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How to hang on to Windows 7 for the long run

Woody Leonhard | Jan. 3, 2017
Not sold on Windows 10? We have the keys to keeping your Win7 system running the way you like it

Once you’ve create a full system image you can tuck away, tell Windows Backup that you want to keep incremental backups. Back on the “Back up or restore your files” dialog, click “Set up backup,” follow the directions to choose a backup drive, select which data should be backed up, and when the backups should run (daily or monthly incremental backups). Depending on the size and speed of your drives, the first backup can take hours.

Before you forget about backups forever, click the link on the left in the “Back up or restore your files” dialog to “Create a system repair disk.” Follow the instructions to create a bootable disk that you can use to recover your hard drive if everything heads south in a hurry.

Microsoft has full instructions in Help article 17127.

Step 7. Don’t forget the maintenance

It’s easy to make a full image backup, get started with incremental backups, and apply updates mindfully, but that’s only part of the battle. The rest plays out day after day. The high points:

Periodically make sure your antimalware program is working. I use Microsoft Security Essentials (free), and it’s pretty noisy when it hasn’t been fed. Augment your antimalware program with weekly runs of Malwarebytes (free for personal use; $50 per PC for business), or some other second-opinion software.

Check your backups at least once a month. Details vary depending on which product you use, but checking on the integrity of backups is as simple as using Windows Explorer to look at the files.

CrystalDiskInfo drive status detector  

Your hard drive is going to fail sooner or later -- accept it. Solid-state drives last longer than spinning platters, but they’re all doomed to failure at some point. It’s a good idea to check your drive every month or so, to make sure it’s working well enough. Run a defrag if you like (click Start and in the “Search programs and files” box type defrag). Also consider running a S.M.A.R.T. drive status detector like CrystalDiskInfo (open source). While S.M.A.R.T. technology won’t tell you if a drive’s about to die, it can help pinpoint recurring problems.

If you’re in Group A or Group B, run Windows Update from time to time, but don’t be in a big hurry to install patches as soon as they’re available. We have ongoing notices in the Woody on Windows columns, tracking problems and letting you know when the coast looks clear.

If something goes wrong with a peripheral, realize that replacing it is almost always cheaper than fixing it. Mouse doesn’t work? Try a different one. Keyboard on your laptop singing the blues? $20 will buy a new USB keyboard (or $100 will buy a great one). Need more drive space? External drives are amazingly cheap. Wi-Fi card doesn’t work? Get one that plugs into a USB port. DVD drive? Pshaw. If you need a new driver, don’t get it from Windows Update. Instead, go to the manufacturer’s site and install it manually.


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