On October 5, Microsoft will make Windows 11 official. On that day, Windows 11 will begin to appear in Windows Update, and you’ll have the option to upgrade to the new operating system as you see fit. But what if you upgrade and decide you don’t like it? Or if you were a Windows Insider who had previously tested Windows 11 but now needs to downgrade to Windows 10?
If you installed Windows 11 recently (within the last 10 days), you can simply use the rollback feature to revert to Windows 10 and keep everything in place. Simply go to Windows Update, select Advanced Options, Recovery, and the Go Back Button.
After those ten days have passed, you’ll need to “clean install” Windows 10 and start over. If you don’t back up your files, you’ll end up losing them. We’re here to assist you in avoiding such a situation. Here’s how to make a backup of your personal files in Windows 11 before reverting to the previous operating system.
Using an external drive
If you want to back up your files in Windows 11 before switching to Windows 10, one of the best options is to copy them to a USB drive or external SSD.
On Amazon, there are a lot of great SSD and USB drive options, but our personal favorite is the Samsung T5 SSD because it is so small. Here’s how to move those files to a solid-state drive (SSD).
- Plug your SSD or USB into your computer
- Open File Explorer, click This PC in the sidebar, and then find your drive in the list.
- Double click that drive to open it and make sure to keep the window open.
- Open up a new File Explorer with CTRL+N while still active in your current File Explorer window.
- Drag the two windows side by side and in your newly open window, click This PC in the sidebar.
- Right-click on the Documents section and choose the Copy option. (It’s the icon at the top left of the right-click menu)
- Right-click back into the File Explorer window (this is the window with your SSD or USB drive open,) and choose paste.
- Repeat the process for the Desktop, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos sections.
Your critical files will be copied to external storage if you follow the steps above, and you can later navigate back to the SSD location in File Explorer and paste everything back into its proper place in the File Explorer section (Documents, etc.) once the clean install process is complete.
Use File History
The manual process of copying files over was previously described. However, if your USB drive or SSD is large enough, you can use Windows 11’s File History feature to save a copy of all of your files using Windows’ own utility without having to go through all of the trouble. Here’s how to do it.
- In the Start Menu, look for File History and then click it when you’re ready.
- Select a drive from the list and click Turn On.
- File History will archive your data in critical documents, music, pictures, videos, and desktop folders if you follow the steps on the screen.
After that, install Windows 10 cleanly, then go to Control Panel, System and Security, File History, and select the drive as before. Then take the steps outlined below.
- Choose I want to use a previous backup on this File History drive after selecting the drive.
- Then look for your previous backup in the box labeled Select an existing backup. Click OK after selecting it.
- You can then restore your files by clicking the Restore personal files link in the sidebar, making sure to click the back button to find your previous backup from Windows 11.
Because Windows 11 is primarily based on Windows 10, the File History feature should work seamlessly between the two. We tested it in the current Windows 11 beta and found no issues, but this isn’t guaranteed to work once Windows 11 is released from beta. If this guide no longer works, we’ll do our best to keep it updated.
If you have a Microsoft 365 subscription, you have 1TB of OneDrive storage. We recommend that you take advantage of this space when upgrading from Windows 11 to Windows 10 by backing up your PC Folder to OneDrive. It’s essentially the same as uploading your files to the internet and using a virtual SSD or USB drive, with the exception that you’ll have to redownload the files via the internet later.
- On your Windows 10 PC, open the OneDrive app.
- Left-click on Settings after opening the OneDrive folder with a right-click.
- Select Manage Backup from the Backup tab.
- Verify that the folders you want to back up are selected in the Back up your folders dialog box, then click Start backup.
After you’ve installed Windows 10 and backed up our files with OneDrive, you can go to OneDrive on the web. Your files are backed up when they finish syncing to OneDrive, and you can access them from anywhere in Documents, Desktop, or Pictures on OneDrive. When you back up your Desktop folder, the items on it travel with you to other PC desktops where OneDrive is installed.
Downgrade to Windows 10
Now that you’ve seen three ways to save your files, it’s time to revert to Windows 10. You’ll need to download a Windows 10 ISO file from Microsoft as part of this process. For more information, follow the steps outlined below.
Please keep in mind that because you’ll be doing a “in-place” downgrade to Windows 10, you’ll lose all of your files. You won’t need a USB drive because you’re already running Windows 11 and will only need to install Windows 10 from the ISO file.
This is the same as installing Windows 10 from a USB drive or CD, as you’ll be given a fresh installation. Otherwise, simply follow the steps outlined below.
- Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool from Microsoft’s website
- Start the program.
- Accept the terms and choose the option to create installation media for a second PC by pressing the next button twice.
- Select the ISO file option and then proceed to the next step.
- Save the ISO file to a convenient location, such as your desktop.
- Allow Windows 10 to obtain updates.
- When you’re done, go to the location where the ISO file was downloaded.
- To mount the ISO file, double-click it and look for the Setup icon.
- Simply click it and follow the on-screen instructions.
Some words of wisdom
It’s always a good idea to keep a backup of your files on hand because you never know when you’ll need them again. In today’s guide, we covered the most common method.
If you’re using a desktop, we recommend keeping your documents, pictures, and other personal files on a separate drive (say, a D drive) and using the C drive solely for Windows. However, keep in mind that some apps will always save to the system’s C drive.
In any case, if you ever need to reinstall the operating system, you can copy files between the system C drive and the D drive (or keep them separate). Of course, on a laptop, this isn’t always possible, but Microsoft describes how to move critical files off the C drive and to another drive here.