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Windows 8 File History is one way to ensure data backups

Windows 8.1 doesn't include Backup and Restore as its predecessors did, so you may have to use Windows 8 File History and other disaster recovery features instead.

The Windows 8.1 operating system has proven to be a stable workhorse, but no OS is error-free. Boot problems can affect some Windows 8 installations, especially after an installation of new graphics or other device drivers, or when coming out of hibernation.

In addition, home users and IT professionals alike have experienced disaster recovery problems when attempting to use System Restore or Restore Points to restore a failed system.

To be prepared for a Windows 8.1 device that won't boot or start, take the following steps when the system is running fine.

Enable Windows 8 File History: Windows 8 File History copies data files located in the Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos and Desktop folders to an external drive or a network location.

Note that Windows 8.1 does not include the Backup and Restore feature that was part of Windows 7 and previous versions. You should now use Windows 8 File History and Refresh Your PC within Windows 8.1, or acquire third-party tools to back up data and create and maintain system images.

Refresh Your PC reinstalls the OS without affecting data files, personalized settings or any apps you've installed. In some situations, however, Refresh Your PC requires the Windows installation or recovery media -- or a custom recovery image -- to complete its work.

Create a recovery drive: Today, the most common approach is to create a USB recovery drive, which is essentially the same thing as the system-repair disc. If the computer won't start, you can try to boot from the USB recovery drive and use the system repair tools.

To create a recovery drive in Control Panel, select Recovery > Create a recovery drive.

Create a system image: Windows enables you to create an exact copy of all data on a disk (called a system image). If the computer cannot be recovered, perhaps due to a faulty hard disk, you can restore the system to a point in time by using the system image.

Many admins and users forget to ensure that the image is restorable, probably because it requires a good deal of effort and a spare hard drive. After creating an image, connect an unused hard drive with adequate drive space to a computer and restore the image file to that drive. Then boot the computer and check whether you can run applications and access data files.

Remember that the default Windows 8.1 installation on a touch-enabled computer involves the Modern user interface (UI). If you need to restore an image made on a touch-enabled computer to an ordinary computer, you'll need to know how to navigate the UI (formerly known as Metro) or change settings to boot to the desktop.

Another safety net of sorts is to create a backup of your hard disk content as a virtual machine, such as a VHDX file for use in Microsoft Virtual PC or Microsoft Hyper-V. If your system crashes, you can run the virtual machine on any hardware to access files and keep working while your main system is being repaired. Just run the Sysinternals Disk2VHD utility to create the virtual machine.

Finally, as part of your regular computer maintenance, keep the system patched by allowing Windows Update to perform regular updates. Although this can sometimes cause the very problems that require you to take disaster recovery steps, Windows Update prevents a plethora of problems with typical Windows installations.

You should also run a reputable antimalware suite and ensure that it's up to date.


Next Steps

Windows 8 disaster recovery differs from Windows 7

Utilities such as Windows 8.1 boot to desktop can save time

Windows 8.1 user interface features incremental improvements

You'll need Windows 8 BitLocker to secure Windows to Go USB drives

Does Windows 8.1 lack image backup capabilities?

Protect critical data with the Windows 7 Backup and Restore tool

Dig Deeper on Windows 8 and 8.1

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What practices do you follow to back up and secure data in Windows 8.1?