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Software

How to use Windows 10's System Restore as a recovery tool

Knowing how to configure and run System Restore is an essential Windows skill. This walk-through explains each step of the process.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/Devenorr

In my latest series, I've shown you how to use the tools found on the Windows 10 Recovery Drive to get your system back up and running in the event of a disaster:

The last tool to cover is System Restore, which has been around since Windows XP. Now, while you can run System Restore from the Recovery Drive, you can also run and configure it from within Windows 10. In this article, I'll show you how. As I do, I'll show you how to manually create a restore point, how to restore your system to an earlier point in time, and how to undo a restore operation.

Overview

System Restore works by automatically taking snapshots of your system's state before any operation that makes significant changes to the operating system. These snapshots are called restore points and include crucial operating system files and certain parts of the registry that could be altered by the pending change operation.

For example, System Restore will automatically create a restore point when you install a new application or perform a major Windows Update operation. If something goes awry during such an operation and your system begins behaving oddly, you can use System Restore to bring your system back to the state it was in right before the change was implemented.

System Restore does a good job of automatically creating restore points, but what if you need to make changes to the operating system? For example, maybe you want to implement a technique that involves editing the registry. Fortunately, you can manually create a restore point before you perform those types of operations.

Getting started

There are several ways to launch System Restore in Windows 10, but the easiest way is to use the Quick Link menu. To bring up this menu, use the [Windows] + X shortcut. Then select System, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Figure A
The Quick Link menu includes several commands, including System.

The System window offers a plethora of information and commands. To continue, select System Protection on the left side of the screen, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Figure B
From the System window, select System Protection.

You'll then see the System Protection tab of the System Properties dialog box (Figure C). Here, you can launch a restore operation, configure System Restore's settings, and manually create restore points.

Figure C

Figure C
System Restore lives on the System Protection tab of the System Properties dialog box.

Configuring System Restore

System Restore is automatically configured when you install Windows 10, but you may want to change its settings. Fortunately, doing so is easy.

From the System Protection tab, select the Configure button to open the Configuration dialog box, shown in Figure D. The first thing you will notice is that you can disable System Restore. It's not recommended, but you can do so if you wish.

Figure D

Figure D
You can change System Restore's default settings.

By default, System Restore is configured to use between 1% and 3% of the space on your hard disk. The amount it uses will vary depending on the total size of your hard disk. As the allotted space fills up with restore points, System Restore deletes older restore points to make room for new ones. This system works well, but if you want to have more restore points available, you can increase the size by adjusting the position of the Max Usage slider.

Deleting restore points

If you decide that you want to start with a clean slate, you can click the Delete button to delete all the current restore points. When you do, you will be prompted to confirm the operation. Figure E shows the Delete operation.

Figure E

Figure E
If you want to start fresh, you can delete all the current restore points.

Creating a restore point

As I mentioned, you may sometimes need to manually create a restore point before you make changes to your system, such as editing the registry. To manually create a restore point, click the Create button on the System Protection tab and you'll be prompted to name the restore point. After you initiate the operation, it will take a few minutes to complete. Figure F shows the creation process.

Figure F

Figure F
Manually creating a restore point is a straightforward process.

Restoring your system

When a change causes your system to act strangely, you can undo that change by performing a System Restore operation. If Windows will not start, you can use the Recovery Drive to launch System Restore. If Windows does start, you can launch System Restore from within Windows.

To do so, access the System Protection tab and click the System Restore button. In a moment, System Restore will begin an initialization process and you'll see the introductory screen in the wizard interface, shown in Figure G.

Figure G

Figure GAfter System Restore starts, it will display an introductory screen.

Click Next, and System Restore will display a table listing the most recent restore points, as shown in Figure H. If you select the Show More Restore Points check box, you will see any older restore points that are still available.

Figure H

Figure H
The second screen lists the available restore points.

Once you choose a restore point, the Scan For Affected Programs button is activated. Click this button to see a list of any programs or drivers that have been added to the system since the last restore point; they'll be lost by restoring your system to an earlier point in time. You can also see what programs or drivers were uninstalled since the last restore point; they'll be revived by restoring your system to an earlier point in time.

On my example system, the list is blank (Figure I). However, I can't stress enough how important it is to run this check before you perform a system restore. Knowing ahead of time about any side effects caused by restoring can save you time and frustration later.

Figure I

Figure I
Be sure you run the scan for affected programs.

When you click Next, you'll be prompted to confirm the restore operation. Clicking Finish will bring up the warning shown in Figure J.

Figure J

Figure J
Before the restore operation commences, you'll be prompted twice to confirm it.

Click Yes, and System Restore will prepare the restore operation and restart your system, as shown in Figure K. This part of the operation runs rather quickly.

Figure K

Figure K
As the restore operation gets underway, your system will restart.

After your system restarts, the restore operation will begin. A screen will appear showing the progress of the operation as it cycles through initializing, restoring the registry, and finally removing temporary files (Figure L). This process will take some time.

Figure L

Figure L
The restore operation goes through several steps.

When the temporary files have been removed, System Restore will again restart your system. After you log in to your system, you'll see a dialog box in the center of the screen informing you that the restore operation was successfully completed (Figure M).

Figure M

Figure M
System Restore lets you know the outcome of the operation.

Undoing a restore operation

Once you perform a restore operation, if you determine that the problem still exists or new problems are occurring, you can undo the operation. However, keep in mind that if you plan to undo a restore operation, you should do so before you make any major changes to the operating system.

When you run System Restore soon after you have performed a restore operation, you'll see that the System Restore screen now contains an Undo System Restore option, as shown in Figure N. The screen shows you the exact time and date that the restore operation was performed. You'll also have the option to check whether any programs will be affected by undoing the restore operation.

Figure N

Figure N
The System Restore screen offers an Undo option.

When you click Next, the undo process will begin. From this point forward it will function exactly the same as running a restore operation. Your system will restart, the registry will be restored, temporary files will be deleted, and your system will restart again.

What's your take?

Have you ever used System Restore? Did everything go smoothly or did you run into any problems? Share your advice and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.

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About

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.

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