Some of you may ask these two questions: what do I need to back up my computer? What files should I back up? In this post, we will tell you what you want to know, as well how to back up computer Windows 10/8/7 to an external hard drive with professional PC backup software, MiniTool ShadowMaker.

As for backup , it is an important thing to keep your PC safe. And most services or tools allow you to back up pretty much anything you want, but you may be confused about these two questions: what do I need to back up my computer? What files should I back up?

What to Back up on Computer

What should I back up on my PC? As to this question, the answer is to back up your files & folders and create a system image if you are sure you need it.

As you know, data loss is a common issue. Your hard drive may get damaged sooner or later. Or virus infection, ransomware attack, Windows update, power outage, and more may cause files to be lost. To avoid data loss, file backup is crucial.

Tip: Have already lost some important files? Use the professional data recovery software, MiniTool Power Data Recovery, to recover lost files .

Most common backup programs can help you to back up just the files & folders you specify or need. And the backups won’t be too large and can be completed quickly.

Besides, it is also necessary to create a full system image of your computer by using the built-in or third-party tools since system breakdown always happens. If you back up the OS, everything from Windows system directory, settings and installed program files will be backed up. In the event that your PC fails to boot, the system image can be used to restore the PC to a previous state .

What Data Should Be Backed up

After learning so much information about “what do I need to back up my computer”, you may feel confused: what files should I back up? Should I back up AppData folder? Now, let’s read the following paragraphs and know what files to back up.

Personal Files

The most important thing is to make a backup for your personal files. Generally, you can find these files under C:\Users\Username on a modern Windows PC. Here Username refers to your user account.

By default, your user account’s data folders are saved to this directory including the Documents folder where your documents are saved, the Downloads folder where files are downloaded, the Pictures folder where photos or images are saved, the Music folder that contains your music files, the Desktop folder, and the Videos folder.

back up personal files

Besides, other important folders, for example, Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive in which you have saved offline copies of your cloud files if you use these services.

Additionally, if you use iTunes for music, this app stores its music library in your music folder by default and you also need to back up them.


Under C:\Users\Username , there is an AppData folder that is used for storing an app’s user-specific settings. Usually, you won’t see it unless you change the setting to show hidden files and folders.

Should I back up AppData folder? We recommend that you don’t back up the entire AppData folder but focus only on the apps for which you need the user-specific configurations.

Tip: If you want to have all your personal files and settings, you can choose to back up the entire user account directory, which will let you not spend much time thinking about it. Besides, if multiple persons use the same PC and have own files, creating a backup for the entire user account’s folder is needed. Of course, you can exclude some certain folders when there is a need.

back up user account folder

Crucial Files on Other Drives

When saving files, you may not use the default folders at all but store files to a folder elsewhere on your hard drive. Or you transfer your pictures, music files, documents, videos, movies, and more to your data partitions. To keep these files safe, it is crucial that you should make sure the folders contain your important files and add them to the backup.


If you use a desktop email client, you may want to back up your emails. If you use the modern IMAP protocol, it is not necessary for email backup since IMAP keeps emails on the remote server. But if you use POP3 protocol, it is crucial to back up emails since they may only be saved to your local machine, including a few locations:

  1. C:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook
  2. C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Outlook
  3. C:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook
  4. C:\Users\Username\Documents\Outlook Files

There are too many other email clients out there, so we can’t cover them all. And you can perform a quick Google search for “how to back up [email client] emails” to learn more.


If you do some creative work, for instance, programming, video editing, or photography, please ensure you back up these files, especially any work that is in progress.

To sum up, make sure whatever data you care about, whether it’s your important data like family pictures, settings for a critical application or saved games, is backed up.

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What Data Shouldn’t Be Backed up

After learning the answer to “what files should I back up”, now let’s see some files and folder that should be ignored.

Windows Directory

This directory contains Windows system files, and you may think to copy the C:\Windows folder is to back up the operating system. Actually, that won’t work since Windows relies on the system folder, and many other components including registry, bootloader and more. And it is not necessary to back up Windows files since Windows will set up these files when it is installed on a new PC.

Program File Folder

Should I back up programdata folder? The answer is not.

Both C:\Program Files and C:\Program Files (x86) contain files for installed applications. And you cannot simply copy and paste them to another system and hope that they work. Actually, they won’t run since installations from scratch are usually customized for the system. Thus, there is usually no need to back up these two folders.

Tip: In addition, you won’t need to back up drivers and temporary files.

Almost all information on these two questions “what files should I back up” and “what do I need to back up my computer” are told to you. Besides, files and folders to ignore are also introduced. Right now, it’s your turn to take action to back up your computer for security.

Well then, how to back up your PC? Just go to the following part.

How to Back up Computer to External Hard Drive Windows 10/8/7

As mentioned above, what to back up on computer should include files & folders and Windows operating system, so here we will show you how to back up files and how to back up OS.

To back up your computer, you need to use professional PC backup software . And here, MiniTool ShadowMaker is a good choice since it enables you to create an image for Windows operating system, files, disk, or partition.

Besides, you can sync your important files for backup. Above all, it allows cloning a hard drive to another disk for backup and upgrade.

In case of system corruption or data loss, you can restore the PC or files from the created backups. Now, get MiniTool ShadowMaker Trial Edition from the download button to have a try. Note that this edition only gives you 30-day free trial. To enjoy all features all the time, get Pro Edition .

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How to Back up Files

Tip: In the above paragraphs, we show you what files to back up and what files not to back up. As to MiniTool ShadowMaker, you can use it to back up personal files including documents, music files, pictures, videos and more, AppData, important data on other data partitions, etc. It cannot help to back up emails.

How do I back up my computer files? Here is the step-by-step wizard.

Step 1: Open MiniTool ShadowMaker Trial Edition.

Step 2: Which feature should you use to back up files? These two methods including imaging and file sync are available. Here, we take the first as an example.

Tip: How to sync files? Learn more information from the post - The Best File Synchronization Software, MiniTool ShadowMaker .

In the Backup interface, you can see there are two sections and you need to specify the backup source and storage path.

Choose files to back up:

Go to the Source section, click Folders and Files to continue.

Tip: If you have many files to back up, you can save them to a specific partition and then go to Disk and Partitions to only choose this partition to back up.

select backup type

Then, choose files that you need to back up.

choose files to back up

Select a path to save the file backup:

After deciding what files to back up, now you should make sure where to back up. Usually, an external hard drive, USB flash drive, NAS, and network are allowed and MiniTool ShadowMaker supports all of them. Here, we show you how to back up computer to external hard drive in Windows 10/8/7.

backup computer to an external hard drive

Step 3: Finally, hit the Back up Now button to start file backup immediately.

back up files with MiniTool ShadowMaker

Tip: As you know, files may change at any time. To keep your data safe, you can back up files on a regular basis by using the feature Schedule in the Backup page or going to the Manage page and using Edit Schedule . Here this related article - 3 Ways to Create Automatic File Backup in Windows 10 Easily gives you much information.

How to Back up Windows OS

In addition to file backup, it is also important to create a system image. Fortunately, MiniTool ShadowMaker can be still used for Windows backup. Just follow the guide:

Step 1: Run this backup software for Windows 10/8/7, click Keep Trial and choose local backup.

Step 2: Going to the Backup interface, you will find MiniTool ShadowMaker has specified the system related partitions as the backup source. Then, you won’t choose the source. Just choose a path where you want to save the system image.

Step 3: Finally, start the Windows backup by clicking Back up Now .

MiniTool ShadowMaker back up system

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Bottom Line

In this post, we show you the answers to these questions: what do I need to back up my computer? What files should I back up? Besides, you also know what files not to back up. Now, it’s time for you to use a professional backup program, MiniTool ShadowMaker, to back up your important files and Windows operating system for computer protection.

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If you have any idea about what to back up on computer or what files to back up, please leave it in the comment section. If you have any question related to MiniTool ShadowMaker, you can also choose to send an email to [email protected] .

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