In a recent series of blog posts, I've shown you how to reset your Windows 10 system using the Keep My Files option and the Remove Everything option. While the latter will allow you to essentially start from scratch and the former will allow you to install a new copy of the operating system while retaining your data, you may also want to create a backup of your full system—data and applications—just in case you encounter a catastrophic hard disk failure. If you do, you'll be glad to know that the tried-and-true System Image tool still exists in Windows 10. As long as you have created a system image of your hard disk, you can use the System Image Recovery tool from the Recovery Drive to restore your entire system in the event of a hard disk failure. In other words, if your hard disk goes south, you can purchase a new one and use the System Image Recovery tool to restore your system to the state it was in when you created the image.
Now, keep in mind that for this type of backup to be truly effective, you need to regularly create new system images so that you'll have a recent version of your system if you need to recover it.
In this article I'll show you how to use the System Image Recovery tool from the Recovery Drive to restore your hard disk. As I do, I'll show you how to create a system image on an external hard drive.
What you need
To run the System Image Recovery tool as I'll describe in this article, you'll need to have created a Recovery Drive as I showed you in the article Be prepared: Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive. You'll also need an external drive or a set of optical discs on which to create a system image of your hard disk. (Unfortunately, you can't create a system image on a USB flash drive.)
You can find 1TB and 2TB external hard disks in brick-and-mortar and online computer stores for under $100. For example, at the time of this writing, you can pick up a Seagate 1TB external USB hard drive at Best Buy for $59.99 or a Western Digital 1TB external USB hard drive on Amazon Prime for $53.99.
For this article, I'm using a Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk 1 TB USB 3.0 External Hard Drive, which I picked up Best Buy several years ago.
Creating a system image
As I mentioned, to use the System Image Recovery tool you must have created a system image of your hard disk. So I'll begin by walking you through that process.
To create a system image in Windows 10, you'll start by accessing the Backup And Restore (Windows 7) tool. To do so, select Settings from the Start Menu/Screen. When the Settings screen appears, select the Update And Security tile, choose the Backup tab, and select Go To Backup And Restore (Windows 7), as shown in Figure A.
Accessing the Backup tab from the Start screen is easy.
In a moment, you'll see the Windows Backup And Restore (Windows 7) tool. Select the Create A System Image command on the left side of the screen, as shown in Figure B.
Select the Create A System Image command to get started.
When the first screen in the Create A System Image wizard appears, you will need to choose where to create the system image. For my example, I am going to create the system image on an external hard disk, so I selected the On A Hard Disk option, as shown in Figure C.
On my test system, I'll create the system image on an external hard disk.
Click Next, and you'll be prompted to confirm your backup settings, as shown in Figure D. On this system, two other sections of data will be backed up in addition to the main partition: the EFI System Partition and the Windows Recovery Environment (System). As you can see, the system is indicating that the image will take up 50 GB of space.
The Confirm Your Backup Settings page shows you which drives will be backed up.
When you're ready, click the Start Backup button and the backup operation will commence, as shown in Figure E.
Click the Start Backup button to launch the backup operation.
Once the backup is complete, click the Close button. Now that you have a System Image backup, you're ready for an emergency situation.
Launching System Image Recovery
In the case of a hard drive failure, you can restore Windows 10 by running the System Image Recovery tool from the Recovery Drive. After your system boots from the Recovery Drive, connect your external hard drive containing the system image backup. When you get to the Choose An Option screen, select the Troubleshoot tile as shown in Figure F.
When you are prompted to choose an option, select the Troubleshoot tile.
From the Troubleshoot screen, shown in Figure G, select the Advanced Options tile.
From the Troubleshoot screen, select the Advanced Options tile.
When the Advanced Options screen appears, select the System Image Recovery tile as shown in Figure H.
From the Advanced options screen, select the System Image Recovery tile.
At this point, you'll be prompted to choose the operating system that you want to recover, as shown in Figure I. It may seem redundant to select the OS when performing a system image recovery operation, but you must click the Windows 10 tile to get started.
Click the Windows 10 tile to start the recovery process.
The recovery process
As soon as you click the Windows 10 tile, you'll see the Re-image Your Computer wizard. The tool will immediately locate the external hard disk containing the system image, as shown in Figure J. To continue, click Next.
The Re-image Your Computer wizard will locate the external hard disk.
The Re-Image Your Computer wizard will now open the screen shown in Figure K. This screen provides several options.
The second screen in the Re-Image Your Computer wizard provides you with a number of options.
If you're restoring to the same hard disk, you don't need to select the Format And Repartition Disks check box. (For my example, I selected the check box just to see whether that changed the process in any way. Other than possibly adding a little time, the steps and the end result were the same.)
If you're restoring to a new hard disk, chances are that the Format And Repartition Disks check box will be selected by default and will be unavailable. If that is the case, there is nothing to worry about as long as the new hard disk is of the same or greater capacity than the old one.
If you have multiple drives you can click the Exclude Disks button and choose the drive(s) you want to leave untouched. You can also click the Advanced button to open a dialog box that offers two additional options. The Automatically Restart check box will be selected by default and you can choose to enable a disk check operation as a part of the procedure. (If the options in this dialog box are unavailable, you may have to install drivers for the disks you're restoring by clicking the Install Drivers button.)
When you click Next, you'll see the confirmation screen of the Re-Image Your Computer wizard, as shown in Figure L. To continue, just click Finish.
To complete the Re-Image Your Computer wizard, just click Finish
Almost there. But we still have to work through one more confirmation, shown in Figure M. Just click Yes to get started.
Click Yes in the final confirmation dialog box.
In a moment, the restore operation will begin and you'll see a progress bar that keeps you apprised of the status of the restore operation, as shown in Figure N. Depending on how big your hard disk is, the restore operation can take a few hours.
A progress bar shows the status of the restore operation.
When the restore operation is complete, you'll be prompted to click the Restart Now button. If you happen to be away from your desk when this occurs, your system will restart on its own, as shown in Figure O.
If you're not at your desk when the restore operation is complete, your system will restart on its own.
When, your system restarts, you'll see the familiar logon screen.
What's your take?
Now that you know how a System Image Recovery procedure works in Windows 10, you will be prepared if you ever need to restore your computer. Have you have performed a System Image Recovery procedure before? if so, what was your experience? Share your comments and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.
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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.