Free Backup to External Hard Drive in Windows 10/11 (Guide)

This article will aim at teaching you to backup to external hard drive with third-party free software—AOMEI Backupper. In addition to offering tutorial, we will also expound the importance of backup to external hard drive and some other information.


by Delia Updated on October 19, 2022

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Why Backup Files to External Hard Drive

External hard drive refers to a storage facility which has been considered as the fastest and easiest way to back up large amounts of data. Normally, external drive is connected to the computer via USB ports, and you can copy files & folders to it as you need. Sometimes you may even backup system image to external drive.

Simply put, backing up to external hard drive instead of internal disk has these advantages:

Save disk space: sometimes backup images could be of large size, which may occupy a lot of disk storage. Backing up to external or cloud perfectly solves this trouble.
Protect data from OS errors: these backup images would not be affected by operating system issues, internal hard drive errors, or human errors. And when a disaster occurs, one can easily restore system or important files.

We all know that you can directly copy & paste or even drag & drop certain files/folders to an attached drive. In fact, you can also backup partitions, operating system or the entire disk to external hard drive with effective utilities.

Here, I will discuss 3 methods to help you backup to external hard drive in Windows 11/10 or even earlier OS.

backup to external hard drive

3 Methods to Backup Computer to External Drive in Windows 10/11

The most straightforward way to "backup" computer data to external drive is copy & paste in File Explorer, but it only applies to less large files and folders. If you have following needs, using backup utility may be a better option:

  • Backup larger files, partitions or even everything on the computer to external drive
  • Backup operating system to external hard drive in case of computer crashes
  • Backup to external hard drive automatically instead of doing it manually every time
  • Save different versions of backed up data so that you can restore to an earlier version...

There are many backup utilities can help you do these things, both built-in ones and third-party ones. Here I will show you 3 of them.

Method 1. File History (built-in)

File History was first introduced in Windows 8 and inherited by later OS. If you only want to auto backup files to external hard drive in Windows 10, this may be the easiest option.

To use it (take Windows 10 as an example), you just need to:

Click Start > Settings > Update & Security > Backup, or search for "backup and restore" directly.

Then you can find File History in this window, and click + Add a drive to select your attached external hard drive.

Add A Drive

Click on More options, you can customize the backup settings in detail, such as, backup frequency, retention period, folders to add, folders to exclude, restore files, etc.

✎As you can see, this option is aming at auto protection for certain folders. If you have more flexible backup needs, it may not be the best answer. Besides, this option has been weakened in Windows 11: you cannot add non-preset folders to backup to external hard drive.

Method 2. Windows Backup and Restore (built-in)

In addition to File History, Windows includes an older backup utility (which works in Windows 11/10 as well) - Backup and Restore. You can also find it in the Update & Security -> Backup page.

By clicking Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7), you have to options to start the backup:

  • Create a system image: create an image of the OS, or everything on your drive, including the Windows installation, settings, programs and personal file.
  • Set up backup: backup Windows default (or selected) libraries and folders.

Backup and Restore

✎Using this utility, you can back up either files, volumes or system image to external hard drive. However, Backup and Restore is a relatively old function, it may not work well with latest OS and device. If you've ever used it, you will find it error-prone and time consuming.

Method 3. Free Backup Software (best flexibility)

You do not have to use the options come with Windows, as there are actually many effective backup software on the market. Here I will the best free backup software for Windows - AOMEI Backupper Standard. It provides all-around backup and restore functions, easy-to-use interface, and more useful data protection tools to help you use Windows computer more securely.

Backup options: System Backup, Disk Backup, Partition/Volume Backup and File Backup.
Supported system: Windows 11, Windows 10, Windows 8.1/8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP.
Backup storages: Local disk, external hard drive, USB flash drive, NAS, network share, cloud drive, etc.

Backup options

Besides, you can add a Schedule to automatically backup to external drive daily / weekly / monthly, perform Incremental Backup to copy only changed files, Compress the backup image, etc.

Download the freeware to try it out:

Download Freeware Win 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP
Secure Download

*If you running Windows Server, you can also turn to the specialized Server edition.

Backup to External Hard Drive in Windows 10 Step by Step

In this part I will illustrate how to make a backup to external hard drive in Windows 10 automatically. Let's take file backup as an example.


  • Connect the external hard drive or USB drive, and make sure it can be detected by Windows.
  • Install and launch AOMEI Backupper Standard.

1. Click Backup and you will see all the given options. Here I will take File Backup as an example. In practice, you can also click System Backup to start an OS backup, or Disk Backup for the whole computer disk.

✎Besides backup, you can also select Sync on the left pane to sync files to external hard drive. It can create an exact copy of the data to external drive automatically.

2. Click Add Folder or Add File to specify the data that you want to backup to external hard drive.

Add File or Add Folder

3. Select the destination as the attached external drive. By expanding the drop-down menu, you can also choose network share or cloud drive as the backup target. Then click Start Backup to execute it.

Select Destination

👉Useful features:

  • Options: Backup comments, email notification, backup compression, splitting, backup service, etc.
  • Schedule Backup: Run the backup automatically on basis of daily, weekly and monthly.

Schedule Settings General

Backup Scheme Cleanup Methods


To sum up, backup to external hard drive has two prerequisites, a normal external hard drive and a powerful backup software. Before this process, you should make sure that your external hard drive’s capacity is large enough to accommodate the whole size of the data you need to backup, whether it's files, folders, partitions, OS or entire computer.

With AOMEI Backupper, the whole process can be simplified into several clicks. It include comprehensive functions, allowing you to backup and sync flexbly. Besides, if you want to replace the old drive to a new one, you can also use its Disk Clone feature to migrate HDD to SSD, or move Windows installation to another drive.

What's more, if your local disk or external drive has limited capacity, you could also back up files to AOMEI Cloud with the Cloud Backup feature. It has 1TB free cloud storage in 15 days after you registry an account.

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.