your external hard drive or backups fail for some reason?
First, you will be notified by Action Center icon in Taskbar Notification area about incomplete and failed backups. Click the icon to open Backup and Restore and see the reason for failure.
Second, you can check records in Event Viewer. Event ID-s 4099, 4103 and 4106 in Application log indicate that there were problems with backup.
You can also see Backup Service logs in Event Viewer to find out how much time backups usually take and whether backups take place at all. Look for Event ID-s 8, 20 and 50 for cancelled and failed backup operations.
In Windows 7, the very best way is to set up automatic notifications for failure events 4099, 4103 or 4106.