Windows 7 does its best to make backing up your files easy, so there's no excuse for not organising and protecting all your valuable data.

No hard disk lasts forever. Even if you’ve never had a drive fail on you, your first experience could be just minutes away. Back up your data now, and avoid the possibility of losing all your important files.

A typical backup creates a copy of all the files that matter to you, and retains the original folder structure – when you restore from a backup you can expect to find your files in their normal places. Backups usually exclude program files, which take up a lot of space and are easily reinstalled from their installation discs.

Backups can either be direct copies of each file, or an entire folder structure compressed into one huge file, with or without encryption. Windows 7 adopts the latter approach, but it’s still possible to restore individual files and folders if necessary.

By default, Windows 7 adds a system image to the backup – if your hard drive is beyond repair you’ll be able to restore the entire system, including the operating system and program files, to a new drive. Turn off this feature if you need to save drive space.

There’s little point in backing up your files to the same drive that they usually reside on; if that drive fails, you’ll lose both copies. We recommend using a second internal drive or an external USB drive. If you don’t have a large media library, you may even be able to use a series of DVDs.

The first backup can take a few hours to complete, but Windows 7 will then schedule regular backups that record only the amendments to your documents, thus making backups much faster. By default, this is done once a week; you can change the schedule to suit your needs. We demonstrate how to schedule regular backups that need very little maintenance in our workshop.

It’s a good idea to have more than one partition on your hard drive, too. This is a virtual division that Windows regards as a separate drive, and can even be reformatted without affecting the remainder of the drive. For instructions on how to set up drive partitions using Acronis Disk Director, click here.

Create and restore from a backup in Windows 7

Step 1. Click the Windows button, enter ‘backup’ in the Search bar, then choose ‘Backup and Restore’ to access Windows 7’s built-in backup utility. Now click ‘Set up backup’ and browse to the drive on which you want to store the backup. It’s best to use a USB or networked hard drive. Click Next.

Backup step 1

Step 2. If you allow Windows to choose the files to back up, it will include everything in your default folders and on the Desktop, plus a system image, from which you can restore the entire drive if necessary. Select ‘Let me choose’ if drive space is an issue or you’d prefer to select only your most important files. Click Next.

Backup step 2