If you don’t back up your computer data, you need to start right now. Data loss horror stories are common; going without a backup just isn’t worth the risk. Don’t wait until you lose an entire thesis paper or irreplaceable family photos—start backing up today.
There are many ways to back up your computer, which usually fall into local (offline) and cloud (online) backups. Today, we’ll show you how to back up your Windows computer to the cloud using three popular cloud storage services, as well as dedicated cloud backup tools.
First: Which Files Should You Back Up?
When talking about backing up a computer, this don’t necessarily mean the entire system. Making a copy of every single file, folder, app, and other data is cloning your hard drive, which is a more involved process that’s unnecessary for most people.
You only need to back up personal data files. Key file types include documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos and images, music, and videos. In other words, you should back up any file that you’ve personally created or acquired and want to keep.
You do not need to back up system files. If you have a problem with Windows, you can use System Restore or a full factory reset to return to a prior point in time or reset your entire system. Both of these work without you backing up anything manually.
You should not back up apps. Apps can take multiple gigabytes and are easy to reinstall, so you’re better off backing up configuration files that make the apps unique to you. If you ever need to reinstall an app, just replace the configuration files after downloading the latest copy from its website, and you should be good to go in most cases.
The tricky part is that not all apps store configuration files in the same place. Some are stored directly in the app’s installed folder, others are kept in your user folder, and still others are kept in your system’s AppData folder. It’s up to you to learn which files must be backed up for each of the apps you regularly use.
For more help with this, see our guide to which Windows folders you should back up.
1. How to Back Up Your Computer to Google Drive
The Google Drive desktop app is now called Backup and Sync. While it still lets you access your Google Drive files, you can also use it as a backup tool. This lets you back up files to the cloud even if they aren’t in your Google Drive folder.
Since Google Drive gives you 15GB for free (spread across your Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos accounts), it’s an attractive option for basic backups. If you need more space, subscribe to Google One to get 100GB of space for $2 per month, 200GB for $3 per month, or 2TB for $10 per month.
Here’s how to back up your files using Google Drive:
- Install the Backup and Sync utility, then launch it and sign into your Google account. If you don’t set up backup during the initial setup, click the Backup and Sync icon in your System Tray, followed by the three-dot Menu > Preferences.
- On the My Computer tab, choose which folders you want to keep backed up. This shows common locations, but you can add as many as you want using the Choose Folder link. You can also click the My Computer text to give it a more descriptive name.
- Click the Change button to decide if you want to back up all files, or just photos/videos. Under Advanced settings, you can also choose to ignore files with certain extensions.
- If you want to also back up removable devices, click the USB Devices & SD Cards text to choose which ones get backed up.
- As long as Backup and Sync is active, it will back up your chosen folders. You should enable Open Backup and Sync on system startup on the Settings tab so it runs every time you boot Windows.
To access your backups in the future, go to the Google Drive website and sign in if needed. From the left sidebar, select Computers > My Computer to access everything you’ve backed up.
2. How to Back Up Your Computer to OneDrive
Like Google Drive, OneDrive offers a basic backup feature in addition to its usual cloud storage functionality. This means that anything you put in the OneDrive folder syncs to all your devices, but you can protect files in other locations too.
OneDrive has the advantage of being built into Windows 10, but it unfortunately offers far less storage. You get 5GB for free and can pay $2/month for 100GB of space. Beyond that, you’ll need to subscribe to Microsoft 365 to get 1TB of OneDrive storage.
Here’s how to back up your files using OneDrive:
- On Windows 10, OneDrive should already be installed. You can check for it via the icon in your System Tray or by searching for it in the Start menu.
- If you don’t have it, download and install OneDrive, then log in with your Microsoft account.
- Click the OneDrive icon in your System Tray, followed by Help & Settings > Settings to open its options panel.
- Switch to the Backup tab and click Manage backup. This will open a new window where you can choose to back up your Desktop, Documents, and/or Pictures folders. Unlike Google Drive, you can’t pick other folders to back up.
- Click Start Backup to run a backup now. After this completes, OneDrive will continue to back up files in your chosen folders.
- Also on the Backup tab, check the box under Photos and videos if you want to back up pictures and videos from removable devices. Check the box under Screenshots to back up screenshots too.
- Finally, make sure you have Start OneDrive automatically when I sign in to Windows enabled on the Settings tab so you don’t have to open it manually to run backups.
You’ll find your backed-up files in your OneDrive account under the same name (such as Desktop).
3. How to Back Up a Computer to Dropbox
Like the other two options, Dropbox now offers computer backup in addition to standard cloud storage. However, Dropbox is the most limited service, with its free plan only offering a tiny 2GB of storage. The next step up is the $12/month Plus plan for 2TB, which is quite a difference.
As a result, we recommend you avoid Dropbox for cloud backups. The above tools offer more base storage and more flexible pricing options if you only need a small storage increase.
If you do decide to use Dropbox to back up your computer to the cloud, here’s how:
- If you don’t have the app installed yet, download and install Dropbox, then sign in.
- Click the Dropbox icon in your System Tray, then select your profile picture and choose Preferences from the resulting menu to open Dropbox’s options.
- Select the Backups tab, followed by the Set up button.
- You’ll see a new window where you can choose to back up your Desktop, Documents, and Downloads folders. Select the ones you want to back up, then hit Set up again.
- Dropbox will prompt you to start a free trial of Dropbox Plus; hit Continue with Basic followed by Yes, continue to decline this. Just keep in mind that if you run out of Dropbox space, backup will stop.
- Dropbox will start backing up your folder and keep you updated on the progress. However, this will not work if you’ve backed up the same folder to another cloud storage provider.
- On the General tab, check the Start Dropbox on system startup box to have it run all the time.
Once backed up, you’ll see these files in your Dropbox under My PC [Computer Name].
4. Back Up to the Cloud With a Full Cloud Backup Service
Above, we’ve looked at the backup options for the three main cloud storage providers. While these are handy, and free if you don’t have much data to back up, heavy backup users should look to a dedicated tool for cloud backups. These let you back up more data for a lower cost, so you don’t have to worry about how much space you use.
For most people, we recommend Backblaze. It costs $6/month or $60/year for unlimited backup on one computer, including removable drives. It backs up the most important folders for you, so you don’t have to worry about picking them manually if you’re not comfortable doing so. If Backblaze doesn’t work for you, have a look at other great online backup services.
Windows Cloud Backup Made Easy
Now you have several easy options for backing up your PC to the cloud. And while backing up to the cloud is convenient, it does have downsides.
If the storage service ever closes its doors, you’ll lose your data or have to migrate it elsewhere. Without an internet connection, you can’t back up new data or restore your existing data. You’re also limited by the speed of your internet connection, plus services can change their limits and prices whenever they want.
Thankfully, you have more options to back up your computer. Combining a local backup with one of these cloud backup options is a great plan.
We’ve summarized every backup, restore, recovery, and repair option we could find on Windows 10. Use our simple tips and never despair over lost data again!
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