How Can I Backup My Surface? (Windows 8.1)

If you’ve been using computers for any length of time and you have a Surface RT/2 or Surface Pro (1,2 or 3), you’ve probably already asked yourself “how can I backup my Surface?”.

If you haven’t you really should.

You need to protect your data in case something bad happens. This is especially true with tablet computers (like the Surface) and laptops since they are more likely to be dropped or stolen.

In this post, We’re going to be covering functionality built into the Surface you can use to make sure your files and operating system are recoverable if the worst happens.

Backup my Surface: A Two-Layered Approach

Microsoft built mechanisms into your Surface to make sure your operating system and your data can be recovered in the event something goes horribly wrong. In our approach to keeping your Surface backed up, we will protect your operating system and your data using different (but, built-in) tools.

This methodology will work with both Surface RT/2 and Surface Pro line of tablets so there’s no need to figure out which set of tools to use depending on which Surface model you have.

Here’s a quick overview of the tools we’ll use and what they’ll each be used to protect.

  • File History: We’ll use file history to protect files like your documents, music files, screenshots and Internet Explorer bookmarks. In other words, all the stuff you’ve created or saved on your Surface.
  • Make Recovery Partition: We’ll also make a copy of the recovery partition from your Surface so if something really bad happens to the data on your hard drive, you’ll be able to re-install Windows.

If you use the tools as described in this post, your operating system and data will be recoverable so long as the hardware is functional. This will pretty much protect you from anything that could go wrong short of your Surface catching on fire.

Sound good? Let’s get started….

Backup my Surface: File History

File History is built into Windows and can backup your files either manually or automatically depending on how you have it setup. It will, by default, get the files in the following locations:

  • Libraries (Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos, and Downloads)
  • Contacts
  • Internet Explorer Favorites
  • Desktop

If your files are lost, damaged, or deleted, you can simply restore them. You can also do what’s called a “point in time” restore where you can get a particular version of a file. This is especially handy if you accidentally changed a file but can’t remember exactly when it happened. You can just go back far enough to a day you’re sure it was correct.

To begin backing up and creating a history of your files, you’ll first need to set up a File History and select a save location. You have two choices for the save location: External Drive or Network.

The External drive option has the advantage of allowing you to take your backups with you anywhere whereas the Network drive option needs you to be somewhere where the designated network share can be opened.

Setup File History Backups (External USB Drive)

  • Plug a USB drive into your Surface (Something like this Kingston DataTraveler 101). If you do not have a drive plugged in, the rest of these steps will not work.
  • Swipe in from the right edge of the screen
  • Select Search
  • Enter “File History” in the search box
  • Tap the  File History option. NOT the File History Settings option (It’s the Modern version of the same app but, it doesn’t allow you to set all the needed settings)

  • Select the Advanced Settings option on the left of the window
  • Make the selections the same as shown here. If you don’t the file history will try to save too much data to your USB drive and fill it up very quickly

    • Tap Save changes to get back to the previous screen
    • You may need to tap the Select a different drive option if it doesn’t find it automatically. Once you have the proper drive selected, tap Turn On if it doesn’t automatically do so when it finds your drive.

It will automatically start backup up to the USB drive. There is some status text that will tell you when it’s done backing up. Simple, huh?

Anytime you want to backup your files, just go to the File History screen and tap Run Now with the backup USB drive plugged in.

Setup File History Backups (Network Drive)

This section is for a little more advanced users. If you’re not comfortable setting up file shares or joining home groups, you’ll probably want to stick to using a USB drive.

However, if you have the skill and desire use a network drive as your backup target, simply tap on Select Drive when the File History window appears.

Next, choose Add Network Location and browse to the shared drive you want to use as your backup target. Using the network drive as a target does have some advantages:

  • You don’t have to worry about losing your USB drive with your backups.
  • It will automatically do backups when it can see the network drive.

The downside is that you need to have a separate computer configured to serve out the file share.

You can also add multiple locations so that you could have backups on your USB drive and Network drive. This is a really good way to ensure maximum protection of your data. To setup multiple locations, simply tap Select Drive from the File History window and browse to the additional location.

Restore your files from File History

Knowing how to restore your files is just as important, if not more so, as backing them up. In this section, we’ll go over how to restore your files from a File History backup.

  • Plug the USB drive with your backups into your Surface (If you used a network share as your backup location, make sure you can connect to it)
  • Swipe in from the right edge of the screen
  • Select Search
  • Enter “File History” in the search box
  • Tap Settings and select File History

  • Choose Restore Personal Files from the left side of the window
  • Select the file(s) you wish to restore. You can select the date to restore from by swiping left and right or by using the arrows at the bottom of the screen. You can also use the search box if you can’t find the file by browsing.

backup my surface

  • Select what you want to restore to its original location, then tap the Restore button. If you want to restore your files to a different location than the original, press and hold the Restore button, tap Restore To, and then choose a different location.

Protect Your Operating System Files: Create a Recovery Drive

It’s time to cover the second layer of our strategy, protecting your operating system files.

Microsoft included something called a recovery partition on your Surface. It contains the files needed to completely re-install your Surface from scratch. This is usually something you wouldn’t want to do but sometimes a virus or accident can make re-installing Windows the only way to get your Surface back up and running.

Windows also comes with a built-in tool to create a USB recovery drive. This drive contains a copy of the recovery partition and can be very valuable if the partition on your Surface is damaged or missing for some reason.

You will need an external USB flash drive with at least 4 GB of storage for Surface RT/2 and with at least 8 GB of storage for a Surface Pro tablet to make the recovery drive.

Note: Creating a recovery drive will erase anything already stored on your USB flash drive. Make sure to transfer any important data from your USB drive to another storage device before using it to create a Surface USB recovery drive.

  • Make sure your Surface is plugged in and connected to power. Don’t skip this step even if your battery is fully charged.
  • Plug an empty USB thumb drive into the USB port.
  • Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search.
  • Enter Recovery in the search box.
  • Tap Settings, then tap Create a recovery drive.
  • If you get a prompt for admin rights, tap Yes so the recovery drive tool will open.
  • When the recovery drive tool opens, make sure the box is checked next to “Copy the recovery partition from the PC to the recovery drive” then tap Next.

  • In the Select a USB drive window, make sure the USB drive is selected and tap Next.

  • Now you’ll see the “Create the Recovery Drive” window. Tap Create.

Free up space on Surface

  • The recovery image and recovery tools will be copied over. It will take up to 15 minutes if your battery dies, it could be a problem (which is why the first step was to plug your Surface into power.)

  • When it’s done copying over the recovery tools, you’ll get the window below, tap Finish.

  • Eject your USB drive gracefully. You don’t want to risk corrupting your recovery drive at this point by being impatient.

That’s it! You now have a copy of the recovery system on your USB drive. Keep it safe and if you ever need to re-install the operating system on your Surface and the on-board recovery partition is missing or damaged you won’t be dead in the water.

I hope this helps you feel better about the safety of your data. Like we said earlier, If you’ve turned on File History and created a recovery drive, there’s not much short of your Surface catching fire that can’t be recovered.

As always, if you have any questions just let me know.


Kent Beck

Kent Beck link to his wiki

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