The perfect backup in 12 steps

When the calf has drowned, the well is filled. If there is one proverb that applies to many computer users, it is this one. After all, you only feel the importance of a backup if the hard drive has crashed or if ransomware has encrypted all data, and there is no safe copy. That's also when everyone knows what they should have done, which is to make backups. Fortunately, making professional backups is easier than ever.

Everyone knows that you need to protect a Windows computer, which is why everyone installs antivirus software. But an antivirus alone won't get you there, the data on a PC is more at risk than from malware alone. Users make mistakes, a hard drive can crash, a notebook can be lost or stolen. If you don't have a backup, then your data is really gone. Regular backups are therefore necessary. However, not everyone has their backups in order, so they run the risk of losing years of work on Word and Excel documents, for example, as well as the entire digital photo and video collection.

01 Three-two-one

How many backups do you actually need? A good rule of thumb is the 3-2-1 rule: 3 backups, on 2 media, 1 of which is outside the home.

By three backups, we mean three complete copies made at three different times. Each should be able to recover all data independently of the other two. Two media refers to two different types of storage, for example a hard drive and cloud storage, or a hard drive and a NAS. That you have to keep one of those three backups outside the home sounds difficult, but think practically: at work, with family or with friends, they are all good locations to store a backup. And out of reciprocity, you put one of them in your home. Certainly when you are away from home for a longer period of time, for example when you go on holiday, it is unwise to have all data plus all backups at home alone.

With this rule for really good (professional) backup in mind, in this article we will get started with the paid software Acronis True Image 2017 – Standard 1-Year Subscription. This software costs 40 euros per year (at the time of writing marked down to 30 euros per year) and immediately offers 50 GB of cloud backup. This is ideal for storing one of your backups in the cloud and therefore immediately outside the home.

Alternative software

In this article, we mainly use Acronis True Image 2017, our highly regarded backup and imaging program. While it certainly has some benefits, it's not necessary. You can also link a free backup solution to free cloud storage, but because we put convenience first here, we don't choose that in this article.

There are of course free programs that allow you to make backups in a great way. A well-known one is Duplicati. The 2.0 version that is also already on the site is not yet finished, until then we advise you to use the 1.3.4 version. Duplicati is free and open source and offers advanced features such as encryption and is compatible with cloud storage from the likes of Google, Microsoft and Dropbox. Another friendly alternative is Backup & Recovery 14 Free Edition from Paragon.

02 Copy or backup?

A backup is really nothing more than 'a copy'. If the original breaks, you use the copy. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as it sounds. For example, not every copy is always a backup. If the copy is on the same hard drive as the original and that drive crashes, there was a copy but no backup. If the copy is on another disk in the same computer, then it is a backup again, unless the hard disk crashed but ransomware encrypted all disks. Then it's of no use to you. And what if the copy was made six months ago, is it a backup? And what if you have a backup, but not the program to restore the data? In short, a backup is only useful if it allows you to restore as much of the original data as possible within an acceptable time and for a feasible effort.

03 What to backup?

The question of what to backup is not that hard to answer: everything you need to get back to work as quickly as possible after a computer problem. The backup therefore includes at least your own files such as documents, photos and videos, but also everything necessary to be able to restore the data. So also Windows is part of the backup and also the backup program and maybe a password or license key. And while all of this is necessary, it doesn't mean that all of this has to be backed up in the same way, or that it all has to go together. Since you may want to back up the data more often than Windows (and also to save storage space), it is recommended that you separate System Restore from Data Restore.


Professionals use the terms RPO and RTO when it comes to backup and restore. RPO stands for Recovery Point Objective and that is the maximum data loss expressed in hours, days or longer. Can you lose the work for an hour, two hours or a day? In addition, there is the RTO, and that is the Recovery Time Objective. The RTO is the recovery time, that is the time you need to restore the data and, if necessary, also the systems. You can back up very often and therefore have a very small RPO, but if it then takes three days to set up the PC again and actually restore the backup, you'll be twiddling your thumbs for a long time.

04 System Backup

Windows 10 offers the option of backing up the Windows installation in order to restore the PC after an incident. This is a Windows 7 feature that is no longer being developed, it seems, and with limited capabilities. For example, you can only make one system backup and only restore it on the same PC. All limitations that the Acronis True Image software does not have. As mentioned, we will start with the standard 1-Year Subscription. After the thirty-day trial, you pay 40 euros per year for a license for one system (currently 30 euros).

Download the trial version and install the program. Choose Utilities / Rescue Media Builder. Create a recovery disc on DVD or USB stick. When that's done, click on Backup / Add backup. Name the backup and click Full PC / Disks and Partitions and select the Windows disk here. click on OK. Then click Acronis Cloud and change the destination to a disk with large storage space. Two examples of products specifically designed for this purpose are the WD My Book and Seagate Backup Plus storage devices. Then click Back up now. Once the backup is complete, you can always restore the PC by booting the computer from the recovery disc, selecting the backup, then selecting the disk with the faulty Windows installation and letting it be restored. Less than fifteen minutes later you can continue or – in the event of a major disaster – you can start restoring your own files.

05 How many own files

Your own documents, photos and videos can in theory be located anywhere on the PC, but with a standard Windows setup they are always in the folder C:\Users. In that folder you will find subfolders: one for each account that has logged into the computer at least once. In each of those subfolders are the known default folders for each user to store files, such as Pictures, Documents, Music, Videos but also the Desktop. When you now back up these folders, you will have your own files for all users of the PC. Before backing up, it is important to know how much data you are going to back up. That fact determines the place where you will store your own data. Therefore, start Windows Explorer and click on This PC. On the right you now see the drive C. Double click on it to open it. Now you see the map Users. Right click on it and choose Characteristics. Now let Windows count until it has added up the total size of the files in the users' folders.

06 Backup media

You should therefore not store a backup on the same disk as where the original data is stored, and better not on the same PC. There are also plenty of other options to choose from, such as an external USB drive, a NAS or the cloud. The only means that is actually no longer current is the recordable CD and DVD. Too small, too expensive and insufficiently reusable. But the other media also have disadvantages that you have to take into account when making your choice.

A USB drive is cheap and fast and you always have full control over the backup. With two or three fast external drives, you can also rotate and always keep one or two at work or with family. Make sure that you encrypt the disk or the backup. Acronis True Image can do that, but you can also do it yourself with a program like VeraCrypt. The functionality of a NAS is comparable to the external drive for backup, only the NAS is more expensive. However, a NAS with multiple disks can protect against a failing disk via RAID, and this solution is therefore less vulnerable than the USB write. Often a NAS is close to the PC, which in turn is more vulnerable to, for example, theft. The cloud is an excellent backup solution with the advantage that the backup is not located in your own home. But the cloud, especially with large backups, can quickly become expensive and because all data travels over the internet, it is also slow. In addition, a cloud supplier can also make mistakes or go bankrupt, causing you to lose your data. With the software we chose here, you get 50 GB of cloud space, you can purchase extra space (for example, the subscription with 500 GB cloud space costs you 20 euros extra per year).

07 Mobile devices

More and more data is no longer on a computer, but on a mobile device. That can still be a notebook or MacBook, but more and more it is a tablet or smartphone. Data is also created and collected on those devices and you will definitely want to keep and back up some of it. The challenge of not losing data has not diminished with the advent of mobile devices. With True Image, Acronis also offers apps for Android and iOS that allow you to back up the data on these devices to the cloud or your own PC. The latter works very simply. Launch True Image and choose Dashboard / Mobile Device Backup. A QR code will now appear on the screen. Then grab your smartphone or tablet and launch the Acronis app. click on Change destination / Back-up to computer / I already have it / Scan QR code and scan the QR code on the Acronis True Image screen with your smartphone or tablet. Select what you want to back up, enter a password if necessary Backup encryption / Set password and then click Backup now.

Easier mobile backup

A convenient way to back up the data on a mobile device is to include it in the PC backup. To do this, install a cloud storage service such as Google Drive, iCloud or OneDrive on the mobile phone. Configure it so that personal files (probably such as mostly photos and videos) are automatically uploaded to the appropriate cloud service. Then install the synchronization software from the same cloud service on the PC and let the files in the cloud synchronize with the PC. If you now take a photo with the smartphone, it will first be uploaded to the cloud and then synchronized with the PC or Mac. The synchronization puts a copy of the files in a folder in its own Users folder, which you then automatically include in the general backup.

08 Backup

In fact, everything is now arranged for proper backups. We have created an image of the system that we can restore via a recovery disk, so that you always have a working Windows with the backup software. You have also found out how much data you want to back up and you have made a choice for where you will keep the backups. Switching with external drives is especially useful, especially because of the possibility to store one or more backups in a different location. Make sure to encrypt those disks, but you can also encrypt the backup.

Now connect the first external drive to the computer, preferably to a USB3 port because this greatly improves the speed. Then start the backup program and choose Add backup. Select the data you want to back up, in this case Files and Folders and browse to the user folders. Select it and click OK. Then select the destination of the backup, in this case the external USB drive. Then click Back up now. If you want to protect the backup, first click on Encrypt backup and enter the password twice. Confirm with Save and keep the password safe, without it you will never get to the data again.

Encrypt a drive

If you want to keep a backup on a mobile disk, it is absolutely recommended to encrypt that disk. Some external drives come with their own encryption software, but in the past it has often proven to be easy to bypass. That is why we remain fans of TrueCrypt and now the successor VeraCrypt. With that, you can encrypt the entire drive and no one will ever be able to access the data on the drive. Download and install VeraCrypt. There are several step-by-step plans on on how to encrypt an external drive with VeraCrypt.

09 Backup to the cloud

A backup in the cloud is especially suitable for a smaller selection of very important data that you want to keep in a well-secured professional data center. Many backup programs and hard drives now also offer online storage, often for an additional fee, which is fine to use for this. click on Add backup and give the backup a name. Then click Full PC and choose Files and Folders. Because you have less storage space in the cloud, you have to choose the most important files very specifically. Browse to the folders and files and select them. Then click OK. You leave the Acronis Cloud as the destination, but it is important now: the encryption. click on Encrypt backup and enter a password twice. Store this password in a password manager such as KeePass, Enpass, or LastPass. Then click Options and select on the tab Advanced / Data Center in which country your backup is kept. Useful if, for example, you do not want your data to be stored in the United States.

10 Options

The first backups have been made, now it's time to fine-tune. It is important that the backups are made regularly. Use the scheduler in True Image for this. Select the backup you made and click Options. On the tab Plan you can specify when you want this backup task to run automatically. When working with alternating disks, Advanced Settings / Run when the current destination device is connected a good option. On the tab Scheme you can choose whether you want to make a full backup every time or just save the changes. For the latter you choose Incremental schedule. If you want an email when the backup was successful or failed, you can set it up via notifications. If you use the cloud for backup, be sure to check the tab Advanced. Here you can indicate after how many versions or months the backups can be deleted in order to save storage space.

11 Test the recovery

It is very important to test whether you can recover data from the backups. Select the backup and choose Restore files. Now choose one or a few files in the backup and click Next one. Because it's a test. you don't want to overwrite the original files. Therefore, click on Browse at the top of the screen and select another place, for example the desktop. Then click Restore now and wait for the test to pass.

12 Overview

A great feature of True Image is the overview of all backups on all True Image managed devices. Click on Dashboard / Online Dashboard and wait for the online dashboard to open. Here you can see all devices backed up with True Image and the status of the backups. You can also arrange additional options.

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