How to Back Up Your Computer

You know that you need to back up your computer, but here’s how you can do it.

Things You’ll Need

  • An external hard drive at least 2x the capacity of your computer’s hard drive
    • Make sure it is a blank drive (brand new is the easiest way to ensure this). This is so that it will be only be used to back up your computer.
    • Ignore the software that came on the drive. Delete it if you want. We’re going to use your computer’s built-in software which will be easier and more compatible to restore from.
  • A Subscription to a cloud backup service.
    • I use and recommend Backblaze (referral link).
    • Download and install the software.
  • Time
    • It’ll take a few minutes to set everything up. For the first backup, you’ll want to check in on the progress periodically to make sure everything is going well.
    • The first backup to your external hard drive will likely take a few hours to complete.
    • The first backup to the cloud service will take many days or months to complete. It happens “in the background” when you’re connected to the internet.

Back Up to an External Hard Drive


If you have a Mac, you’ll want to use Time Machine to manage your backups to the external hard drive. This site has a great tutorial on how to get set up:

Time Machine makes a complete copy of your system. It also saves versions of files so you can “go back in time” and get an earlier version if needed. If your computer dies, you can use your Time Machine backup to completely restore your computer. You can find instructions at the end of the article linked above if you ever need to do that.

  • If you have files on other external hard drives that you want Time Machine to back up as well, you’ll need to do a couple of things: make sure they’re plugged into your computer when you have your Time Machine drive connected, and make sure that the drives are not a part of the “exclusion list.” Watch this video for help with that:

Windows PC

If you have a PC running Windows 10, you’ll want to use File History to manage backups to the external hard drive. This site has a great tutorial on how to get set up:

This will back up important files, but unlike Time Machine, not your entire computer (operating system, applications, settings). For this, you will need to create what is called a system image:

You could potentially buy another external hard drive for this task alone. For most people, just backing up important files via File History will be enough. This is because you can always download and reinstall an operating system and/or applications if you really had to.


Once your computer is backed up to your external hard drive, you’ll need to make sure that the drive remains connected to your computer so that it can continually be backed up. Some people choose to only have their external hard drive plugged in at the end of the day or week. Just know that when it is not connected, it will not back up your computer. And if something happens to your computer when it’s not connected, you will lose everything since the last time it was connected.

If your main computer is a laptop, you probably won’t always want to lug around an external hard drive with you wherever you go, so this could be tricky. Depending on your needs, you could just wait and plug in the external hard drive at the end of the day and have it back up your computer overnight.

Back Up to the Cloud

To back up your computer to the cloud, it’s usually just as easy as downloading the service’s software, installing it, and then letting it do its thing. By default, it should back up all of the important files on your computer (photos, videos, documents), but it might not back up the computer’s operating system or installed applications. This is because those are usually things that you can easily get back outside of a backup by downloading and reinstalling software. As mentioned, it will take a long time to upload everything, so be sure to keep your computer on overnight and check in on the progress every once in a while to see when it completes the task. After the first full backup to the cloud, subsequent backups will be much faster because it will only be uploading new files that have changed or been added.

That’s it! If you do those steps, you should feel good knowing that you’ve got some assurance that your important files are safe from a computer failure or disaster. But know that those steps are the bare minimum — you can always have additional copies of your data and adhere to the 3-2-1 Backup Rule and beyond! It just depends on your needs, your budget, and whatever strategy works best for you.

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