Backup Windows 10 to External Hard Drive Securely (4 Ways)

Backing up Windows 10 to external hard drive is a good way to prevent hardware failures or system crashes. This post will show you how to prepare the external drive and execute the backup successfully.


By Delia Updated on December 14, 2023

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Case: Failed to Backup Windows 10 to External Hard Drive

💬"I’d like to create a full backup in Windows 10 to external hard drive. Tried to use Windows 10 backup and restore utility but it seems like the drive cannot be recognized. Is there any simpler way to backup my Windows 10 operating system to external drive?"

Many users want to backup Windows 10 operating system or files to an external hard drive in case of disk failure, system crash, virus, ransomware like WannaCry, human error, etc.

But there are chances that the drive cannot be recognized by Backup and Restore utility, especially when creating a system image to an external USB drive, it may return "the drive is not a valid backup location" error. Even if the USB is formatted with NTFS file system, things won't be much better.

So, is it a good idea to back up windows 10 computer to external hard drive, and how to do it without such errors?

The Drive is not a Valid Backup Location

Benefits of Backing up Windows to External Hard Drive

Backing up Windows 10 means to create a full image of the operating system (or even entire boot drive). It includes system files, configuration and installed programs which can be used to restore a computer to a previous state. 

Despite all the choices for backing up Windows 10, external hard drive is a recommended destination.

▪ It is independent of your local drive and thus prevents backup files from getting corrupted or unaccessible.

▪ You can connect the external drive to perform a full system recovery anytime your computer has a problem.

Then, how can you transfer everything from Windows 10 computer to an external hard drive?

external hard drive

Prepare for Windows 10 Backup to External Drive

To backup Windows 10 computer to external hard drive successfully, there are some things need to be confirmed first, otherwise the backup process will be prone to various problems.

Use effective backup tools and follow right steps.

Windows Backup and Restore does have basic backup features, but there are more limitations on the functionality. For example, it only supports backing up system to an external hard drive formatted with NTFS. So if you are using a FAT32 drive, then you need to format it to NTFS at first.

If you want to avoid such hassles and simplify the whole process, then you can try using more efficient backup tools like AOMEI Backupper Professional. It helps you backup Windows 10 OS as well as files & folders, selected partitions or entire disk to external hard drive with several clicks.

Featured: All-in-one backup and restore tool

Easily and automatically backup everything from Windows 10/11 computer to local/external drive, network folder, NAS, cloud services, etc.

The target drive should be large enough to save the backup image, like 64GB, 128GB, 256 GB.

The "not a valid backup location" error of Backup and Restore usually occurs when you choose a USB flash drive as destination, because earlier USB drives didn’t have enough space and weren’t admitted as storage locations. If you use a large and common external hard drive instead, the problem may not arise.

Make sure the external hard drive can be recognized.

This is also the basis for subsequent operations. If an external hard drive cannot be detected by Windows, there are many possible reasons. You can plug it into another computer, and then plug another drive into your computer to see where the problem really lies.

How to Backup Windows 10 to External Drive Securely

This part offers 4 ways to help you backup Windows 10 to external hard drive. Pick up one that best fits your need.

Way 1. Backup Windows 10 Computer to External Drive Easily🏆

AOMEI Backupper is a comprehensive backup tool that works with Windows 11, 10, 8.1, 8, 7, Vista and XP, and the supported devices included internal/external drives, network locations (share & NAS), USB flash drive and cloud.

Not only backing up Windows 10 system/files to external hard drive, you can use it to achieve 3-2-1 backup strategy easily and flexibly.

Backup schedule: You can set up a schedule based on daily, weekly, monthly, event-triggers, USB plug in.

✔ Backup mode: Perform incremental or differential backup that only backs up changed data, or create a retention policy to auto delete older backups.

Dissimilar hardware restore: Use Universal Restore feature to restore Windows to another computer.

Disk clone: It includes cloning features to migrate Windows 10 to new hard drive with secure boot.

 File sync: You can also use the handy feature Real-Time Sync to copy any changed files from the source directory to the target directory in real time.

Download AOMEI Backupper now to have a try:

Download Free Trial Win 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP
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Here‘s a step-by-step guide to backup Windows 10 to external hard drive.

Step 1. Click Backup on the left side of the interface and then choose System Backup.

System Backup

Step 2. The Windows 10 OS (all the boot related partitions) will be auto selected by default, you just need to select a backup destination.

Select Destination

Tip: You can also backup Windows 10 to USB flash drive, internal disk, NAS, network share, cloud.

Step 3. Confirm the operation and then click Start Backup to backup Windows 10 system to external hard drive.

"Options" can be set based on your own needs. It includes the functions of adding comments for image to distinguish it from other images, compressing, encrypting and splitting image file, etc.

"Schedule Backup" enables you to automatically backup Windows 10 daily, weekly, monthly.

"Backup Scheme" allows you to select full/incremental/differential backup, or set up a rule for automatic cleanup.

Start Backup

  • Do not remove the external drive from your Windows 10 computer before the backup is completed. If you want to set up an automatic backup job to external hard drive, you need to make sure the drive letter of external drive remain unchanged. It is suggested to permanently assign a drive letter to it.

  • If you intend to upgrade hard drive from HDD to SSD, please try clone HDD to SSD without reinstalling.

  • If you want to restore an image without booting Windows, you can create a recovery environment in advance. This add a "AOMEI Backupper Recovery Environment" option to the boot menu, so that you can start the system from the recovery environment to restore images created by AOMEI Backupper.

Way 2. Backup Windows 10 to External Hard Drive Remotely🔥

The best enterprise backup software - AOMEI Cyber Backup provides a convenient and reliable solution for centralized backup management of all Windows operating systems.

  • It enables you to create system/disk/partition backup for a bunch of Windows PCs, supporting Windows 11/10/8.1/8/7.
  • You are allowed to save backup images on a local disk, external hard drive, network share or NAS device, etc.
  • You can schedule a backup task to run daily/weekly/monthly using the full/incremental/differential backup method.
  • It also allows you to backup VMware, Hyper-V and SQL databases.

Download AOMEI Cyber Backup now to try it out!

Download FreewareEasiest Enterprise Backup Software
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To backup Windows 10 to external hard drive, follow these steps:

Step 1. Connect the external hard drive to the computer with AOMEI Cyber Backup installed. Run and log in AOMEI Cyber Backup.

Step 2. Click Source Device Windows Add Windows Device to add the Windows 10 device that you want to backup.

Add Windows Device

Step 3. Click Backup Task on the left menu bar and select Backup Task Create New Task.

Create New Task

Step 4. Choose System Backup as the Backup Type.

Step 5. Set other details. Here you need to choose the external hard drive as the backup target. Finally, click Start Backup to run the task.

Choose Backup Target

Way 3. Backup Windows 10 OS to External Drive for Onekey Recovery

AOMEI OneKey Recovery is a reliable one key recovery software, which allows you to create a factory recovery image and then reset your computer to the default settings.

 It supports backing up system to AOMEI OneKey recovery partition or other location, such as external drive.

 In addition, it supports adding boot menu and specify fast key (F11 or A) to access recovery environment. This means you can directly press F11 or A key during the startup without creating a bootable USB or disc.

✔ It can be used to all brands of computers (all Windows PCs and Servers), such as, Lenovo, Dell, HP, Acer, etc.

 You can compress the backup image if the system occupies too much disk space,

If your computer has some sensitive data, you can enable encryption for backups and set a password for it.

Then, download the demo version to have a try!

Download Demo Win 10/8.1/8/7/XP
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Step 1. Launch one key recovery software AOMEI OneKey Recovery, click OneKey System Backup.

Okr Backup

Step 2. Tick Backup system to other location and click Next.

Backup System to Other Location

If you want to set compression level or password for the backup image, click Backup Options at the lower location.
If your system disk has enough space to store your backup image, it's suggested to backup system to AOMEI OneKey recovery partition. Because it's much safer.

Step 3. Click Browse and select external hard drive on the computer. If you don't connect your external disk, please connect it first.

The selected partition in the Advanced option is to store boot files and we call it recovery partition.

Step 4. Confirm all the info and click Start Backup. The process will run into reboot mode. please wait patiently and don't stop it.

Start Backup

Way 4. Create Windows 10 Image to External Hard Drive via Backup and Restore

If you prefer to use built-in utility in Windows 10 and have got a suitable external hard drive, then you could create a system image for Windows 10 via Backup and Restore. By the way, if you want to auto backup Windows 10 folders to external drive, File History will be a better option.

How to backup Windows 10 to external hard drive with Backup and Restore:

Step 1. Input backup and restore in Windows 10 search box. And then select Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

Step 2. Click Create a system image on the left side.

Create System Image Windows 10

Step 3. Choose the external hard drive at the page of “Where do you want to save the backup?” and click Next.

Where to save the backup

Step 4. Click Start Backup to backup Windows 10 to external hard drive and wait for the process to complete.

Tip: It may prompt to create a system repair disc which is used to boot computer and troubleshoot the problems when disaster happen. You can create one to realize bootable backup Windows 10.

Wrap up

Backing up Windows 10 to external hard drive is a good way to rescue your crashed system when needed. Even if a disaster happens without any preparation, you can use AOMEI Backupper to create a bootable media on any normally working computer, and then use it to boot the problematic computer into WinPE for further backup or troubleshooting.

If you want to protect unlimited computers within your company, you can 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.