Backup and Restore Data in Windows Vista

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Windows Vista Backup Center

Microsoft has included some type of data backup functionality in Windows for years. However, the latest flagship operating system, Windows Vista, has a much improved backup and restore utility.

In Windows Vista, Microsoft has provided more capabilities and automation and wrapped it up in a more intuitive GUI to help novice users backup the data that should be backed up without having to become disaster recovery or data backup experts.

To open the Backup and Restore Center, follow these steps:


  1. Click the Start icon at the lower left of the display
  2. Select Control Panel
  3. Choose Backup and Restore Center
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Complete PC Backup

If you select Backup Computer from the right pane, you will see the console displayed here (you will also receive a UAC (User Account Control) warning).

Select the location that you want to backup to- usually either an external USB hard drive or a CD / DVD recorder, and click Next. Confirm your selection and click Start Backup to backup the entire contents of your PC.

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Configuring Backup Options

If you choose Backup Files, Vista will walk you through choosing a destination to backup to (again- this is typically an external USB hard drive or a CD / DVD recorder), and then choosing the drives, folders, or files that you want to include in your backup.

Note: If you have already configured Backup Files, clicking on the Backup Files button will instantly initiate a backup. To modify the configuration, you instead need to click on the Change Settings link below the Backup Files button.

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Backup FAQ

Throughout the process of configuring and initiating a backup or restore, you will see questions and phrases that are links you can click on. These links take you to the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and are very helpful for explaining various terms and topics.

For example, under the Restore heading, it explains that "You can use shadow copies to restore previous versions of files that have been accidentally modified or deleted." That sounds great...I think. It begs the question "what is a shadow copy?"

Thankfully, Microsoft already realized the question was begged. Immediately following the explanation sentence, you will find the question "what are shadow copies?" which links to the FAQ to give you an explanation.

This type of assistance and explanation is always a click away throughout the Backup and Restore Center.

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Select File Types

Once you select the location to back up to and the drives you want to back up, you will be prompted to choose the types of files you want to back up.

Rather than expecting you to know all of the different file extensions and file types, or be technical enough to understand exactly which files to back up, Microsoft has made it simple by providing checkboxes for categories of files.

For example, you don't need to know that a graphic image could potentially be a JPG, JPEG, GIF, BMP, PNG, or other file type. You can simply check the box labeled Pictures and the Backup and Restore Center will take care of the rest.

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Set Backup Schedule

You could just manually back up your files whenever you happen to remember to, but that more or less negates the effectiveness and efficiency of this utility. The whole point is to automate the process so your data will be protected without you having to be involved any more than necessary.

You can choose to back up your data Daily, Weekly or Monthly. If you choose Daily, the "What Day" box becomes grayed out. However, if you choose Weekly, you will need to select what day of the week, and if you choose Monthly, you will need to select what date of each month you would like the back up performed.

The last option is to choose a time. If you turn your computer off, then you will need to schedule the back up to run at some point while the computer is on. However, using the computer during the backup may make it impossible to back up some files, and the process of backing up will eat systems resources and make your system run slower.

If you leave your computer on 24/7, it makes more sense to schedule the backup while you are sleeping. If you set it for 2am or 3am, it will be late enough that it won't interfere if you happen to be up late, and early enough to make sure the backup is complete if you happen to get up early.

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Restoring Data

If you click on Restore Files, you are offered two choices: Advanced Restore or Restore Files.

The Restore Files option allows you to restore your files that were backed up on the computer you are currently using. If you want to restore data that was backed up on a different computer, or restore data for all users rather than just yourself, you must select the Advanced Restore option.

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Advanced Restore Options

If you select Advanced Restore, the next step is to let Vista know what type of data you wish to restore. There are 3 options:

  • Files from the latest backup made on this computer
  • Files from an older backup made on this computer
  • Files from a backup made on a different computer
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Select a Backup

Regardless of the options you choose, at some point you will be presented with a screen that looks like the image shown here. There will be a list of the available backups and you must select which backup you want to restore from.

If you wrote a term paper 4 days ago that you accidentally deleted, you obviously would not choose a backup from a month ago since the term paper did not yet exist.

Conversely, if you are having problems with a file or accidentally altered a file that has been on your system for some time, but you aren't sure when it got corrupted, you can choose a backup from farther back to try to ensure you go back far enough to get the functional file you are looking for.

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Select Data to Restore

Once you have selected the backup set to use, you need to choose the data you want restored. At the top of this screen, you can simply check the box to Restore everything in this backup. But, if there are specific files or data you are looking for, you can use the Add Files or Add Folders buttons to add them to the restore.

If you are looking for a file, but you are not sure exactly what drive or folder it is stored in, you can click on Search to use the search function to locate it.

Once you have selected all of the data you wish to restore from this backup set, click Next to initiate the data restoration and go get yourself a cup of coffee. Soon that investment account information you accidentally deleted, or the important PowerPoint presentation your kid "modified" will be back safe and sound just like you remember it.