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Home / Disaster Recovery and Off-site backups / How to Back Up Your Windows Computer to the Cloud

How to Back Up Your Windows Computer to the Cloud

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Everyone loses data at some point in their lives. Your computer’s hard drive could fail tomorrow, ransomware could hold your files hostage, or a software bug could delete your important files. If you’re not regularly backing up your computer, you could lose those files forever.

Backups don’t have to be hard or confusing, though. You’ve probably heard about countless different backup methods, but which one is right for you? And what files do you really need to back up?

There are many ways to back up your computer and several data backup tools that can make the process as easy as clicking one button. Whatever works for you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you make backups as long as you are making backups.

In this article, we’ll look at how to back up your computer using the three most popular cloud storage services.

Which Files Should You Back Up?

Let’s start with the obvious: what do you need back up? When we talk about “backing up a computer,” we don’t necessarily mean backing up the entire computer — every single file, folder, app, etc. That would be akin to cloning your hard drive, which is a more involved process that’s unnecessary for most people.

Well, first and foremost, you need to back up your personal files. You can always reinstall your operating system and redownload your programs if your hard drive fails, but your own personal data is irreplaceable.

You only need to back up personal data files. Key file types include documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos and images, music, and videos. In other words, you should back up any file that you’ve personally created or acquired and want to keep.

Any personal documents, photos, home videos, and any other data on your computer should be backed up regularly. Those can never be replaced. If you’ve spent hours painstakingly ripping audio CDs or video DVDs, you may want to back those files up, too, so you don’t have to do all that work over again.

Your operating system, programs, and other settings can also be backed up. You don’t have to back them up, necessarily, but it can make your life easier if your entire hard drive fails. If you’re the type of person that likes to play around with system files, edit the registry, and regularly update your hardware, having a full system backup may save you time when things go wrong.

You do NOT need to back up system files — at least not to the cloud. Windows has two built-in features called System Restore and Factory Reset: a portion of your local hard drive is dedicated to backing up system files and recovering your system from errors.

You should NOT back up apps. Apps can be several hundred MB large, so you’re better off backing up the configuration files that make the apps unique to you. If you ever need to reinstall an app, just replace the configuration files and you should be good to go in most cases.

The tricky part is that not all apps store configuration files in the same place. Some are stored directly in the app’s installed folder, others are kept in your user home folder, and still others are kept in your system’s AppData folder. It’ll be up to you to learn which files need to be backed up for each of the apps you regularly use.

Backing Up a Computer to Google Drive

In July 2017, Google released a tool called Backup and Sync that lets you pick and choose folders on your system to keep backed up to Google Drive (normally, only the Google Drive folder is kept synced). This flexibility makes it one of the best options available for cloud data backups.

The Free plan is limited to a generous 15 GB — much more than you’ll find elsewhere, and more than enough for most. Need more? You can get 100 GB for $2 per month, 1 TB for $10 per month, or 10 TB for $100 per month.

How to back up your files using Google Drive:

  1. Install the Backup and Sync utility, then launch it.
  2. Choose which folders you want to keep backed up. Add as many as you want using Choose Folder.
  3. Select which folders you also want to keep in sync on your computer. This is basically the same as Google Drive proper with a bit more flexibility.
  4. Keep the utility running and your chosen folders will stay backed up.
  • PROS

    Leading office-suite collaboration functionality. Includes desktop-to-desktop file-syncing. Built-in OCR. Generous free storage space if you use Google productivity apps.

  • CONS

    Can be confusing to navigate the many features and rules. Offline editing isn’t simple.


    Part productivity suite and part syncing and online storage service, Google Drive also provides excellent collaborative office-suite functionality.

Backing Up a Computer to Dropbox

Even though you can use Dropbox for storing data backups, it wasn’t quite designed for it. It creates a special “Dropbox” folder and only files in that folder are synced to Dropbox’s servers. If you want to back up anything outside of this folder, it must be copied in by hand every time.

The Basic plan is free with a 2 GB limit — not enough for doing comprehensive data backups. You’ll want the Plus plan instead, which has a 1 TB limit for $9.99 per month.

How to back up your files using Dropbox:

  1. If you don’t have Dropbox, download and install it.
  2. Create and sign in with your Dropbox account.
  3. Navigate to %UserProfile%/Dropbox for your Dropbox folder. Add any file or folder to add it to your Dropbox cloud. It will automatically start syncing.
  4. Visit the Dropbox site to access files at any time.
  • PROS

    Effortless file synchronization. Apps for just about every operating system. Tight OS integration. Dependable servers. Supports file-sharing. Shows history of actions. Allows access to deleted files and earlier versions. Good features for Pro users. Easy to install.
  • CONS


    Dropbox is a simple, reliable, full-featured file-syncing and -storage service with support for real-time online document collaboration.The only downside is that it’s not cheap.

Backing Up a Computer to OneDrive

OneDrive is similar to Dropbox in that it creates a special “OneDrive” folder and only syncs the contents of that folder to its cloud servers. The downsides are the same: if you want to back up anything outside of this folder, you have to copy it in by hand each time.

The Basic plan is free with a 5 GB limit — more than Dropbox and may be enough depending on how much you need to back up. The Storage Only plan grants 50 GB for $2 per month, or you can expand to 1 TB with an Office 365 Personal plan for $7 per month.

How to back up your files using OneDrive:

  1. If you don’t have OneDrive, install it from the Windows Store.
  2. Log in with a Microsoft account.
  3. Navigate to %UserProfile%/OneDrive for your OneDrive folder. Add any file or folder to add it to your OneDrive cloud. It will automatically start syncing.
  4. Launch the OneDrive app or use the OneDrive site to access files at any time.
  • PROS

    Clear interface. Clients for Mac, iOS, and Android, as well as Windows and Windows Phone. Can fetch any file from a PC. Excellent photo presentation with slideshows and tagging.

  • CONS

    Not a share target for Windows 10 apps. Storage offerings shrinking.


    OneDrive, the default online storage and syncing service for Windows 10 and Office 365, offers a wealth of powerful features, as well as apps for more platforms than any of its competitors.

A Better Way to Back Up Lots of Data

While backing up to the cloud is convenient, it has its downsides. If the storage service ever closes doors, you’ll lose your data. If your internet connection dies, you’ll be unable to access your data. The services can also change limits and prices whenever they want.

Which cloud storage service do you like best? Are there any good ones we missed? What kind of data do you keep backed up? Share with us down in the comments below!

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One thought on “How to Back Up Your Windows Computer to the Cloud

  1. Hi MJ De Los Santos, I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. Thanks for sharing all the information and useful tips.

    What I want to add to this is that cloud-based back up can be less expensive than the cost of tape drives, servers, or other hardware and software elements necessary to perform the back up; the media on which the backups are stored; the transportation of media to a remote location for safekeeping; and the IT labor required to manage and troubleshoot backup systems.

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