What You Need To Know About Windows System Restore

Windows System Restore could save your butt when your computer goes wonky. There are plenty of horror stories of people who forgot to make backups. Well, imagine the trouble you could find yourself in, if you didn’t make backups of your system? That’s where System Restore steps in.

What is a restore point? Should you be using the System Restore feature or would you be better off disabling it? And if you decide to use it, how do you go about setting it up? By the end of this article, you’ll know the answers to each of those questions, so keep reading!

What Are Restore Points?

System Restore is a feature of the Windows operating system (starting with Windows ME) that allows users to restore their system to a previous point in time. This restoration includes, but is not limited to, the following types of data: system files, installed applications, the Windows registry, and system settings. As you can guess, system restores should not be taken lightly, but they can be extremely useful in the right circumstances.

restore point button   What You Need To Know About Windows System Restore

System Restore works by periodically creating restore points on your system. You can think of these restore points as snapshots of what your system looks like at the time. Then, using these restore points, Windows can roll back to a system state from the past. Needless to say, you can’t just jump back to any point in time – which would be incredibly useful but, for right now, implausible.

Restore points can be created manually by the user OR automatically by the system if the option is set. Automatic restore points are created when:

  • software is installed using an installer that interfaces with System Restore;
  • Windows Update installs new updates to the system;
  • system drivers are installed or updated;
  • according to a schedule that has been set on the system.

In order to use the System Restore feature, you’ll first have to enable it. If you’ve already decided that you want to do that, hop on down to the last section of this article. But if you aren’t sure if you need System Restore, I recommend reading the next section before making your decision.

Should You Use System Restore?

Back in Windows XP, the System Restore gained a poor reputation because of the way it was implemented. Not only was it slow to create new restore points, the actual act of rolling back to a previous restore point never quite matched expectations. In fact, I remember a few times when System Restore left my Windows XP machine in a worse state. But the System Restore in Windows 7 and Windows 8 was revamped and is much better.

However, one of the biggest downsides to using System Restore remains: it requires a lot of disk space. A snapshot of your entire system will take up a good amount of space – even when it’s compressed. Windows dedicates a portion of disk space to restore points, but this allocation can be changed by doing the following:

  • Open Control Panel.
  • Open System or search in the top right, in case you can’t see it immediately.
  • Click on System Protection on the left-hand side.
  • Click the Configure button.
  • Move the Disk Space Usage slider.

restore point slider   What You Need To Know About Windows System Restore

As the allocated space fills up, older restore points will be cleared in favor of new ones. You can always manually clear every restore point except for the most recent one by:

  • Run Disk Cleanup on your system drive.
    Under Computer, right-click on your system drive and select Properties, then click the Disk Cleanup button.
  • Click on Clean up system files.
  • Click on More Options tab.
  • Under System Restore and Shadow Copies, click on Clean up.

restore point clear   What You Need To Know About Windows System Restore

Are you worried about System Restore’s impact on your system’s performance? Rest assured that the performance hit is negligible since System Restore only runs when induced manually OR when your system has been idle for some time. Plus, the actual creation of restore points isn’t very taxing on the system either.

How To Set Up Windows System Restore

In Windows 7 and Windows 8, there’s no reason not to use System Restore unless you’re using a third-party program that handles restore points in its own way. You won’t be reverting to old restore points on a regular basis, but eventually you’ll run into a situation where rolling back ends up being the easiest solution. Without System Restore, you may find yourself in a pickle.

So, use it!

If you want to enable System Restore, take these steps:

  • Open Control Panel.
  • Open System.
  • Click on System Protection.
  • Click on Configure.
  • Select the Restore system settings and previous versions of file option.

And if you want to create a manual restore point:

  • Open Control Panel.
  • Open System.
  • Click on System Protection.
  • Click on Create.
  • Name the restore point.

restore point success   What You Need To Know About Windows System Restore

Unfortunately, even though System Restore is much better today than it was in the past, there are still times when it may not be able to do what you expect of it. Thankfully, Ryan can show you how to make sure System Restore works when you need it and Chris has written up a post on what to do when System Restore fails. And in the case of accidental deletions or disappearances, here are 4 tools to help recover lost files. Finally, you can also refresh or reset Windows 8, if system restore fails.

Conclusion

At its core, restore points can be thought of as system backups: you may not need them for a long time, but when you do, you’ll be glad you have them. Plus, System Restore doesn’t require anything of you once you have it enabled and set up. The performance hit is negligible and the disk space concerns are easily managed, so there’s no reason not to use it. What are you waiting for?

How has System Restore helped you in the past? If you don’t use System Restore, why not? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image Credit: Restore Button Via Shutterstock

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7 Comments -

0 votes

Eric J

windows system restore is good, done a couple of times and it did restored my system.

0 votes

Dels

I prefer solution like Macrium Reflect (Free for personal use) or Acronis True Image that create exact image of the drive and can be backup incrementally, it never fail me and in case something just go bad i could handily restore in more faster way than Windows System Restore

0 votes

Zorrow

I made a system restore. And everytime I boot this message: “Critical error. No original image” comes.

0 votes

Erlis D

On XP there were also times when you need to reset your system to get to use system restore again. On Win 7 I haven’t had that kind of problem. Still, there are times when restoring fails, but you can always find a solution to fix it. The difference is simple now; I have more than a year that I don’t clean install windows or repair it (even though I test different programs, options etc), even in times when the system gets any viruses. A good antivirus and system restore make a good combination! ^^

0 votes

Druv B

Never used system restore. Be it on WinXP or currently using Win7. I always have a backup of my important data. When things go wrong, boot to Linux, recover my files, re-install everything from scratch. It does have the disadvantage of taking a full day or two, but I prefer the manual way. But since running Win7 over the years , haven’t used system restore or did a full re-install. A proper maintenance every now and then keep things running smoothly.

0 votes

Jack Smith

I’m a Faronics Deep Freeze user from the day Windows has phased out the Steadystate (a system restore utility). Deep Freeze works great for me. As it is a kernel level restoring software, it keep my original system configuration freeze on every restart. Also provide the features like password protection, MBR protection etc. Simple to install and handle. We also used it on our school computer lab. Because when you’re working in a High School with 500+ devices, you don’t want to be restoring snapshots every time there’s an issue. Reboots fix almost everything here, including virus infections, malware, corrupt system files, and kiddies attempting to break (software) things.

0 votes

Tim J

Great Article, another program I found was rollback rx works pretty awesome.