Best Way to Backup Windows Program Files to External Hard Drive

Is it necessary to backup Windows Program Files, and how to do it in Windows 11, 10, 8, 7? Keep reading to learn 2 free methods


By Delia Updated on October 27, 2022

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Should you backup program files?

We are often told to backup files before reformatting or any operation that may cause data loss. We also advised to backup important data to removable devices like external hard drive, USB flash drive or network location. So are the programs files included in the data we should back up frequently?

What you need to know is that operations such as Reinstall and Reset will erase your installed applications. Although you may be given some options to keep your data, the programs that can be kept are usually the ones that are pre-installed on the system. If you are used to installing a lot of apps and don't want to download and install them from scratch every time, then backing up your program files may be necessary.

How to backup program files in Windows 11/10/8/7

Program Files and Program Files (x86) in C drive are the default locations to install apps in Windows 10 - the x86 one is there for backwards compatibility so that you can run 32-bit applications on a 64-bit OS. If you're used to keeping the default path when installing, then all your apps should be here. 

But this is probably not the case in practice. It is also likely that the application files are associated with other files on the system drive. So instead of just copying these two folders, it is recommended to create a system backup that contains all system files, application files, configuration and personal data. This way, if your system goes down, you can use this backup to restore your computer without losing your applications and data.

Program Files.gif

To do this, you can either use powerful system backup software or the built-in Backup and Restore utility. Note that although the system image created by Windows Backup and Restore can contain program files, it has limitations. For example, it can only backup volumes formatted with NTFS, it may return "not a valid backup location" if you choose USB drive as the destination, and many other possible errors. 

Therefore, it's recommended to try the 1st way.

Way 1. Backup program files with efficient backup freeware

AOMEI Backupper Standard is a powerful and easy-to-use backup freeware that provides File Backup, Partition Backup, System BackupDisk Backup and Cloud Backup options. You can execute the backup for once, or set up a schedule to run it on daily, weekly, monthly basis. If you are worried the accumated backups filling up the storage space, you can also perform incremental backup to save only changed data each time.

Supported OS: Windows 11, 10, 8.1, 8, 7, Vista, XP

Supported Storage Devices: Internal/external drive, USB flash drive, NAS, network share, cloud, etc.

Click the download button below to try it out:

Download FreewareWin 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP
Secure Download

Steps to backup Windows Program Files to external hard drive

To backup system files, program files, settings and personal files to external hard drive, please first connect the target drive to your PC and make sure it can be detected by Windows.

1. Install and run AOMEI Backupper. Click Backup and then System Backup.

System Backup

2. The system related partitions will be selected by default. Just select a destination to save the system image. External hard drive is an recommended option.

Select Backup Destination

3. Click Start Backup to execute the operation. Before that, you can also enjoy the powerful features in Options, Schedule Backup and Backup Scheme.

start backup

Useful Features:

  • Options: You can set backup Compression, Splitting, Password Protection etc. in this option.
  • Schedule Backup: You can automate the backup on basis of Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Event-trigger and USB plug in (the last 2 are available in advanced edition).
  • Backup Scheme: You can select full, incremental or differential backup, or enable automatic backup cleanup (available in advanced edition) to save storage space.

If you are worried about your computer not booting due to system failure, you can also create a boot media, which can boot any Windows PC into WinPE and perform system restore here. If you upgrade to an advanced version such as Profesional, you can also use the Universal Restore function to restore the system to different hardware.

Way 2. Backup program files via Windows built-in tool

To backup program files in Windows 11/10/8/7, you can also create a system image with the built-in Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

1. Navigate to Start Control Panel > System and Security > Backup and Restore. Then click Create a system image on the left panel.

Create a System Image

2. Choose a destination for the system image. It's better be a location other than your local disk.

Select Destination

3. Confirm your backup information and click Start Backup to backup installed programs and everything else in the system partition.

Make A Copy of Installed Software

The system image created in this way needs to be recovered through System Image Recovery in the Windows recovery environment, which takes a long time and is prone to errors.


This article describes two ways to backup Windows programs files. Among them, it is more recommended that you use AOMEI Backupper to get better backup experience and more flexible choice.

If you want to protect unlimited computers within your company, you can also pick AOMEI Backupper Technician. With the inbuilt AOMEI Image Deploy tool, you are also allowed to deploy/restore system image file on server-side computer to multiple client-side computers over network.

Delia · Editor
Delia owns extensive experience in writing technology-related blog posts, and has been a part of AOMEI since 2020 to provide expertise in data security and disaster recovery. She works with Windows operating systems, SQL databases, and virtualization platforms such as VMware and Hyper-V, specializing in troubleshooting and advising on data protection and migration.