File History is a new way to back up your files in Windows 8 and it replaces the old backup facilities that were in previous versions of the operating system. The problem is that people never bothered to back up. This one is simpler, you don’t need to be an administrator to set it up, and once set up, you can forget about it.
It backs up your personal files, which means most of the items in your C:\Users\YourName folder, including your documents, contacts, Internet Explorer Favorites, photos, videos, music and so on. It does not create an image of the disk drive that you can restore.
If a major disk disaster occurred you would have to reinstall Windows, then you could copy your lost files from the backup. File History is more for restoring missing files, previous versions of files that have been changed, accidentally deleted files and so on. Minor disasters if you like.
It needs a second drive to work and this can be a USB drive, a second internal drive, a network drive, or a USB flash memory drive. It works with pretty much any storage system, so here is how to use it with a NAS drive.
NAS drives may come with software, but actually none is needed. Just open an Explorer window, click Computer to show the ribbon toolbar and click Map network drive.
You are asked what network folder you would like to map. Click the Browse button and find the NAS drive on the network. If you want to avoid this step in the future, tick the box Reconnect at sign-in. You do need to keep the drive on all the time though, or Windows will pop up a message saying it can’t find the drive. It’s harmless, but irritating.
Now we need to add the drive to File History and turn it on. There are two ways to do this and you can do it by going to the charms bar, Settings, Change PC settings, Update and Recovery, File History. If you do this, you will then need to access File History in the Control Panel to configure the settings, so you might as well start in the Control Panel in the first place.
Open the Control Panel and click File History. Click Select drive on the left and after scanning the system, a list of drives is presented. If you don’t see the NAS drive, click Add network location and select it.
Here you can see that my Buffalo NAS drive has been detected as drive Z:, but I also added it as a network location too. It’s a bit more reliable using a network name than a drive letter.
After selecting the NAS drive, return to the File History home screen and if it isn’t automatically turned on, click the Turn on button.
There are a couple of settings that are useful and one is Exclude folders. Click the link on the left and then click Add and select a folder to exclude. If there is nothing important on the desktop, you could select it and exclude it for example.
On the File History home screen, click Advanced settings. You can choose how often to save copies of files and once an hour is the default, but you can choose any time interval from every 10 minutes to once a day.
File History is fault-tolerant and if the backup disk isn’t available, it will save copies of files to the PC’s disk drive until the backup disk becomes available again, then it can save them out and catch up with missed backups.
Size of offline cache is the amount of disk space to use for this. Disk drives are pretty big these days and the default of 5% is 50GB on a 1TB disk or 25GB on a 500GB disk. That is usually plenty, but there are options to increase this if you want to save more files while the backup disk is offline. Choose 2%, 5%, 10% or 20%.
File History does more than make a backup of your files, it stores versions of files too. If you write a Word document for example, File History will back it up. If you then edit it and make changes, it will save the changed copy too. Keep saved versions lets you choose how long to keep previous versions of files.
The shortest time period is one month and the longest is forever. A useful setting here is Until space is needed, which means that if the backup disk ever fills up, old versions of files will be deleted leaving just the most recent one(s).