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How to Backup a Laptop to an External Hard Drive

Updated April 17, 2017

Backing up your laptop regularly is an important way to avoid loss of data such as family photos, movies, or financial documents. The methods available for backup include the native Windows backup software, software provided by the manufacturer of the external hard drive, freeware such as GFI Backup 2009 or Fbackup, and software you can purchase. Programs such as Windows Backup and Restore, GFI Backup and Fbackup provide a restore option as well.

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  1. Plug the external hard drive into the laptop's USB or FireWire port. These are located along any side of the laptop, and only fit into their specific type of port. They are also keyed so they can only be inserted in one direction.

  2. Click the "Start" button located in the lower left corner of the Windows desktop.

  3. Select "Control Panel" from the right side menu.

  4. Click the link for "System and Security," then "Backup and Restore."

  5. Click the link on the right hand side of the page for "Set up backup" if you have not previously used the program to produce a backup for the laptop. This requires Administrator access to the laptop.

  6. Select the external hard drive from the list of backup storage options and click "Next."

  7. Select the option for how you want the backup to proceed -- either "Let Windows choose" or "Let me choose" and click "Next." Regardless of the option you choose, Windows does not back up program files.

  8. Choose the files or folders you want backed up. If you selected "Let me choose" then click "Next." A system image of the drive can be included as well, which is used with either the Windows installation disk or a system repair disk to completely restore the contents of the laptop.

  9. Review the backup settings when prompted then click "Save Settings And Run Backup." A window appears to inform you of the backup's progress.

  10. Plug the external hard drive into the appropriate jack on your laptop, such as USB or FireWire. Plug the external hard drive into an electrical socket if required. Desktop external hard drives usually require extra power from an electrical socket, while portable external hard drives are powered through the USB or FireWire connection.

  11. Open Windows Explorer by clicking the "Start" button in the lower left corner, then selecting "Computer" from the menu on the right.

  12. Navigate to the folder that contains the data you want backed up and select it with a single-left-click. Right-click on the selected folder and select "Copy" from the pop-up menu.

  13. Navigate to the folder on the external drive where you want to save the files, right-click inside that folder, and select "Paste" from the pop-up menu.

  14. Continue this process for all the files and folders you want backed up on the external hard drive.

  15. Download and install GFI Backup 2009 freeware. This requires completing a brief registration form.

  16. Plug the external hard drive into the appropriate connector on the laptop, usually located on one of the sides.

  17. Double-click the GFI icon to launch the program and select "Backup" from the welcome screen.

  18. Fill out the required information under the "General" tab, including the "Task Name," "Archive/Folder Name," "Description," and the "Notification Email" where the program can send information such as error notifications.

  19. Select the files and folders you want included in the backup under the "Source" tab, including mail and user settings associated with certain programs.

  20. Choose the external hard drive as the backup location from the "Destination" tab.

  21. Select the compression and encryption settings as well as the backup type from the "Options" tab. Click "Next" to move through the "Schedule" and "Events" tabs, which are optional. Fill out any desired information for the "Schedule" or "Events" then click "Next" to proceed.

  22. Click the "Start Backup Now" button to run the backup.

  23. Download and install the Fbackup freeware program.

  24. Plug the external hard drive into the laptop via the USB or FireWire cable provided.

  25. Double-click the Fbackup icon to run the program.

  26. Click the "Backup" button then click "New" to create a new backup job.

  27. Enter a name for the backup job and select the external hard drive as the location where you want to save your backup then click the "Next" button.

  28. Click the "Add Folder" or "Add Files" buttons to select the items you want backed up then click the "Next" button.

  29. Select either "Full" or "Mirror" type backup and if you want it encrypted, which requires a password then click "Next."

  30. Select the options for scheduling the backup or "Manually" if you do not want it scheduled then click the "Save" button then "Save and Run" to save the backup and begin the backup process. A status bar appears at the bottom of the program window to inform you of the progress.

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Things You'll Need

  • External hard drive
  • Backup software

About the Author

Heather Lindsay is a stained glass artist who holds a master's degree in library science, a bachelor's degree in anthropology with a minor in art, and has enjoyed working in special libraries with photograph collections.

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