File backup (Students) - PC Flash or External Drive Backup

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This page contains information on File Backup for a PC running windows to an external device such as a Hard Drive or Flash Drive. For other backup resources see File backup (Students).

Connecting and Finding the Device

To back up to an external hard drive or flash drive, first connect the drive to your computer. Most of these devices use USB connectors, although some of the newer ones have eSATA. After connecting the drive and letting windows mount the device, you can find it under "My Computer". It will be listed as a removable disc with some associated drive letter. Some drives will be named by the brand of the drive such as WD for Western Digital or CruiserMini for a flash drive brand. Double-click the drive icon to open a window that lists the contents of the drive. It is not uncommon for some vendor files and folders to be preloaded (e.g., instructions, optional software).

Preparing Your Workspace

Once you have your drive window open, open up another window to display the laptop files and/or folders you wish to copy. Usually you can find this under My Computer > Data (D:) > Data. Now organize the windows so you can see both at the same time. You can do this manually by resizing and moving the windows or you can right click on the task bar at the bottom of the screen and selecting One way to do this is have one window open, and then Ctrl+Click on the other windows icon on the taskbar. After that, right click and selecting "Show windows side by side."

Formatting Your External Hard Drive For Mac and PC

If there's plans for using your external drive on both Mac and a PC, formatting will be necessary. Follow the steps to format your hard drive for both Mac and PC. If you have previous data backed up on your hard drive, you will want to back it up onto your PC before proceeding.


1. Ensure that your external hard drive is connected to your computer.

2. Press the Windows key or open your Start Menu.

3. Type "computer management" in Search programs and files and open Computer Management.

4. Select Disk Management on the left sidebar.

5. Look for the name of your external hard drive, right click on it and choose Format.

6. Change your File system to FAT32 or ExFat.

  • If your file system already appears to be FAT32 or ExFat, you shouldn't have to worry about formatting your hard drive.
    • ExFat is recommended, but either will work on both Mac and PC.

7. Leave Allocated unit size as Default.

8. Uncheck Perform a quick format if it is checked.

  • This is to ensure that your hard drive is reviewed by Windows and functional. You can leave it checked if you want to, but do so at your own risk!

9. Press OK.

10. When the "Formatting this volume will erase all data on it. Back up any data you want to to keep before formatting. Do you want to continue?" message pops up, click yes.

  • Again, if you have previous data existing on your drive, you will need to back it up on your PC before continuing.

11. Wait until the process is complete. When finished, your hard drive's file system should show up as ExFat (or FAT32) in Disk Management or under properties.

Performing the Backup

Click and drag files and/or folders from your laptop window to your external drive window.

Tips and Tricks

There are some useful keyboard shortcuts during this process.

  • Ctrl+A - Select all items
  • Shift+Left Click - Selects items between one item and the item shift clicked on.
  • Control+Left Click - Adds or removes an item from a selection.
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