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Configure automatic backups in Windows 7, 8 and 10

By , logo. Last updated: 2019-03-04

How to set up and manage automatic backups in Windows 7, 8 and 10

The built-in Backup and Restore in Windows 7, 8 (but not 8.1!) and 10 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.

Windows 8.1 users can use Task Scheduler to automate System Image Backups.

This is a simple solution for automatic backups of your personal files, Libraries and system drive (the one where Windows is installed).
You can and should encrypt the whole target disk with BitLocker (included with Windows Pro, Ultimate and Enterprise editions) or create a VeraCrypt (free for all) container instead for added protection. Please note that disk encryption reduces the performance of backups a bit.

(Solved) Possibly failing backups in Windows 10 October 2018 Update (version 1809)

In Windows 10 October 2018 Update (version 1809), backups can end with the error code 0x80070013, The media is write protected.
This is recorded into Event Viewer's Windows Backup log as an error event with ID 4104: "The backup was not successful. The error is: The media is write protected. (0x80070013)."
Windows Backup, Check your backup, The media is write protected, Error code: 0x80070013.

Disk/system image backups are completed successfully, but the backing up of personal data fails no matter what you try. If you view the detailed progress of the backup, it successfully finishes creating shadow copies, then starts to enumerate items in either Public folders or some user's personal folders, gets stuck there for a minute or so, and then jumps from about 7-8% straight to 50% and starts creating a system image backup.

This issue seems to be happening on some computers only. Of four of my more used Windows 10 devices at home and work, 2 continued backing up fine and 2 have failed all backups ever since upgrading to version 1809 of Windows 10.

Update: Microsoft released a cumulative update for Windows 10 (KB4482887) on 1st of March, 2019. After applying this, I've successfully managed to run a manual and an automatic backup on both of the affected computers. You can apply the patch via Windows Update - click the Check for updates button to see the update.
While the description has no information about backups, there seems to be something that fixes this problem.

Automating backups in Windows 7, 8 and 10

In Windows 10, open Start menu or Cortana keyboard search (Windows Key+S), type "backup" and choose Backup and Restore (Windows 7).
Windows 10, Start menu, search results for 'backup'. Click 'Backup and Restore (Windows 7)' to set up automatic backups.

In Windows 8, open Settings search using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W, type "windows 7" and click Windows 7 File Recovery.
Windows 8, Start screen, Settings search. Type 'windows 7' and click 'Windows 7 File Recovery' to set up backups.

In Windows 7, open Start menu (press Windows Key on your keyboard) and type "backup". Click Backup and Restore.
Windows 7, Start menu. To open Backup and Restore, type 'backup' in Search box. Then click 'Backup and Restore'.

Now it is time to connect your external hard disk. 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.
Do note that you can back up multiple Windows 7, 8 or 10 computers to the same external or network drive. Windows Backup creates folders with device's name to make mixing up backups almost impossible.

Backup and Restore window states that Windows Backup has not been set up. Click Set up backup on the right.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore. If Windows Backup has not been configured, click 'Set up backup' link.

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 stronger scratch is often enough. Plus there are myriad of problems with restoring backups from optical media: the restore cannot find last disc, etc. You really do not need a failed restore.

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? Wink And then repeat it every day or week... phew! Besides, 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 to work properly. Also, Windows 7 Basic, Home and Home Premium editions do not support backing up to network drives.
Click your external hard drive in the list and then click Next.
Windows 7, Set up backup - Select where you want to save your backup. Click your external hard drive in the list and then click Next.

If your device's system drive has been encrypted with BitLocker and the selected destination drive is not, Backup and Restore warns you about this.
To start protecting a drive with BitLocker, right-click or touch and hold it in Windows/File Explorer and choose Turn on BitLocker.
Windows 7, Set up backup - Select where you want to save your backup, The selected device is not protected by BitLocker. This warning appears when your computer is encrypted with BitLocker, but the selected backup destination drive is not.

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 know that your device has more than one hard drive, select Let me choose and click Next.
Windows 7, Set up backup, What do you want to back up?. Click 'Let me choose'. Then 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.
Click Next.
Windows 7, Set up backup, What do you want to back up?. Under Computer section select any additional partitions or drives you have in your computer, but do not select your Windows partition (usually C:). Make sure that 'Include a system image of drives <your Windows drive>' is checked. Then click Next.
In the 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).
Windows 8, Set up backup, Review your backup settings. Click 'Change schedule' to set backups to daily basis.

Leave Run backup on a schedule (recommended) selected. Most users should select Daily from How often box and set a time when your computer is most probably turned on in What time box. Those who know that their documents and other files are not modified or added that often can also use the default Weekly schedule.
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.
Windows 7, Set up backup, How often do you want to back up?. Leave 'Run backup on a schedule' selected. Select Daily from 'How often' box. Then select the time your computer is most probably working every day from 'What time' box. Click OK to save changes.

Back in Review your backup settings screen, click Save settings and run backup.
Windows 7, Set up backup, Review your backup settings. After changing backup schedule to daily, click 'Save settings and run backup'.

Your first backup will start. This one will take at least an hour, so you might want to 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 system image backup will be refreshed, and this will take about an hour or more again.
Windows 7, first backup in progress. The first backup with system image will take at least an hour, but the following daily backups will usually take around 20 minutes or so.

Each time a scheduled backup is in progress, you will see a black clock mark on the Action Center icon in Taskbar Notification area in Windows 7 and 8. Do not restart or shut down your computer until the clock mark disappears - wait until backup is complete!
Windows 7, Backup in progress. While a scheduled backup is running, a black clock mark will be displayed on Action Center icon in Taskbar Notification area.

Creating a System Repair Disc or Recovery Drive for troubleshooting and restoring Windows 7, 8 and 10

After your first backup is complete, Windows will offer to create a bootable system repair disc on a CD/DVD or USB (the latter is available in Windows 8 and 10 only). This recovery media includes repair and restore tools that 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, 8 and 10 in the Troubleshooting Windows section.
I suggest clicking Yes here.
Windows 7, first backup complete, do you want to create a system repair disc. Click Yes to create a bootable CD for restoring and repairing Windows 7.

See Create a System Repair Disc in Windows 7 and Create a Recovery Drive in Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 for detailed instructions on how to create the bootable recovery media.

Changing scheduled backup settings later

If you want to change when, what and where to is being backed up, click Change settings in Backup and Restore window, Schedule section. This process is exactly the same as while setting up a new backup: for example, changing backup target drive can be done in step 1.

Please see the "Automating backups in Windows" section in the beginning of this tutorial for detailed steps.

Turning off scheduled backups temporarily

In case you need to disable automatic backups for a few days for some really strange reason, click the Turn off schedule link in the left part of Backup and Restore window.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore. To disable automatic backups temporarily, click 'Turn off schedule' in the left part of Backup and Restore window.

Do not forget you've done that: no automatic backups means no or less restore options later!

To re-enable automatic backups, click Turn on schedule.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore. To re-enable automatic backups, click 'Turn on schedule' in Backup and Restore window.

Managing disk space used by Windows Backup and Restore

Backup and Restore in Windows 7, 8 and 10 normally 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. The latest successful System Image Backup will always be retained, though.

You might still see a "The disk where your backups are being saved doesn't have enough free space" error from time to time. Maybe you copied something large onto the backup drive, or the total disk space itself is not enough to store multiple backups. You might want to run Disk Cleanup and/or CCleaner to reduce the size of unneeded temporary files.
Click Manage backup disk space in the error dialog.
Windows 10, Check your backup disk space. Click 'Manage backup disk space'.

If the Backup and Restore window is already open, click Manage space instead.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore. To free up some disk space on the dedicated external hard disk or USB flash drive, click 'Manage space'.

The following window might take several minutes to appear, depending on the number of backups on the drive.
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.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore, Select how disk space is used by Windows Backup. To manage disk space used by data file backups on the dedicated external hard disk or USB flash drive, click 'View backups'.

Data file backups are grouped by backup periods - these might be on a day-to-day basis, or include several weeks. Select one or more oldest backup periods - you can hold down Ctrl key on your keyboard to select multiple periods. Never remove all file backups at once.
Click Delete.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore, Select a backup period to delete. Select older backups you want to delete and click Delete button. Never select all available backups!

Windows Backup and Restore will confirm deletion. Click Delete.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore, Manage Windows Backup disk space. Click 'Delete' to remove the selected data file backups and free up some disk space.

After the selected data file backups are gone forever, click Close.
Windows 7, Backup and Restore, Delete Backups. After selected data file backups have been deleted, click Close.

The backups are stored in two different folders that are protected from accidental access and deletion:

  • The first one has your device's name (so you can backup multiple computers to the same target drive) and it contains backups of user's files, folders and Libraries. If you double-click on this folder, the Restore Options window pops up and lets you start file or folder recovery.
  • The second one is named WindowsImageBackup and it has a subfolder with your device's name. As the name suggests, it contains disk image backups of your device's important drives.

Common errors and verifying that automatic backups do work

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?

Windows will inform you about incomplete and failed backups. Click the notification message or toast to see the reason for failure.
Windows 10, The last backup did not complete successfully. Click to troubleshoot.

Here's a very common example of backup completed, but some files were skipped. Click the View skipped files link to see the failed items. The errors are often related to OneDrive (or SkyDrive) subfolders, such as C:\Users\<your user name>\OneDrive\Music. These "The system cannot find the file specified (0x8007002)" error can safely be ignored. You can change backup settings to exclude the skipped folders and files so that backups would complete without errors, but this is not required.
Windows 10, The backup completed but some files were skipped. Click 'View skipped files' to see the list of failed items.

There are some external hard drives that are so energy-optimized that they turn off while shadow copies are created, sometimes even after 20 seconds. A missing destination drive will surely cause backup failures.
I use a very simple program, Prevent Disk Sleep, for working around this problem. Also, Samsung and WD, I am so mad at your power "optimization" algorithms.

To prevent disks from sleeping during backups, tick the check box for the problematic external drive. Usually, 180 or 300 seconds work fine for Disk Write Interval (default is 30 and 10 is minimum), but adjust the interval when necessary.
Please do not enable the no-sleep mode on all drives, choose only your backup destination drive here.
Make sure that the Auto-start at startup option is enabled and click the Start button.
Prevent Disk Sleep, tick the check boxes for drives you want to keep awake during backups. Then click Start.

If you run into the "A shadow copy could not be created, Error code 0x81000019" problem, try restarting your computer and retrying the backup job first.
This is error recorded in Event Viewer's Windows Backup log as error event 4100: Backup did not complete successfully because a shadow copy could not be created.
Windows Backup: Troubleshooting options, A shadow copy could not be created. In such case, try restarting your device first.

In case the restart does not help, open Start, type service and choose Services (not Component Services!) from the list. The VSS and SPP services listed in the Windows Backup error message are actually Volume Shadow Copy and Software Protection. The latter should start automatically and failure to start it is the usual cause of the problem. It is not uncommon for the SPP service to be stopped, but in most cases, a backup should start it automatically.

Double-click the Software Protection service and hit the Start button. Its Startup type should be "Automatic (Delayed Start)" by default.
Windows Services, Software Protection. If backups fail, click the 'Start' button and run a backup again.

Locate the Volume Shadow Copy service next and make sure its Startup type is "Manual". There are some geeks that like to disable the service, expecting to get better performance out of their Windows computers.

Retry the backup and it should complete successfully this time.

By the way, heavy disk and CPU usage is not recommended while a backup is running: the creation of shadow copies and system images can time out if drives are slow to react.
You can use Resource Monitor and Task Manager to determine which apps and programs consume disk and CPU resources the most.

See more details about backups in Event Viewer

You should also regularly check records in Event Viewer. Event ID-s 4099, 4103 and 4106 in the Application log indicate that there were problems with backup. Most backup-related events are also visible in the Administrative Events custom view.

Backup Service logs in Event Viewer reveal how much time backups usually take and whether backups succeed at all. Look for Event ID-s 8, 20, 50, 4100 and 4104 for cancelled and failed backup operations.

In Windows 7, the very best way is to set up automatic notifications for failure events 4099, 4100, 4103 or 4106. Windows 8 and newer do not support such notifications anymore.


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