Backup & restore

How to backup Windows 11 to external USB drive

A full backup should always be part of your recovery plan — here's how to create one on Windows 11.

Windows 11 full backup

On Windows 11, a full backup creates a security copy of the entire system, including from secondary hard drives (if specified) that allows you to restore your computer in case of critical system problems, malware attacks like ransomware, hardware failure, or when you are upgrading the primary drive.

In addition, a backup can help you to roll back to a previous installation after upgrading to a new feature update or entire new version, for example, after upgrading from Windows 10 to Windows 11.

Although Windows 11 does not include a modern tool to create backups, you can still use the legacy “System Image Backup” tool to save a full backup to a USB hard drive that includes everything from the Windows installation files, device drivers, applications, settings, and personal files.

It’s worth noting that “Backup and Restore” is a deprecated feature on Windows 11, which means that it is currently not being maintained, and Microsoft can choose to remove it in future releases. However, you can still use it to create temporary backups to upgrade the system drive, protect your previous installation before updating to a new release of Windows, and more.

In this guide, you will learn the steps to create a full backup of Windows 11 to an external USB hard drive.

Create Windows 11 full backup using System Image Backup tool

To create a full backup of a computer running Windows 11, use these steps:

  1. Open Start on Windows 11.

  2. Search for Control Panel and click the top result to open the app.

  3. Click on System and Security.

  4. Click on File History.

  5. Click the System Image Backup option from the left pane.

    System Image Backup

  6. Click the Create a system image option from the left pane.

    Create a system image

  7. Select the external drive to save the Windows 11 backup.

    Windows 11 backup external drive

  8. Click the Next button.

  9. Click the Start backup button.

    Windows 11 Start backup

  10. Click the No button.

  11. Click the Close button.

Once you complete the steps, a full backup of the Windows 11 device will be created with the installation files, settings, applications, and personal files.

You will also be prompted to create a repair disk, but you can ignore this option since you can use the Windows 11 bootable media to access the recovery settings to restore the backup.

See also this video tutorial in the Pureinfotech YouTube channel with the steps to complete this task.

Create Windows 11 full backup using wbAdmin command tool

To create a full backup on Windows 11 with the wbAdmin command-line tool, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.

  2. Search for Command Prompt, right-click the top result, and select the Run as administrator option.

  3. Type the following command to create a full backup with wbAdmin on Windows 11 and press Enter:

    wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:E: -include:C: -allCritical -quiet

    Windows 11 wbAdmin command

    In the command, change “E” in the “-backupTarget” option with the drive letter for the external storage you want to use for the backup.

  4. (Optional) Type the following command to create a full backup that includes all the drives connected to your device and press Enter:

    wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:E: -include:C:,D:,F: -allCritical -quiet

    In the command, replace the drive letters on the option “-include:C:,E:,F:” with letters that reflect the drives on the device.

After you complete the steps, the backup will be saved to the external drive you specified in the command.

Restore Windows 11 full backup using Advanced startup

Since both methods process the backup identically, you can use the instructions to recover a device using a previous backup. If you don’t have access to the desktop, use these steps to boot the device in the recovery environment to use the System Image Recovery tool.

To restore a backup on Windows 11, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.

  2. Click on System.

  3. Click the Recovery page on the left side.

  4. Under the “Recovery options” section, click the Restart now button for the Advanced startup setting.

    Setting Advanced startup

  5. Click the Restart now button again.

  6. Click on Troubleshoot.

    Troubleshoot

  7. Click on Advanced options.

    Advanced options

  8. Click on See more recovery options.

    Recovery options

  9. Click the System Image Recovery option.

    System Image Recovery

  10. Select the Use the latest available system image option to restore the Windows 11 backup.

    Backup restore selection

  11. Click the Next button.

  12. Click the Next button again.

    Restore options

  13. Click the Finish button.

After you complete the steps, the wizard will restore the computer’s full backup, restoring the OS installation, settings, apps, and files since the last backup was created.

While a full backup is an essential part of any recovery plan, remember that you need to be proactive in making them, because a backup can only restore data since the last backup. Also, if you want to keep an up-to-date backup of files, you should be using File History or a cloud storage service like OneDrive.