Microsoft

Recover from a crash with XP's System Restore

One of Windows XP's killer features is System Restore. This feature makes it easier to deal with bad drivers and rogue applications by allowing you to roll back your OS to a time before you installed the offending software. See it in action.


Your computer just crashed when you downloaded and installed the latest video card driver for your system. If you have Windows XP, don’t sweat it. XP has a great new feature called System Restore that allows you to restore XP systems to a previous state without losing the following files:
  • E-mail
  • Favorites
  • My Documents
  • Cookies

It does this by monitoring changes to your files and folders and taking a snapshot of your system at regular intervals. If a problem with your system is encountered, you can restore the system to a previous point and roll back your system files and registry to a point when the operating system was working. Let's look at how to configure your System Restore options and how to put the feature to work.

Understanding how System Restore works
System Restore runs in the background as a service, constantly logging changes to your system in C:\Windows\System32\Restore. In addition to this logging, System Restore also takes regular snapshots of your system state, which includes User Accounts and System Settings.

For example, let's say you recently installed a new device driver, and a warning message is displayed that tells you this driver is not supported by XP or is unsigned. You continue with the installation anyway. As soon as you choose to continue, the System Restore feature creates a restore point automatically so that you can restore the system if it crashes when you reboot. Restore points are also created when you install or upgrade to Windows XP or when you install any update patches from the Windows Update Web site.

By default, System Restore will create a restore point every 24 hours. If a machine is left on all the time, you can count on this happening once every 24 hours. If you shut down the machine and restart it, a restore point is created at bootup, as long as one has not been created in the last 24 hours.

You can adjust this timeframe in the registry. Simply open Regedit from a command prompt and browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\SystemRestore. Then, change the RPGlobalInterval from its default setting of 86,400 seconds (which is 24 hours) to the appropriate interval.

Restore points are deleted every 90 days. To change this value, just adjust the RPLifeInterval from 7,776,000 (which is 90 days).

You can also specify a protected location in the registry that System Restore would normally overwrite. Here are the steps:
  1. Open Regedit and browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\BackupRestore
    \FilesNotToBackup.
  2. Right-click and select New | Multi-String Value.
  3. Specify a name for the location that System Restore won’t restore to a previous point.
  4. Double-click the new value and enter the appropriate path to the location you
    want protected from System Restore.

Configuring System Restore
Before using System Restore functionality, you should know how to configure your options for optimal performance. You can access these options by opening Control Panel | Performance and Maintenance | System | System Restore tab (Figure A). Note: If you are using the classic view, open Control Panel | System.

Figure A


In this tab, you can turn off the system restore feature completely or specify the amount of disk space for System Restore to use. By default, System Restore uses a maximum of 12 percent of your disk space. Be careful if you change this default. System Restore can consume quite a bit of your disk space if you let it.

Manual restore points
Any time you think it is necessary, you can create a manual restore point. You must have administrative access to do this. Just follow these steps:
  1. Open Help And Support from the Start menu.
  2. Select Undo Changes To Your Computer With System Restore (Figure B) to bring up the Welcome To The System Restore window.

Figure B

  1. Choose the Create A Restore Point option and click Next (Figure C).

Figure C

  1. Enter a Restore Point Description and click Create (Figure D).

Figure D

  1. Click Home.

Restoring your computer
In the event of a crash or any other incident that leaves your computer in a nonbootable or problematic state, you can quickly restore your computer by performing the following steps:
  1. Open Help And Support from the Start menu.
  2. Select Restore My Computer To An Earlier Time and click Next.
  3. Select a restore point by highlighting a day in the calendar and choosing the appropriate checkpoint (Figure E).
  4. Click Next.

Figure E

  1. Review your selected restore point (Figure F) and click Next. This will shut down your computer and restore your system to the specified point in time.

Figure F


Note that you can undo your latest restore by following the same procedure and selecting Undo My Last Restoration (Figure G).

Figure G


Summary
We have discussed the various ways you can easily recover your system in the event of a crash using Windows XP's new System Restore feature. We also provided you with some basic configuration knowledge to quickly configure System Restore to work optimally on your machines. As you can see, the System Restore feature is a powerful tool that will help you recover from problematic drivers and rogue application issues far more easily than you could with previous versions of Windows.

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