Computers break down and die all the time. It’s a fact of life. In fact, the Windows computer I am currently writing this on is groaning and flailing, and will likely give up its fight for life fairly soon. After 7 years, it’s time.

This is why you must always back up everything on your hard drive to a secondary portable hard drive. You can buy a 1TB+ drive on Amazon for chump change these days and it is an excellent insurance policy if you wake up one morning to discover your computer has croaked it during the night.

But what program should you use to do the actual backup? A Google search reveals countless possibilities, but I have always believed in going straight to the source. In other words, for a Windows PC, use a Microsoft program. They know better than anyone what is best for their own operating system.

With that in mind, let me show you the free SyncToy 2.1. It has been around for quite some time, through various versions of Windows. But it still remains (in my opinion) the easiest way to back up your Windows PC. You can also back up other portable drives, USB sticks, and SD cards.

Setting Up SyncToy For The First Time

The one downside to SyncToy is that you cannot automate the backups to run on a schedule. You have to instead manually click the button and start it. But to be honest, I like it that way. Call me a control freak if you want but automation is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Installing it is easy. There are two versions – one for the 32 bit version of Windows and one for the 64 bit version of Windows. Choose the correct one from the download page and install it as you would any other Windows program.

Creating a Folder Pair

When you open up SyncToy for the first time, you have to create what’s called a “folder pair”. This is where you specify the folder you want backed up and where you want it backed up to. Since I already use SyncToy, I have a folder pair already set up.

But let’s say you don’t have one set up and you want to sync your iTunes music library from your computer to a backup drive. Let’s look at how to do that.

First, click “Create New Folder Pair” at the bottom of the window. You will then see this.

The left folder is the one you want to sync and the right folder is the backup folder on the other drive.

So let’s start with the left folder. Click on the “browse…” button and navigate to the folder you want to sync. Highlight it with a click and click “OK”.

Now do the same with the right folder where you want your data to go. Note you can make a new folder here if you want. I made a “music” folder to shove everything into.

Click OK to save the folder location in SyncToy. You will then see the folders in SyncToy’s folder pair.

If it doesn’t look right, click “Browse” again and re-do it till you get it right.

Now click “Next” to come to the most important part of the whole process.

There are three sync options, depending on how you want it to work. I personally use “Echo” but let’s briefly look at all three so you can make your own mind up.

  • SynchronizeNew and updated files are copied both ways. Renames and deletes on either side are repeated on the other.
  • EchoNew and updated files are copied left to right. Renames and deletes on the left are repeated on the right.
  • ContributeNew and updated files are copied left to right. Renames on the left are repeated on the right. No deletions.

Since all I want is for the hard drive to be backed up, I don’t need synchronizing back and forth. Nor do I need no deletions on the backup drive as that would soon create disorganized chaos! “Echo” on the other hand just updates the backup drive with whatever changes I make on the main drive.

But as I said, make your own choice depending on your own needs. But choose wisely because if you need to change it, you may lose valuable data if it is accidentally overwritten.

When you have decided, click “Next”. This will bring you to the screen where you name your folder pair. Obviously name it something which describes the backup. In this case, “music”.

Now click “Finish” to complete the process.

And this is what the completed folder pair looks like.

You’ll notice “Options” lower down but I have never touched these options before. You can choose to exclude certain files and subfolders, put dumped files in the recycle bin, as well as checking file contents.

Running SyncToy

Running SyncToy is a simple case of highlighting the desired Folder Pair in the left-hand column, then clicking “Run” in the bottom-right.

If you want to preview what SyncToy would do, you can first click the “Preview” button and SyncToy would do a dry run, showing you what it would remove or change.

I like programs which are simple and easy to use. SyncToy has never let me down in all the years I have been using it and hopefully it won’t let you down either.