Windows Recovery

Windows System Images

Lets face it Windows workstations are patched a lot, and some times they have issues. It could be from a download, a Microsoft patch or a malicious web site. So if your PC has an issue you want to be in a position to recover it quickly. One of the easiest free methods is to use System Restores and System Images all built into Windows 7, 8 and 10.

Restore Points let you roll back to a previous system state. So if you are going to install a new application, you could create a restore point before the install, and then if the application does not work as expected, you can remove it and revert back to the previous state. What that does is remove any new registry entries that were created during the install and restore the original ones.

To create a restore point go to Control Panel, System & then look for System protection on the left side. That will get you to System Properties and allow you to turn on and configure restore points. Normally I just do this for the C:\ drive or the system partition. I don’t do that for my data drive. I use a custom script that will backup my data drive to another disk on a regular basis.

System Images are a complete copy of your system drive. If you designed your system with a separate data volume and keep the C:\ system drive relatively small, it will make for very quick recovery of your OS. If the OS has a virus, you can recover everything on C:\. But you have to do your home work, and you will need the items below:

  • Created a system recovery drive that you use to boot the PC
  • Have a System Image backup already saved on your data or external USB 3 drive
  • Keep your C:\ system partition small, and save all your files to a separate data drive

If you already have a separate data drive, then you are a head of the game. You can simply use that to save your system images. I also recommend having and using an external USB 3 drive to save the images to as well. Both the internal or external drive should be at least 1 TB in size, to save multiple images and data. If you don’t have a drive, go over to your nearest office supply store and purchase one. If you are not familiar with installing internal drives, then you can learn on line or contact me and I would be glad to help.

Next make sure you have created a recovery disk while your system is still healthy. You will need a USB 3 drive and then run the “create a recovery drive” utility already built into Windows. From the start menu or windows button just type “create a recovery drive” and the following menu will open allowing you to do that. Just be sure to use a thumb drive that at least 16 GB, may be 32 GB if you have a lot of applications on your system.

The recovery drive allows you to boot the system without a functional system partition, and run the recovery utilities. Those include restoring your system from a previously made image backup. There will be a few options, so the key is booting from the recovery disk and becoming familiar with the options before you really need them.

I won’t go through all the recovery options here, their are a fair number of discussions found through Google on how to do that. I just want to make sure your thinking ahead, and have all the pieces that you need to recover your system. If you don’t have a bunch of other data on the system drive, the operating system alone is typically 50 – 60 GB.

A USB 3 drive with the system image backup, that is restoring to a SSD partition can be done in 15 minutes or less. If you also have all your data on the system partition, you could be looking at a few hours or more. If the System drive is not SSD, plan on doubling or tripling the recovery time.

To create a system image just go to Control Panel, then select “Backup and Restore”. Keep in mind widows will let you perform a plan backup as well, but you can’t use that to recover your system, just the data on the volume backed up. Once your in Backup and Restore, look on the left hand side and select ” Create a System Image”. That will walk you through the steps of making an image of your OS..

If you ever have to do a restore, it will be a simple procedure to get the whole OS back. That includes your applications and email, along with any data on C:\. If you have an internal data drive D:\ or E:\, none of that data will be affected by the system restore going to C:\, which restores the OS.

That’s why this is really great, because if for any reason your system starts running bad,  its easy and fast to restore it back to its previous state. Why not just use a recovery point, well mainly because recovery points restores sometimes fail for different reasons (Antivirus software can cause a glitch with restore points). If your PC is hit with a virus that damages system files, it may not boot or work well enough to allow you to try a restore point.

But with a recovery USB thumb drive, no matter what the state the OS is in, you can boot to a recovery menu and then restore a system image. Also, if you want to upgrade to a SSD drive, you can use a system image to do that. One caveat,  the SSD needs to be the same size or larger than the drive you are replacing. Even if it doesn’t have a lot of data on it, the utility looks at the total size (available space) of the volume. Some third party cloning tools let you work around that limitation, and will allow you to clone a larger HDD to smaller SSD.