Windows 11 is set to become official on October 5. Come that day, you’ll start seeing Windows 11 in Windows Update, and you’re free to upgrade to the new operating system as you see fit.
But what happens if you upgrade and don’t like it? Or if you’re one of the Windows Insiders who previously tested Windows 11, but need to roll back to Windows 10?
Well, if you recently installed Windows 11 (within 10 days,) then you can just use the rollback feature to go back to Windows 10 and keep everything in place. Just visit Windows Update, click Advanced Options, Recovery, and then the Go Back Button.
Once you’ve passed those 10 days, then you’ll have to “clean install” Windows 10 and start from fresh. With this, you end up losing your files if they’re not backed up. We’re here to help you avoid that situation. Here’s how to back up your personal files in Windows 11, and then go back to the old operating system.
Using an external drive
If you’re looking to back up your files in Windows 11 before going back to Windows 10, then one of the best things to do is copy the files over to a USB drive or external SSD.
There are some great SSD and USB drive options available on Amazon, but our personal favorite is the Samsung T5 SSD, as it is quite compact. Here’s how to copy those files over to an 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.
By following these steps above, your critical files will be copied over to external storage, and you can navigate back to the SSD location in File Explorer later on and paste everything back into its respected place in the File Explorer section (Documents, etc) when the clean install process is done.
Use File History
We described the manual process of copying files over above. But if your USB drive or SSD is big enough you can use Windows 11’s File History feature to save a copy of all of your files with Windows’ own utility without doing all the hard work. Here’s how.
- Search for File History in the Start Menu, and then click it when you’re ready.
- Choose a drive in the list, and choose Turn on.
- Follow the steps on the screen, and File History will archive your data in critical documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop folders.
After you finish, clean install Windows 10, and then go to Control Panel, System and Security, File History, and select the drive just as you did before. Then, follow the steps below.
- From there, select the drive, and choose I want to use a previous backup on this File History drive.
- Then in the box under Select an existing backup you should see your previous backup. Select it and click OK.
- You can then click the Restore personal files link in the sidebar to restore your files, making sure you click the back button to go back and find your previous backup from Windows 11.
Since Windows 11 is mainly based on Windows 10, the File History feature should work just fine between the two operating systems. We tested it in the current beta version of Windows 11 and had no issues, but once Windows 11 leaves beta, this isn’t guaranteed to work. We’ll do our best to keep this guide updated if it no longer works.
If you’re a Microsoft 365 Subscriber, then you have 1TB of space in your OneDrive. In moving from Windows 11 to Windows 10, we suggest that you use this space to your advantage via OneDrive’s PC Folder backup. It’s basically like uploading your files to the internet and using a virtual SSD or USB drive, though you’ll have to redownload the files later via the internet. Here’s how.
- Open the OneDrive app on your Windows 10 PC.
- Right-click inside the OneDrive folder that opens, and left-click on Settings.
- Go to the Backup tab and Choose Manage Backup.
- In the Back up your folders dialog box, verify that the folders you want to back up are selected and choose Start backup.
Once you backup our files using OneDrive, you can visit OneDrive on the web after you’ve installed Windows 10. When your files finish syncing to OneDrive, they’re backed up and you can access them from anywhere in Documents, Desktop, or Pictures on OneDrive. When you back up your Desktop folder, the items on your desktop roam with you to your other PC desktops where you’re running OneDrive.
Downgrade back to Windows 10
We’ve shown you three ways to save your files, so now it’s time to downgrade back to Windows 10. As part of this process, you’ll need to download a Windows 10 ISO file via Microsoft. Follow our steps below for more info.
Please keep in mind that you’ll be losing all of your files, as you’ll be doing an “in-place” downgrade to Windows 10. No need for a USB drive as you’re already on Windows 11 and will just need the Windows 10 installer from the ISO file.
This is the same as doing a clean install via a USB drive or CD, as you’ll be given a fresh Windows 10 install when done. Check out our guide for more on how you can install Windows 10 with a USB drive if you need it. Otherwise, follow the directions below.
- Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool from Microsoft’s website
- Launch the tool
- Agree to the terms, and select the option to create installation media for another PC, click the next button twice
- Choose the ISO file option and choose next
- Save the ISO file to a place like the desktop
- Allow Windows 10 to download
- When finished, navigate to where the ISO file is downloaded
- Double click the ISO file to mount it and look for the Setup icon.
- Click it, follow the instructions on your screen.
Words of advice
It’s always a good idea to keep a backup of your files, as you’ll never know when you’ll need the files for future use. We described the most common method in our guide today.
However, if you’re on a desktop, we suggest that you keep your documents, pictures, and user stuff on another drive (say a D drive) and use the C drive just for Windows. But do note that some apps will always have to save to the system’s C drive regardless.
Anyway, this allows you to copy files between the system C drive and D drive (or keep them separate) if you ever need to reinstall the operating system. Of course, this isn’t always possible on a laptop, but Microsoft describes the process of moving critical files off the C drive and to another drive here.