Backing up Steam Installation Files and Recovering Them on a New Windows Installation

DellWindowsReinstallationGuide is written and maintained by Philip Yip. 



Thanks in advance for leaving any donations Philip.

1. Introduction

The most common applications for PC Video Games are Valve’s Steam and Electronic Art’s (EAs) Origin. This guide goes through the backing up of their Game Installation Files onto an external hard drive which can be 10’s-100’s of GBs depending on the size of your game library and the subsequent reinstallation of the program and games without wasting time and bandwidth redownloading everything.

In brief we essentially copy our Games Installations Folder onto an external hard drive, reinstall the program on a new Windows Installation or transfer to a new computer and then use the program to search for the Game Installation Files and recreate the necessary links within the Windows Registry which allow you to play the games on the new Windows Installation.

2. Backing up Steam Game Installation Files

If you can access your current installation, go to your Steam Library. To the left your installed games will be shown lit up and the games which you own but have not installed will be greyed out.

It’s advised to close Steam. Open up the notification tray and right click Steam and select close.

Open two instances of Windows Explorer.

In the left we will open up the “Common” folder which contains the Steam Games Installation Files.

This is found in:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps

If your current installation is working.


C:\Windows.old\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps

If you have reinstalled Windows without wiping the drive.

In my case I do not have a Windows.old folder.

To the left select C:\

Then Program Files (x86):

Then Steam:

Then SteamApps:

Then the Common Folder:

Examining this folder, one can see all the installed Games:

You can right click the folder and select properties:

In my case the folder is 66 GB: 

Insert your External HDD: 

Open it to the right hand side Windows Explorer:

I advise making a text document telling you where you are going to move this folder to: 

In this case I’m just going to call it Steam Instructions: 

And leave a note in my case just with the location one should move the folder to C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps. You could also save a shortcut to this page:  

Now copy the Common folder to your External HDD: 

This may take a while depending on the number of games you have installed and hence the size of your common folder:

To clear things up, I will just make a new folder called Steam and move both the Steam Instructions and common folder to it:

That’s your Steam Game Installation Files backed up.

3. Reinstalling Stream and Recovering Steam Game Installation Files on a New Windows Installation

Once you have either got your new computer (in my case an Xtreme Performance System XPS 13 2-in-1 9365) or successfully clean installed (for full instructions see my Windows FAQs and Downloads) the latest build of Windows 10 you can open up your browser (in my case Edge as I haven’t installed Google Chrome yet) and search for Steam:

Select Install Steam: 

Select Install Steam Now and then Run:

Accept the User Account Control prompt:

Select Next:

Select Next:

Select your Language and then select Next. In my case I will select English:

Select Install:

Select Finish and Launch Steam:
It will Update:

Select Login to An Existing Account:


Check your email for instructions on authorising your computer and select Next:

Enter your Special Access code from your email:

You will be logged in now:

And you will notice that all the games are now greyed out because they are not installed:

Do Not Do This: Standard Install – Downloading All Game Installation Files

I will use Skyrim as an example of what not to do. If I select Skyrim and select Install:

I will be given the option to Create a Start Menu Shortcut and told the disc space required for the game:

After I Select Next. It will allocate Disc space:

After I select Finish. I’ll just have to wait for it to finish with the Download:

Do This: Install – Not Downloading All Game Installation Files

If I now close Steam by going to the notification tray and right clicking Steam and selecting Exit:

To the left hand side I can once again navigate to C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Steamapps and see that there is a new Common folder:

I can now open the Steam folder on my external hard drive to my right:

And copy the Common folder to C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Steamapps:


This again may take a while depending on the number of games you have installed and hence the size of your common folder:

Launch Steam again:

Unfortunately it seems that once a download is started it continues irregardless of the fact that the game installation folders are copied over. So in my case Skyrim will keep downloading. I can ignore this now for now:

I can highlight the next game on the list that I want to install, Fallout and select Install:

Leave the default location as is and it will use the game install files present. Select next:

N.B. it will see that the folder already exists and give you the option to install the game elsewhere if you do this (Steam will redownload all the files)…

It will discover the existing files for Fallout and check their integrity as well as creating the necessary modifications to the Windows Registry so you can actually run the game:

Once done select Finish:

In my case it got queued behind Skyrim (which is still downloading). I can repeat the same procedure for Fallout 2:

Again Fallout 2 is Queued because Skyrim is still downloading. I right click Skyrim and select manage downloads:

This will show me the queue:

I can promote the Fallout games in the queue by selecting Download now:

They will now be installed and “Ready to Play”:

To avoid any interference of Skyrim while installing the other games. I will pause it:

I can now see that Fallout and Fallout 2 are no longer dimmed and hence installed:

Now I can repeat the process with Fallout 3:


This time it’s Ready to Play instantly as there is no interference from Skyrim:

I can then go through the same procedure with all the rest of the games that I want to install. They will no longer be dimmed and “Ready to Play”:

Once this is done I can once right click Skyrim and select Manage Downloads:

I can unpause it and let it continue:

Finally once Skyrim has redownloaded my Steam Library is as it was before: