Backing up data isn't sexy or exciting, but it's important. Unfortunately, many of us only become convinced of the importance of having an up to date backup when something goes catastrophically wrong. There's nothing quite like a failed hard drive to sharpen the mind, and lead to a resolution to do things a little differently in the future.
But where do you start with backing up data? It needn't be completed – you can create a manual backup by simply copying your important files to a spare hard drive, but it makes far more sense to turn to dedicated backup software to automate the process.
Using backup software not only means that – in many cases – you can have backups updated for you on a regular basis so you don’t have to remember, but also speeds up the process dramatically. Here are the five best free backup applications you can use.
A perfect balance of automatic protection and manual control
EaseUS Todo Backup Free has lots of bases covered: backing up individual files and folders, whole drives or partitions, or creating a full system backup. There's also a 'smart' option that automatically backs up files in commonly used locations, and you have the option of using cloud storage. Backups can then be scheduled, running as incremental, differential or full backups as required (see below for a full explanation of the differences).
While there is a paid-for version of EaseUS Todo Backup available, opting for the free edition does not mean that you make many compromises. You can still run backups on a schedule, but lose the ability to have these backups triggered by various events – not something most people will miss. The same goes for command line-driven backups, PC-to-PC data transfer, and Outlook backup.
A few features are exclusive the the premium version, but EasusUS Todo Backup Free is more than enough for just about everyone out there. Just watch out for the bundled bloatware during installation and opt to skip it.
Review and where to download: EaseUS Todo Backup Free
A new backup tool that uses Google Drive to store your files
Google Backup and Sync isn't a traditional backup tool by any means, it is cloud-based and just what you are able to back up will depend on how much online Google storage you have available. While you are given a limited amount of space for free, and there are various ways to boost it without having to part with any money, in reality Google Backup and Sync is not going to be a full system backup tool for most people.
For backing up key files and folders, however, it's superb. You can easily specify any number of folders for the software to monitor, and any changes, additions or deletions are implemented near-instantaneously.
As the name suggests, the software can be used to synchronise files between computers, and they are accessible through on any device via the Google Drive web app. An excellent, if slightly limited, backup tool.
Download here: Google Backup and Sync
Advanced backup software with a wealth of options for experienced users
Cobian Backup is the most advanced free backup tool around, and might be overkill for most people, but if you know exactly how you want to configure your backups then you can be confident it's going to meet your needs.
The program can be used to create and schedule multiple backup jobs, and files can be archived to another local hard drive, network location or, if you have access to one, an FTP server. Cobian Backup can back up to multiple locations at the same time, so it's possible to run multiple backup jobs simultaneously.
Backups can be compressed to save space, and there's optional encryption to keep your data secure.
Cobian Backup loses when it comes time to restore data – there's no simple wizard to automate the process, so you're left on your own having to copy files back into place, decrypting and decompressing first if necessary.
Still, for backing up your most valuable data, this is one of the most comprehensive tools out there.
Download here: Cobian Backup
Set-and-forget options make this the easiest way to back up your system
Paragon Backup & Recovery does an excellent job of making the process of backing up as simple as possible, holding your hand with a wizard-driven interface. You can opt to back up your entire computer, partitions, select files and folders based on location, or files based on their type. There's a lot of flexibility.
Once that's done, just set a schedule and choose the type of backup you want to want to create and then leave the software to take care of things by itself.
That's not all – as its name suggests, this isn't just a backup too. Even though you can use it without having to part with a penny, Paragon Backup & Recovery is a whole data management toolkit, and also includes an impressive CD or USB-based recovery system that can be used to get your data back even if you're not able to boot into Windows.
It's all very impressive. Once you've signed up for a free account, this program is a thing of beauty.
Download here: Paragon Backup & Recovery
A choice of advanced and simple modes and automatic scheduling make this a good free backup option if some tools here look intimidating
FBackup has a slightly unpleasant (and Office-inspired) interface, but don’t let that put you off. Beneath the ugly exterior is a capable backup utility, although it isn't as feature backed as tools like Paragon Backup & Recovery.
FBackup offers a choice of wizard and advanced modes. Whichever you choose, it's easy to create backup jobs comprising files and folders, which can be saved to local or network drives, removable disks, or Google Drive. Scheduling is available to keep your backups up to date.
There are in-program ads suggesting you upgrade to the paid-for Backup4all, but thankfully they are relatively unobtrusive so hopefully you'll be able to ignore them if you're not interested.
The free version of the program lacks a few features, but these might be inconsequential, depending on your kneeds. If you can live without encryption, FTP backups, email notifications and incremental backups, Fbackup is well worth checking out.
Download here: FBackup
When you're choosing backup software it's worth understanding the different types of backups.
An image is an exact copy of an entire drive or partition, including all installed programs and system files. If you need to reinstall Windows, you can boot from the image file and avoid having to reinstall all your programs and reconfigure your Windows settings. Note that you can't use an image to restore your system on a different PC.
Images are very large and take a long time to create, so you won't want to make one every day. For everyday backups, you'll only want to copy the most important data on your PC – your documents, photos and music, for example. There are several types of regular backup:
- Full backup: a copy of all selected data.
- Differential backup: a copy of the data that has changed or been added since the last full backup.
- Incremental backup: a copy of the data that has changed since the last backup, whether that was full backup or incremental.
Each differential backup will be larger than the last, but to restore your system you'll only need the full backup and the latest differential one. Incremental backup files are smaller, but to restore your system you'll need your full backup as well as all subsequent incremental ones, which takes longer.