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Windows Backup Utilities

Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP all include backup programs, but they vary widely in how they work. The following sections help you understand the features and limitations of the backup programs included in your version of Windows.

Windows 7 Backup and Restore

All Windows 7 editions incorporate image and file backup from a Backup and Restore utility accessed from the Control Panel. Backup and Restore can use recordable or rewriteable DVDs or external hard disks for file backups; to perform scheduled backups, including image backups, use external hard disks formatted with the NTFS file system. Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate editions can also back up files and images to a network share.

Backup and Restore can also be used to manage the space used by your backup, and can also restore backups made with Windows Vista’s image backup.

Some users have complained of slow backup times with the initial release of Windows 7. Install Windows 7 Service Pack 1 via Windows Update or through this download to fix this problem and receive other fixes. To learn more about Windows 7 Backup and Restore, see part 1 and part 2 of my two-part series for InformIT. I also wrote about Backup and Restore for Maximum PC.com.

Windows Vista Backup

Windows Vista also has a Backup and Restore utility that supports CD and DVD media, external hard disks, and (in Business and Ultimate editions only), a network folder. However, instead of using a single backup program, Vista Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise include two backup utilities, one for image backup (Windows Complete PC Backup) and one for file/folder backup (Back Up Files wizard). Home editions only include the file/folder backup and must use a third-party program to create a disaster recovery image backup.

Although the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Backup and Restore dialogs are similar, Windows 7’s backup is a lot easier to manage. It’s just one of the benefits you’ll gain by upgrading to Windows 7 from Vista.

Windows XP Backup

Windows XP’s backup program (also known as NTBackup) was written primarily for removable media and tape backup drives. You can use it with external hard disks and a network folder, but it can store files on a CD or DVD only up to the capacity of a single disc; you can’t span backups to these types of media. If you use Windows XP Home Edition, NTBackup is not installed by default, but it can be installed from your Windows XP Home Edition CD.

NTBackup also lacks the ability to create a true bare-metal disaster recovery backup. Although it supports a backup option called ASR (Automatic System Recovery), you must reinstall Windows XP before you can run it, and you can’t restore programs with it. If you want a true bare-metal disaster recovery backup, use a third-party backup tool.

Table 1 provides a brief comparison of the major features of these versions of Windows’ backup utilities.

Table 1—Windows 7, Vista, and XP Backup Capabilities

Windows Version

Backup Utility

Disaster-Recovery Image Backup

File Backup

Windows 7 (all editions)

Backup and Restore

Yes

Yes

Windows Vista Business, Ultimate, Enterprise

Complete PC Backup

Yes

No

Windows Vista (all editions)

Back Up Files

No

Yes

Windows XP

NTBackup

No

Yes

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