Use System Restore as a recovery tool in Windows 8

Learn how to configure and use System Restore in Windows 8 to get your system back up and running.

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In a previous set of articles, I covered most of the tools found on the Windows 8 Recovery Drive that you can use to get your system back up and running in the event of a disaster. In case you missed any of them, here is a list:

Now, while the focus of those articles was mainly on the new tools in Windows 8, the venerable System Restore, which has been around since Windows XP, is still a recovery tool that you should keep in mind when it comes to getting your system back up and running in the event of a problem. In fact, System Restore is one of the options that you can run from the Recovery Drive. However, you can still run and configure System Restore right from within Windows 8.

In this article, I'll show you how to configure and use System Restore in Windows 8. As I do, I'll show you how to manually create a restore point and then show you how to restore your system to an earlier point in time. I'll also show you how to undo a restore point.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.


As you may know, 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 anytime 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 then use System Restore to bring your system back to the state it was in right before the change was implemented.

While System Restore does a good job of automatically creating restore points, what about when you 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 that you can launch System Restore in Windows 8; however, the easiest way to do so is with a Windows key shortcut. To use this shortcut, press [Windows] + [Break] to bring up the System window. Then, select System protection on the left of the screen, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Fig A 9-13.png

From the System window, select System protection on the left of the screen.

You'll then see the System Protection tab of the System Properties dialog box, as shown in Figure B, where you can launch a restore operation, configure System Restore's settings, and manually create restore points.

Figure B

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

As you can see, I have two hard disks connected to this example system - the main hard disk and an external USB hard disk. By default, system protection is turned off for secondary hard disks. Since additional drives usually store data or data backups, there's no reason to have System Restore monitor them.

Configuring System Restore

While System Restore is automatically configured when you install Windows 8, you may want to change its settings. Fortunately, doing so is easy.

From the System Protection tab, select the Configure button. When you see the configuration dialog box, shown in Figure C, the first thing that you will notice is that at you can disable System Restore. It's not recommended, but you can do so if you wish.

Figure C

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You can change System Restore's default settings.

By default, System Restore is configured to use between one and three percent of the space on your hard disk. The amount that it uses will vary depending on the total size of your hard disk. As the allotted of 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 be able to have more restore points available, you can increase the size by adjusting the position of the Max Usage slider.

Now, if you decide that you want to start with a clean slate, you can click the Delete button to delete all of the current restore points. When you do, you will be prompted to confirm the operation. The Delete operation is illustrated in Figure D.

Figure D

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If you want to start with a clean slate, you can delete all the current restore points.

Creating a restore point

As I mentioned, there may be situations where you should manually create a restore point before you make changes to your system, such as editing the registry. To manually create a restore point, just click the Create button on the System Protection tab and you'll be prompted to give the restore point a name. When you initiate the operation, it will take a few minutes to occur. The creation process is illustrated in Figure E.

Figure E

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Manually creating a restore point is a quick and easy operation.

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 then see the introductory screen in the wizard driven interface, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

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After System Restore starts, you'll see the first screen in the wizard driven interface.

When you click Next, you'll see a table showing the most recent restore points, as shown in Figure G. If you select the Show more restore points check box, you will see any older restore points that are still available.

Figure G

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The second screen lists the available restore points.

Once you choose a restore point, the Scan for affected programs button is activated and you should click it to see a list of any programs or drivers that have been added to the system since the last restore point and will be lost by restoring your system to an earlier point in time. It will also show you any programs or drivers that were uninstalled since the last restore point and that will be revived by restoring your system to an earlier point in time.

As you can see in Figure H, on my particular example system, the list is blank. 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 H

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Running the scan for affected programs can be a real timesaver.

When you click Next, you'll be prompted to confirm the restore operation. When you click Finish, you'll encounter warning dialog box, as illustrated in Figure I.

Figure I

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Before the actual restore operation commences, you are prompted twice to conform the operation.

When you click Yes, System restore will prepare the restore operation and then restart your system, as illustrated in Figure J. This part of the operation runs rather quickly.

Figure J

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

Once you system restarts, the restore operation will begin and you'll see a screen that lets you know the progress of the operation as it cycles through initializing, restoring the registry, and finally removing temporary files. This process will take some time and is illustrated in Figure K.

Figure K

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The restore operation goes through several steps.

After the temporary files are removed, System Restore will once again restart your system. After you login to your system, you'll see a dialog box in the center of the screen, as shown in Figure L, informing you that the restore operation was successfully completed.

Figure L

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System Restore lets you know the outcome of the operation.

Undoing a restore operation

If after you perform a restore operation you determine that the problem still exists or new problems are now present, you can undo the restore 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 M. As you can see, the screen shows you the exact time and date that the restore operation was performed. You'll also notice that you have the option to check to see if any programs will be affected by undoing the restore operation.

Figure M

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You'll see the Undo System Restore option on the first screen.

When you click Next, the undo operation will commence and 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 used System Restore in the past? If so, what was your experience? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.


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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