Files You Should Back Up to Help Recover From a Hard Drive Crash [Windows]

I am fairly sure every single user has experienced hard drive failure at one time or other. That is why backup software is very popular with users. Backing up allows you to be able to recover and get yourself back into the swing of things smoothly and quickly. The key question is – which files, other than our personal data, should we back up to recover from a hard drive crash? This article goes through which files we should back up in Windows 7 and 8 (should also apply to Vista, but XP is a little different when it comes to user folder locations).

Back Up Your Personal Files

The most obvious files that should be backed up on a regular basis are personal files; the ones that are irreplaceable or will make you spend countless hours recovering. These files are mainly found in “C:\Users\[Username]”.

‘My’ Folders

This includes Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos – e.g. your office work or that novel you are writing, family photos and home movies and your entire music collection.

Backup Files - My Folders

Your Desktop

Many people save files to their desktop instead of My Documents, but it’s just as important to back these up. They are located at “C:\Users\[username]\Desktop”

Your Email

If you are using an email application such as Outlook or Windows Live Mail on your computer, it is imperative to perform a period backup of your files.

Outlook stores all its data in PST files. This is sometimes stored in your My Documents folder under a subfolder called “Outlook Files;” however, it is also often stored in “C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook.” You can double-check your mail location by going to “Control Panel -> Mail -> Data Files” – any PST files will be listed and their location shown.

Windows Mail, on the other hand, also stores its information in the user AppData folder at “AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Live Mail” and also “AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Live Contacts.”


AppData folders

These are located under “C:\Users\[username]\AppData”. If this file is backed up and your mail account is stored in the AppData folder, then you can potentially disregard the above note on mail backup, otherwise you may be backing up the same files twice. AppData stores a large amount of relevant user data and information. Things like Google Chrome of Mozilla Firefox profiles, game preferences, application preferences, etc.

Note: You cannot just copy the entire AppData profile when you reinstall Windows to recover from a hard drive crash – you need to be selective about what you restore.



If you use Internet Explorer and have many bookmarks, you should also grab this folder. It’s located at C:\Users\[username]\Favorites


If you use another browser, such as Google Chrome, bookmarks are located in the AppData folder which has been previously covered.

Other folders

  • Saved Games – If you play games that have a save functionality? They will end up here. – C:\users\[username\Saved Games
  • Downloads – If you download many files via the browser and wanted to keep them, the default Downloads folder is located at C:\Users\[username]\Downloads
  • Accounting Software – For some reason, Accounting software packages like to save their files in their install directory. If you use MYOB, Quickbooks or similar, they may save your accounting files in a location like “C:\Myob18” or “C:\Quickbooks.” If that is the case, it’s best to grab these folders too!
  • Other Users – Don’t forget about the other users’ users folders on your computer. Their stuff might need backing up too!

Files definitely not required

Unless you are imaging the system, you will not need any of the following:

  • Windows Folder (C:\Windows)
  • Program Files (C:\Program Files)
  • Program Files x86 (C:\Program Files (x86))
  • PerfLogs (C:\PerLogs)

Note: The reason Program Files do not need to be backed up is that just about all applications are useless unless installed from their original source. You cannot just copy an installed application folder and expect it to work – it has to install dependencies, update your registry and so on. You will be better off backing up the installer file of the application instead. If you want to be able to get your system back up and running without needing to reinstall applications, then you need to image your system – i.e. take a full snapshot of your hard drive.


If you follow the above guide, you should have everything backed up that you may need to recover from a hard drive crash. Also keep in mind that if you have created other directories in non-standard locations on your hard drive, you should back these up too. Please post in the comments below if you have any questions.

Image credit: External hard drive by BigStockPhoto


JJ runs a company that specialises in IT Support and cloud IT Solutions in Australia. He also moonlights as a tech blogger.

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