When it comes to backup, you have two options:
- Back up the individual files that you store on your computer OR
- Backup a snapshot or image of the entire system or disk
What is a full backup?
Full backup relates to creating at least one additional copy of all data files residing on your computer in one massive go. Generally, full backup files include media files, folders, hard drives, SaaS applications, app metadata and more.
For businesses, system administrators are responsible for configuring the contents of a full backup. As for individual users, they can decide what to include in a full backup depending on their available storage space, data loss concerns, and their backup process approach.
What are the advantages of a full backup?
Full backups are considered the most secure method to backup and restore all files stored on your PC. (be it Windows or Mac)
Additionally, we can outline several more advantages:
- All data on your computer, be it folders or individual files, is backed up at once, enabling earlier version access when needed.
- It's quick to recover files because the backup is readily available.
- Backup files are easy to locate as all are kept on the same storage space medium.
Is an entire system backup the same as a full backup?
As we've outlined, if you back up all data on your PC, that can be referred to as a "full backup." However, "all data on a computer" can mean different things to different users.
For example, casual users rarely include Windows system files in a "full backup" as the OS is often perceived as already there. Either you have installed it before creating any other content, or someone else has installed it for you. Either way, the key here is that full backups let you choose what to include.
If you create a "system image backup," that would mean creating an exact copy of the entire system disk without the ability to choose what to include. (You'd get a Windows backup whether you wanted it or not.)
What is included in a system backup?
In basic, image-based backup types, you can choose which partitions or drives to back up, but the term "system image backup" states that you'll create a full image of the entire device.
System images will, by default, comprise music, pictures, videos, games and other media items. But that's not all. The system image backup will also include programs currently installed on Windows, device drivers, system settings and files, system preferences, browser settings, bookmarks, and all essential components for Windows to run adequately.
System image backups can be called "full backups," but referring to a mere "full backup" as a "system image backup" may be misleading in some cases.
For example, you may have a full backup of all user-created data on your computer. However, if your Windows 10 crashes or you experience upgrade problems installing Windows 11, you'd need to initiate a system restore. A full backup of only media files won't be enough. You'd need a system image backup containing the entire system disk and operating system settings to restore Windows 10 onto the same (or a new) computer.
In summary, to create a full backup refers to a massive backup file that lets you choose what to include. With a system image backup, the system image backup tool will back up the entire data set without excluding any files (unless you create backups using an advanced backup solution).
What is the difference between full image backup and file backup?
As we've said, when you create a full image backup, you'll get a copy of your whole system and store it in an external drive or the cloud. You can recover the entire Windows backup onto any compatible device, if needed. However, you can't backup and restore individual files from a system image unless you use dedicated third-party backup and restore software. If you want to access specific files, you'll need to recover the entire image.
File-level backup lets you backup and restore single and multiple files and folders. You can back up drive images and databases via file-level backup as they're still files. However, you won't be able to create a Windows disk image via file-level backup.
Another difference between the two approaches is the backup volume. System image backups are bigger, hence the long time to complete and more occupied storage space. However, they enable quick disaster recovery.
File backups are typically smaller, take less time to complete, and occupy less space in storage. However, recovering your system file by file will take more time.
How long does a full system backup take?
Creating a full system backup of your Windows PC is typically a time-consuming process. It depends on the amount of data on your hard disk (or SSD) and your chosen storage. If you're using local (physical) storage, the backup will depend on the write / read speed of the backup media.
If you wish to create backup copies of your operating system and upload them to a cloud, the time frame will depend on your internet connection speed. As the upload speed is typically slower than the download speed, you'd spent more time uploading a backup to the cloud than restoring files from backup to your PC.
For example, a system image of 100 GB will take approximately 24 hours to upload at 10Mbps. However, your internet speed isn't the only factor in online backup uploads. Uploading system images to the cloud also depends on the cloud storage provider. If their infrastructure isn't optimal, 24 hours of upload can turn into days or weeks.
Another thing to consider is file compression — vendors use it to limit the storage space used by system images. Nonetheless, compression typically prolongs backup times. Lastly, encryption algorithms can also affect the upload speed, but at much lower rates.
How to create a system image for Windows 10 or 11?
If you want to create a new system image of your Windows 10 or 11 OS, you have three primary options:
- Create a system image via Backup and Restore in Windows 10
To do so, follow the steps below:
- Type "control panel" in the Windows Start menu and select the "Control Panel" app.
- Select "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)" (the function works on Windows 10 and 11 as well).
- Select "Create a system image" from the left pane.
- Choose where to store the backup — on an external drive, a DVD or a network location.
Here, make sure that the storage carrier is formatted using the NTFS file system; otherwise, you won't be able to transport the backup to it successfully.
- Click "Next"
- Confirm which partitions of the hard disk (marked by a hard drive letter) will be included in the system image.
- Click the "Start Backup" button.
- Windows will now create an image file.
- Create a system repair disc for Windows 10
To do so, follow the steps below:
- Insert a CD or DVD into your computer's drive.
- Open the "Control Panel" app from the Windows Start menu.
- Select "Backup and Restore (Windows 7)"
- Confirm that the CD/DVD appears correctly in the available storage list.
- Click the "Create disk" button.
- Create a full system backup via third-party software
Suppose you prefer a more versatile backup process. In that case, Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office allows you to create system image backups with the option to restore individual files as well as full image recovery and bare metal installation onto a new PC.
To do so for Windows, follow the steps below:
- Start Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office.
- Click "Backup" on the sidebar.
- Select "Add backup"
Quick tip: You can rename backups by clicking the arrow next to the backup name; then choose "Rename" and enter a new name.
- Click the "Backup source" area → select "Disks and partitions"
- In the new window, mark the checkboxes next to the disks and partitions you wish to back up → click the "OK" button
- Click "Full partition list" to view hidden partitions
Remember, backing up dynamic disks requires using the partition mode only.
- Click the "Backup destination" area and select a backup destination:
- Acronis cloud — sign in to your Acronis account and click "OK."
- An external drive — all external hard drives plugged into your computer should appear in the list; browse through and select the backup drive.
- NAS — you can choose the NAS from the NAS devices list. If you only have one NAS connected, Acronis will use it as a default backup destination.
- Browse — select a backup destination from the folder options.
You can click "Option" to see specific details and configure settings for the backup. Choose "Add a comment" to add a comment to the backup version; this will ease finding an older backup or auditing backups to free up disk space after a while.
- When done with settings, choose one of the two options:
- Click "Back up now" to run the backup immediately.
- Click the arrow next to the "Back up now button" and choose "Later" to run the backup later or follow a schedule.
Quick tip: Once you start an online backup, you can close Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office. The backup process will run in background mode.
When you back up to the Acronis Cloud, the first full image backup may take considerable time. Further incremental backups will likely be significantly faster as they only backup file changes since the last backup.
How to Restore system images in Windows 10/11?
If your Windows 10 is crashing or doesn't respond adequately, restoring the Windows 10 image from backup may be your only hope to bring it back to normal. Luckily, Windows 10 native restore software enables quick image recovery.
To restore an image backup, follow the step below:
- In Windows 10, go for "Settings" → "Update & Security" → "Recovery."
- In the "Advanced startup" section (on the right), click "Restart now" (under "Advanced startup).
Windows 11 users should follow the path "Settings" → "System" → "Recovery" → click the "Restart" button. (next to "Advanced startup")
- You'll now see the "Choose an option" window - go for "Troubleshoot" → "Advanced options" → "System Image Recovery" → "See more recovery options" → select "System Image Recovery."
- From there on, follow the prompts to restore the Windows image file.
If Windows 10 doesn't boot, start your computer with the system repair disc. Hopefully, you'll be taken to the "Choose an option" window. Follow the same steps to restore Windows 10 to its previous, healthy state.
Restore partitions and disks from Acronis backup files
You can restore partition and disk images from the Acronis Cloud, network storage, or external secondary drives.
If restoring from the Acronis Cloud, recovery speed will depend on your internet connection speed. If you want to recover image backups from local storage, ensure the backup drive is connected to your PC.
- Start Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office
- If restoring from the Acronis Cloud, ensure you're signed into your account.
- Open the "Backup" section → select the backup containing the disks and partitions you wish to recover → click "Recover disks."
- Browse the "Backup version" list to find the backup version you want to recover.
- Select the "Disks" or "Partitions" tabs to retrieve specific items → select the items you wish to recover.
- Select the destination partition from the recovery destination field below the partition name.
Keep in mind that all data on the destination partition will be erased and be replaced by the recovered data and file system
- Configure additional settings for the disk recovery (optional) and click "Recover now."
If you want to restore files and folders from Acronis backup, follow the steps here.
To restore a system image after a Windows 10 or 11 crash, follow the steps here.
Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office — the best full backup software
Protecting your data is a top priority, whether you're an individual user or running an SMB. Windows native features are convenient but offer limited backup and restore options. Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office lets you create a full system image and restore files individually via a user-friendly interface. It saves you time and effort to put into critical tasks and keeps your business at the top of its game.
Moreover, you get top-tier protection against malware attacks, smart alerts, and automated patching to fortify your system against any modern threat. All Acronis features are packed into comprehensive software, so you won't have to rely on multiple solutions.
Acronis is a Swiss company, founded in Singapore. Celebrating two decades of innovation, Acronis has more than 1,800 employees in 45 locations. The Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud solution is available in 26 languages in over 150 countries and is used by 20,000 service providers to protect over 750,000 businesses.