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).

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.”

backup-files-my-folders-outlook-PST

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.

backup-files-my-folders-appdata

Favorites

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

backup-files-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

18 comments

  1. Maybe the writers on MTE are not native English speakers, or maybe they write these articles late at night for extra income, or maybe they dont use spellcheck. Whatever the cause of the appalling spelling and grammar that plagues MTE, it needs to be addressed. It is so difficult trying to read an article that immediately distracts you with errors. Please sort your spelling and grammar out because I want to read your articles but I cant at the moment.

    • Get OVER IT buddy!!! You un greatful ….. These people at MTE are good enough to put this site out there to help people and the only thing you do is complain about the spelling….
      Give your head a shake Tom. Anyway enough time wasted on this imbecile.
      Thanks MTE for all the great info that you provide. There’s alot of people that really appreciate the things you do. Keep up the Great Work!!!!

  2. Seems a lot more complicated than in Linux, where you just back up everything in your /home/[name] folder. Plus, I do everything email-ish in gmail, so nothing to back up there, either. And I have my Firefox settings synched over multiple devices (netbook/laptop/desktop/tablet) so no worries on that score, either. :)

  3. I agree with Tom that grammatical and spelling errors are distracting. However, he needs to check his own spelling! He leaves out the apostrophe in don’t and can’t.

  4. @Alexa: Good point. Apostrophes are important, but I’d argue that sentence structure and correct word use are far more important in terms of readability. I couldn’t even get past the first sentence of this article. (See how good I was with apostrophes this time?) :)

    • Cant is a noun. Look it up. You might also consider that what you see here is presented free of any cost to you, other than your trivial irritations. Life is hard.

  5. Al

    I write an image of my C: drive to an external drive once a week. At that same time, my D: drive, which has most of my data files on it is backed up to the same external drive. If either the C: or D: drive fails, I can easily recover what I need.

  6. I only wish I had read this article a couple of months ago, I too did a regular backup on the 1st of every month. Not being an expert computer user by any means, I backed up my C: drive to an external drive thinking this was all I needed to do. Not at any stage was I told or read in any article, anything about “Hidden Files”. This of course included my Outlook files, years of information and contacts that can never be replaced, all gone.
    I am sure the spelling and grammar police will find faults with my response too, all I can say is keep up the good work. “Appalling spelling and grammar” or not, I am appreciative of your articles as I am sure are many others.

  7. 1st: I’ll never be a member of the Grammar “Police”, but I didn’t see ANY problems with grammar in this article. Sorry guys.
    First paragraph, let alone first sentence, reads PERFECTLY: “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).”

  8. Maybe the writer of the article ISN’T a native English speaker. If you look at the picture used to illustrate the article, it has a German keyboard.

    And for RossVMaxwell who couldn’t find any mistakes, here are some corrections:
    …at one time or ANOTHER.
    This is why BACKING UP software is… === he wasn’t talking about software which backs up your files, so the writer should have said BACKING UP.
    Backing up ALLOWS YOU TO RECOVER … or Backing up ENABLES YOU TO RECOVER…
    …(IT should also apply to Vista…)

  9. Is it possible to backup my ThunderBird E-mail & if so, would I find it in the same place as Outlook & Windows Live Mail?

  10. You guys are not serious. What was written is very clear and straight forward. You are looking for grammer, others are looking at the message the article is comunicatin.
    The message is clear and straight forward. Everybody cannot be American or Briton. Even there is difference between American English and that of Queen Elizabeth.

  11. When grammar distracts from the point, the reader is the problem.

    It’s a good article about manually backing up your system. The desktop is something I often forgot when backing up manually.

    The article should include that an image backup system will cover every one of those points – and save you from reinstalling all your programs. Think about having to search for registration details for each program, setting them up as you had them, etc.. Starting over is a painful experience that most of us want to avoid. Thus, I see the cost of an image backup solution as part of the necessary cost of backing up – along with storage.

    Basically the software takes a picture of your entire hard drive (or partition(s), and on a schedule if you prefer), which you can load to another system or hard drive in minutes. All of your files are accessible inside the backup image, in case you lose something important.

    Acronis True Image has been good to me over the years, but whatever solution you choose (Norton Ghost, Macrium Reflection, etc.) is light years ahead of manually backing up. :)
    http://disk-imaging-software-review.toptenreviews.com/

  12. Thank you very much for your informative and concise account, nice to read it!
    I am surprised to see why few people are getting mad for spell and grammar irrespective to the knowledgeable information provided here.

  13. It is a good utility! Does your software have preview option so that I can see my recovered data before restoring? I have seen Remo Recover utility on internet and it contains the preview option.

  14. This is a very informative post, which tells the need to backup your personal files such a mails, folders etc. This is because your Outlook file may gets damaged at any time and your personal files may get lost.

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