Windows 10 – Backup and OneDrive


When discussing backing up a computer, it can have several different meanings.  In Windows 7 terms, a user could run a file backup, create a system image, or use system restore.  The file backup would only retain documents, images, and other files you designate.  A system image is a snapshot of your entire computer, including installed software and system settings.  A file backup is useful for loading your files onto a new computer or a computer with a freshly upgraded operating system.  The system image is more useful for disaster recovery, assuming it is current.  While system imaging is no longer included in Windows 10, a user can create a recovery drive that essentially serves the same function.  If you would prefer to create a system image, search for “backup and restore” to walk through the process, but we will not be covering it in this module.  Before making changes to your computer, it is always a good idea to at least back up the files.  It is also a good practice to back up your computer on a regular basis.  OneDrive is a cloud storage tool integrated into Windows 10 that can help back up selected files automatically

The Basics

  • Options for backup and recovery include File History, Creating a Recovery Drive, System Restore, and Resetting your PC.
  • OneDrive is cloud storage provided by Microsoft that can be used to store files and access them from any internet browser.
  • OneDrive can be used in Windows 10 to automatically create backup copies of items on your PC.

Backup and Recovery Options

The best time to think about backing up is when your computer is new or running optimally.  If you are using Windows 10 on a personal machine, take a bit of time to turn on System Restore, create a recovery drive, and set up file history.  This will put you in a good position for recovery if anything happens to your files or your PC.  The first two sections below deal with backing up your data, while the others outline your recovery options.

File History

File history provides a way to automatically back up your files to an external drive or network location every hour (or timing you set).  It does not need to be a dedicated drive, but it must be attached (physically or virtually) in order to back up your files.  The only caveat is that if an infected file finds its way only your file history backup drive, it has the potential to cause problems with the backed up files.

To start backing up your file history, go to Start>Settings>Update and security>Backup and select “add a drive.”  Select the drive you wish to save to and you’re all set.  Your files will start backing up in the background.  If you want to change the backup schedule or change which files are backed up, select “more options.”

Screen shot of backup dialog box
If you’re missing an important file or folder, here’s how to get it back:

  • Search for Restore files from the taskbar and select Restore your files with File History.
  • Look for the file you need and then use the arrows to see all its versions.
  • When you find the version you want, select the Restore button to save it in its original location. To save it in a different place, right-click (or press and hold) the Restore button, select Restore to, and then choose a new location.

Create a Recovery Drive

In the event that your computer will not start, a recovery drive will provide the files needed to perform a system restore or reset your PC.  A recovery drive can be a flash drive or hard drive that has at least 4GB storage.  All files previously on the drive will be wiped when a recovery drive is created.  After the drive is created, store it in a safe place in case it is needed in the future.  Keep in mind that the recovery drive may contain your files, but only those files that were present when the drive was created.  File history should be used for making sure your documents, photos, videos, etc. are available for recovery.  To create a recovery drive, get your blank >4GB USB drive ready and follow these instructions: If you have operating system installation disks that came with your computer, a recovery drive would not be needed unless the DVD/CD drive fails.

System Restore

You are probably familiar with the recovery option to restore your system.  System Restore creates periodic snapshots of the computer, and the user can roll the computer back to a selected point in history.  It doesn’t remove files, but may uninstall apps/drivers/updates or change settings. This option is still available in Windows 10, and it is the best solution to try first if your computer isn’t acting correctly after a recently installed app, driver, or update.  In most cases, this will solve an issue.  The trick is to figure out whether the app, driver, or update is defective or incompatible with something on your system.

To initiate a system restore in Windows 10:

  • Right-click the start menu and select Control Panel.
  • Search for Recovery.
  • Select Recovery>Open system restore>Next.
  • Choose a restore point, then select Next>Finish.
  • If you do not see any restore points listed, go to the Control Panel, search for Recovery, and then select Recovery>Configure System Restore>Configure, and make sure Turn on system protection is selected.  This will not be helpful if the system is already misbehaving.

Reset PC

If your system isn’t working well and it has been a while since you installed an app, driver, or update, you may want to try resetting your PC.  This option will reinstall Windows and allows you to choose whether you want to save your files.  It will also delete any apps and drivers you have installed and revert any settings you have changed.  A third option may be available reset your computer to factory settings.  To get started, go to Settings>Update & security>Reset this PC>Get started and choose an option.  If you are preparing to donate a computer, Resetting your PC either removing your files or back to factory settings would be the best option. Note: If you are using a newer version of Windows 10, in order to access the Reset this PC feature, type in reset this PC into the find a setting search box in the upper left corner of the Updates & Security screen.



Microsoft offers 5GB of OneDrive storage free with every Microsoft account.  If you choose to, you can use this cloud storage to back up files from your PC.  Files saved in OneDrive can be accessed from any PC via web browser.  You must be logged into the PC with a Microsoft account to save a file directly to OneDrive or sync folders.  When you are not on your PC, files saved to OneDrive can be accessed by logging in at with your Microsoft account credentials.

Save a File to OneDrive

To save a file you’re working on to OneDrive, initiate a save and select a OneDrive folder from the list of save locations. To move files to OneDrive, open File Explorer and then drag them into a OneDrive subfolder.

File being dragged to folder

To create a subfolder in OneDrive, navigate to OneDrive using the left menu in File Explorer, and then click the file folder icon in the upper left corner of the window.  Name the folder.

Screen shot of the new folder icon

Sync Status

While your PC is online, OneDrive should sync new changes to the local version of the file to the cloud version automatically.  In the box above, the green check marks on the OneDrive folders indicate that the local and cloud versions are the same.  Windows 10 also lets you know when the files are not in sync.

  • Image of sync icon It’s in sync with online version.
  • Image of syncing iconIt’s getting in sync.
  • Image of out-of-sync icon The version on your PC is out of sync. To find out why, go to the right side of the taskbar, right-click (or press and hold) OneDrive Image of icon, and select View sync problems.

Offline Access

Files you save to OneDrive are available online at and offline on your PC. That means you can use them anytime, even when you’re not connected to the Internet. When you reconnect, OneDrive updates the online versions with changes you made offline. Offline files come in handy when you’re stuck without Wi-Fi, but they also take up space on your PC. If you’re running low on storage space, you can keep fewer OneDrive files available for offline access. Right-click any OneDrive file in File Explorer and select Choose which OneDrive folders to sync.  Clear checkboxes next to the files you don’t need on your PC.  You will still be able to reach those files online at

Turn off OneDrive

Because OneDrive is integrated into Windows 10, it can’t be uninstalled completely.  You can, however, disable it.  To do this, first right-click the OneDrive icon in your notification area (it looks like a little white cloud) and select Settings. You might have to click the up arrow button to view all the system tray icons before you see the OneDrive icon. Uncheck the “Start OneDrive automatically when I sign in to Windows” option and save your settings. OneDrive won’t load at startup anymore.  If you don’t plan on using OneDrive, you may also want to click or tap the “Unlink OneDrive” button here. This will stop OneDrive from syncing until you set it up again. It’ll be grayed out if you haven’t yet set up OneDrive. Note: In later versions of Windows 10, the option to Unlink OneDrive has been removed.

If you don’t see the OneDrive icon in your taskbar, it may already be disabled on startup.  To check this, right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager. Choose the startup tab and look at the list. Note: If you don’t see a startup tab, click or tap on more details on the bottom left of the window. If OneDrive is disabled, you are all set.  If you want to start using OneDrive, come back to this location, enable OneDrive, and reboot your PC.

Screen shot of task manager window showing OneDrive disabled


  • Navigate to the backup and recovery locations mentioned in this module to make sure you can find them if you need them.  There are no further tasks associated with backup and recovery.
  • Login to a Windows 10 device with your Microsoft account.
  • Create a subfolder in the OneDrive location.
  • Create a simple document and save it in the new subfolder.  Close the document.
  • Open a browser and login at  Find your subfolder and document duplicated there.

After you blog about your experience, see Karrie for your raffle ticket!