The Essential Files to Back Up Before Formatting Your PC

By Sam Cook

Here's a checklist you should run through to make sure you've got backups of all your important data.

Backing up the data on your computer is important, but the process can be tricky, even if you have a storage solution in place. You probably use your PC for a wide variety of tasks, so over time valuable data can get scattered across several programs and drive locations, which makes remembering every little thing a chore.


Files and Folders

My Documents folder or Windows 7 Libraries isn’t enough. Did you get any folders you created on the hard drive root? What about the location you use for downloaded files, or the one where your chat program puts transferred items? Are there any chat logs or other log files you need to hang onto? Do any of your programs store in their own special locations, or have you set any programs (like iTunes) to store in alternate libraries, instead of My Documents? And most importantly, do you have your computer game saves backed up, and your Minecraft world files?


If you’ve downloaded installers for any programs that might be hard to find, include those with your other files. While you’re at it, create a document for your registration keycodes so you’ve got them all in a central location—better yet, toss them in a GoogleDoc. Also pull up Steam and create backups of your purchased game files, so you can quickly restore them without redownloading.


Although you always want to get the most up to date drivers available, having a set of your current ones is still a good idea. At the bare minimum, make sure you’ve got a copy of network card, motherboard chipset, and graphics card drivers—that way if you have to reinstall your OS, you can connect to the Internet to get other drivers, and not have to dig through manufacturer websites in 640x480.

Email Client Data and Address Books

messages, contacts, and calendar appointments/tasks you’ve created in them. Look up support information for your client of choice, and find out the best way to pull out that information. And once you’ve done that, try a test import of your data on another system to make sure everything you need is there. If you have any software that has its own address books (like label printing applications), back those up as well.


Web browsers are one of the easiest parts of your computer to forget about when creating backups, but you’ve probably got lots of important info wrapped up in them. Export a copy of your bookmarks, and get any data from your browser plug-ins that you might need (especially if one of them is a password manager). Also export any security certificates you use, and write down special browser settings—or just take screenshots of each configuration page.

Anything Else?

Lead image via Flickr user williamhook