What You Need To Know About Windows System Restore

Joel Lee 10-10-2013

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 These Guys Didn't Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened If there is anything I learned during those early years of working with computers (and the people that use them), it was how critical it is to not only save important stuff, but also to... Read More . 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.


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.



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.


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.



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 How To Make Sure Windows System Restore Works When You Need It System restore is not an automatic feature in Windows 7. Usually it is enabled when you've purchased a new system, but after running updates, installing system tools or running any other list of tasks that... Read More and Chris has written up a post on what to do when System Restore fails System Restore Not Working? 5 Fixes for Windows 7 and 10 System Restore saves your PC from disaster. But what if it System Restored failed you? We've got the fix. Read More . And in the case of accidental deletions or disappearances, here are 4 tools to help recover lost files Turn Back Time: 4 Tools & Tips To Restore Deleted Files In Windows One of Windows' biggest flaws could be your rescue, should you ever accidentally delete an important file: The Windows file system does not actually delete files. Until they are overwritten, deleted files can be restored. Read More . Finally, you can also refresh or reset Windows 8 How To Restore, Refresh, or Reset Your Windows 8 Installation In addition to the standard System Restore feature, Windows 8 has features for "refreshing" and "resetting" your PC. Think of these as ways of quickly re-installing Windows -- either keeping your personal files or deleting... Read More , if system restore fails.


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

Related topics: System Restore, Windows 7, Windows 8.

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  1. Tim J
    February 1, 2014 at 5:45 am

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

  2. Jack Smith
    October 15, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    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.

  3. Druv B
    October 12, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    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.

  4. Erlis D
    October 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    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! ^^

  5. Zorrow
    October 11, 2013 at 7:22 am

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

  6. Dels
    October 11, 2013 at 2:54 am

    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

  7. Eric J
    October 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm

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

    • JD
      July 4, 2018 at 6:10 pm

      Yes, it does work when the computer allows it to be kept after being saved, because for some unknown reason, there are times when my restored dates are deleted after I've set them up. If they are still there it really does work. I just don't know why they are removed somehow, how they're removed and for whatever reasons they just disappear sometimes.