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Back up your PC before it’s too late with our favorite free programs

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Back up using a built-in operating system utility

A popular OS, whether it be Windows or Mac OS X, is always loaded with a slew of features often overlooked by the everyday consumer – and backup utilities are no exception. Both old and new versions of the two systems feature built-in software utilities for completely backing up your entire system automatically with minimal setup and little in the way of prior experience. Unlike Web-based backups however, you’re probably going to need an external drive to save your files to due the increased amount of storage required to house an entire computer. Again, we suggest checking out our guide on how to choose an external hard drive and our picks for the best external hard drives to make your shopping tasks a bit easier.

Mac OS X Time Machine

Mac OS X Time Machine LogoTime Machine first made its software debut in the 2007 release of Mac OS X Leopard to welcome applause. By default, the built-in utility ships pre-installed on all Macs and works with a Mac-formatted external drive to automatically back up the entirety of your Mac, including your system files, accounts, preferences, applications, messages, photos, videos, documents, and any other file you may store on your desktop or laptop.

The seamlessly integrated software essentially clones your hard drive, creating incremental backups, and allowing users to revert their computer and data back to a specified state or time (hence the title). While the program can keep intensive hourly or weekly backups until the drive is full, it can also simply make a backup of your files during a scheduled time frame or whenever you feel appropriate. Simplicity is what makes Time Machine so great though – all it takes is toggling the utility on, selecting the drive, and patience. Below is a a quick tutorial straight from the horse’s mouth regarding Time Machine setup. 

Windows Backup and Restore

Windows Backup and Restore IconWe should all know by now that Windows hasn’t been the best when it comes to user-friendly backup utilities. However, Windows Backup and Restore is certainly the best one yet and the one most likely to be used owing to its improved performance and functional, digestible operation. The built-in program secures copies of your most important files on an external hard drive or DVD, whether you pick the individual folders or rely on the Windows-curated suggestions, and it even touts the option of backing up your files to your computer’s network.

Like Time Machine, Windows Backup and Restore (or a version thereof) comes preloaded on Windows machines, with the latest incarnation appearing first on Windows 7. Once initially setup, users can choose the program to run daily, weekly, monthly, or during a specified time for a completely hands-off approach to incremental backups that will quietly run in the background without noticeable interruption or pause. Afterward, the newly saved files can be viewed from within the Restore Files wizard. It’s not quite as flashy as Apple’s flagship software, but it’s a great way to safekeep your personal files and system image on a backup medium of your choosing.

Backup and Restore in Windows 7

(Time Machine Basic video courtesy of Apple)

Next Page: Back up using a standalone program

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