The best free backup software makes it simple and easy to protect and save your files, folders, and even your whole hard drive, without costing anything.
The need for a backup software solution cannot be overstated, because of the risk of losing all your files, photos, music, and other important documents to an accident or computer crash.
There are many different options available for backing up. This might include copying files and folders to a rewritable CD or DVD, USB drive, or external hard drive, or even using a cloud backup solution so you can access and sync your files and folders between different devices.
While it's great if you're using even one method, it's even more ideal if you're using multiple backup methods to provide a real and practical degree of redundancy. However, doing so might make it more difficult to manage your backups.
This is where backup software really comes into it's own, as it allows you to more easily manage and automate backing up tasks, allowing you to just let everything run and save in the background while you're working.
There are a number of paid-for back software solutions available, but even better is that there are also free versions available so you can discover for yourself which software fits best for you.
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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).
The free version of EaseUS Todo Backup free has almost all the features of the premium edition. 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; they're all nice to have, but their absence is unlikely to be a deal-breaker.
A few features are exclusive the the premium version, but EasusUS Todo Backup Free is more than enough for just about everyone out there.
The free community edition of 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.
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 the latter portion of its name suggests, this isn't just a backup tool. 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 free backup software is a thing of beauty.
FBackup has a slightly unappealing (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 needs. If you can live without encryption, FTP backups, email notifications and incremental backups, Fbackup is well worth checking out.
Google Drive 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.
You're given a limited amount of space for free, and there are various ways to boost it without having to part with any money, but in reality Google Drive is going to be useful for backing up individual directories – not your whole system.
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 synchronize files between computers, and they are accessible through on any device via the Google Drive web app. An excellent, if slightly limited, backup tool.
Confusingly, Google Drive is also sometimes called Google One, and additionally to run Google Drive you need to download the app Google Backup and Sync in order to set it running.
Additionally, you will need to be alert that when files and folders are backed up that they have a green tick next to them - if not, it means your files are not being backed up, something that has previously caught users out when Google updated the service.
If you need help using Google Drive, check out our guide: How to back up files with Google Backup and Sync.
Cobian Backup is the most advanced free backup tool around, and might be overkill for new users, but if you know exactly how you want to configure your backups then you can be confident it'll give you the flexibility you need.
Cobian Backup 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. It 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.
Also consider these free backup options
A couple of other software applications you can consider are for cloud backup software. Although you install the application on your PC or other device, your files are backed up in the cloud. This means not only do you have an easy way to recover those files if you PC or hardware fails, but you can also ensure that your backup is continuous, as well as accessible from any device through synchronization.
Microsoft OneDrive is the backup and sync storage option bundled with Microsoft Office 365. There is a free version that allows up to 10GB of storage and there are paid options to upgrade, but this can prove expensive over the long-term if you want to backup and sync a sizable hard drive. Even still, it's a useful keep to keep the most essential files safe. What makes OneDrive potentially ideal is if you also have a subscription to Office 365, as that entitles you a huge 1TB of cloud storage.
Dropbox is another cloud server that allows you to save important documents online, again being free to use with the same limitations as above. But as before, the ability to save a smaller number of essential files, such as for work, study, creative projects, and similar, can be invaluable.
- We also compiled the list of best online photo storage services
- It is advisable to keep a local copy of your files, so check out our best NAS devices
Understanding backup types
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.