Windows

Use Windows 7 System Image Recovery to restore a hard disk

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to use System Image Recovery to revive an unbootable Windows system.
Have you used Microsoft Windows 7's Backup and Restore to create a system image of your hard disk? If so, do you update it on a regular basis? If you do, then you are prepared for a problem that leaves your hard disk in an unrepairable predicament, such as the one that I described in my recent blog post "Access More Troubleshooting Tools with Windows 7 System Recovery Options." This is the predicament where the Startup Repair Tool can't repair the problem and you then access the System Recovery Options menu, as shown in Figure A, which provides you with a set of tools that can help you revive your system. If for some reason neither Startup Repair nor System Restore is able to get you back up and running, you can use the System Image Recovery option to revive an unbootable system.

Figure A

The System Recovery Options menu displays a list of system recovery tools that you can use to repair startup problems, run diagnostics, or restore your system.

While knowing that you have a system image provides you with a certain level of comfort, using it is another story. The reason being that the only time you'll ever get to see what a System Image Recovery operation looks like is when you need to perform one. And, chances are that you'll be pretty stressed at that point and won't really want any more uncertainty in your life.

With that in mind, in this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use System Image Recovery. That way, if the time comes when you need to use it, you'll know exactly what to expect.

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Caveat

A system image includes the operating system and all your system settings, your programs, and all your files. However, keep in mind that when you restore your computer from a system image, it will actually perform a complete restoration of your entire system, which means that all your current programs, system settings, and files will be replaced with the versions that were current when you made the system image.

Getting started

To begin, make sure that you have your system image available -- if you created an image on optical discs, have the last disc in the set inserted into the drive or if you created an image on an external hard drive, have the drive connected to your system. For my example, I created an image on an external hard drive.

Then, access the System Recovery Option menu. To recap, there are several ways that you can get there:

  • If your system will still attempt to start Windows, then you can attempt to access the System Recovery Options from your hard disk.
  • If Windows won't start at all, you can access the System Recovery Options by booting from the Windows 7 DVD.
  • If you have created a System Repair Disc, you can boot from that disk as well and access the System Recovery Options.

For more details, see the Getting to the System Recovery Options section of the "Access More Troubleshooting Tools with Windows 7 System Recovery Options" blog post.

The restore procedure

When you select the System Image Recovery option, the procedure will immediately locate the most recent system image connected to your system and display that information in the first screen of the Re-Image Your Computer wizard, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, my system image is on drive F, the drive letter assigned to my external hard drive, it was created on 7/19 at 4:51 AM, and it is the image for the computer named Greg-PC.

Figure B

The System Image Recovery procedure will immediately locate the most recent system image connected to your system.
Just for the sake of thoroughness, if the System Image Recovery procedure cannot locate a recent system image, you will see a warning message, like the one shown in Figure C, that prompts you to connect the external drive or insert the last optical disc in the set into the optical drive and click Retry. If your system image is on a network drive, you can click Cancel and follow the prompts to connect to a network location and manually select your system image.

Figure C

If the System Image Recovery procedure cannot locate a recent system image, you'll see this warning message.
Returning to our example, just click Next. You'll then see the second screen of the Re-Image Your Computer wizard, as shown in Figure D. As you can see, this screen provides you with several options. If you are restoring to the same hard disk, you don't need to select the Format and Repartition Disks check box. If you are 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 capacity or greater than the old one.

Figure D

The second screen in the Re-Image Your Computer wizard provides you with a number of options to choose from.

Since there are no other drives in my example, the Exclude Disks button is unavailable. If you have multiple drives you can click the Exclude Disks button and choose the drive you want to restore.

If none of the options are available on this screen, you may have to install drivers for the disks you are restoring by clicking the Install Drivers button. However, since Windows 7 has such great built-in driver support, that is unlikely.

Now, if you click the Advanced button, you'll see the dialog box shown in Figure E. The Automatically Restart check box will be selected by default, and you'll have the option to enable a disk check operation as a part of the procedure.

Figure E

If you click the Advanced button, you can enable a disk check operation.
When you click Next, you'll see the confirmation screen of the Re-Image Your Computer wizard, as shown in Figure F. To continue, just click Finish.

Figure F

To complete the Re-Image Your Computer wizard, just click Finish.
Of course, there is one more confirmation to work through, as shown in Figure G. Just click Yes to get started.

Figure G

Just click Yes in the final confirmation dialog box.
In a moment, the restore operation will begin. As the restore operation progresses, you'll see the progress bar, as shown in Figure H. Depending on how big your hard disk is, the restore operation can take a few hours. Now that the restore is under way, it might be a good idea to step away for a while. Go get a cup of coffee or watch some TV. When it is done, your system will restart and you'll see the familiar logon screen.

Figure H

As the restore operation progresses, you'll see the progress; however, chances are that it will take a few hours to complete.

What's your take?

Now that you know how a System Image Recovery procedure works, you will be prepared if the time comes when you are forced to restore your computer. If you have performed a System Image Recovery procedure before, 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.

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.

45 comments
Kollers
Kollers

Hi,

I made a WIN7back-up image on DVD & external HD but both options ended in "unsuccessful" before my original HD crashed totally.

After installing a new HD I could see the WIN file in both, my external HD image and DVD image, but my Toshiba Satellite c660 says it can not find a WIN image.

I feel that those images might be corrupted or incomplete.

Also, on first start up I get messages which include error message PXE-E61: Media test failure, check cable.

I will appreciate constructive suggestions .

Sincerely, kollerh

kw02
kw02

Are there other programs that will write the system image from my win 7 64 pro backups to a USB drive to browse the various documents? I could not use the disk images to restore my machine because it wouldn't see the images on two different USB externals. So I did a factory restore. I'd like to expand the backups I had been making for the drive images that Microsoft never warned might now be usable to recover. 


Someone said Acronis True Image would write Windows Image files. But 2014 Acronis True Image 30-day trial did see the files as something it could unravel. Are there any other ways to expand the saved drive images. I do not have the computer here: it's at college with my son. So I'm hoping to use another computer, XP or Win 7 laptop, to expand the image to my large backup hard drives full of useless Windows 7 disk drive images from the HP Win 7 desktop.

Vanerl
Vanerl

Will the system image recovery help us reset forgotten Windows 7 login password? If yes, i will share it with my friends. When my Toshiba Windows 7 laptop was locked, I got Windows Boot Genius ( http://www.windowspasswordsrecovery.com/windows-boot ) to recover my lost password efficiently without data loss. It also helped fixed black screen of death when pc won't start.

ihatemypic
ihatemypic

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Thanks for sharing ....

kliss
kliss

Enjoyed the original article, but I have a question. Say I want to test this whole process. Can I restore the system image to a portable external drive and then boot from the portable external drive to test the process? (I know that i can install an OS on a flash drive and boot from it). I do not want to impact the original C; drive at all - this is after all a test and I want to go back to the original c drive when i am done - if the test is successful or not. I don't see anywhere in the screen prints of the original article where you get to choose the destination of the restore. Can someone point out if/how i can select the target device? Thanks, Karl

Doug Sinclair
Doug Sinclair

Hi, I am about to renovate a legacy training center so I can teach a range of topics including how to install CCTV Servers. Once a class is over for the day i want to restore all student machines to a clean standard. Other teachers have their software on the machines too and they need to store student exercises for a period longer. I need a spare partition that students will install a supposed new Archive and Directory server to. As such I thought it would work to have a primary server with the right client machine "Ghost image" on it that includes the run files for installing new servers (Archive and Directory servers) to go onto the spare 'E' and 'F' drives. So the 'C' drive could be restored to default requirements of a clean machine each night; then a partition for student ongoing files storage could survive that as drive 'F', plus two more partitions would be cleaned ready for next day for the virtual servers (Archive Server and Directory Server). What is the best software to use for htis process. I don't want to play with second rate software if I am to do this right I want it right from the outset. Thanks, Doug

debuggerdec10
debuggerdec10

My Current hard disk is unhealthy which is a seagate 500 GB HDD.Now I have ordered a samsung 500 HDD.Now i Have made a system image of my current OS and put it in an external USB HDD.All i want to know is can i PUT the system image created from seagate 500 HDD(my current unhealthy disk ) to the new Samsung HDD.Is that possible? I have many personal files on HDD like my downloads in c drive ,application settings etc...Can i exclude them in creating system disk? If not,can you suggest a cloning software that can clone my C Drive excluding(deleting) all my personal datas,application datas(like chrome,firefox bookmarks etc) to clone into my new samsung.Please advice

Butterfly Sa
Butterfly Sa

I have previously used Windows 7 System Image Recovery successfully. Since then, however, during a chkdsk operation the PC was accidentally shut down which may have left the drive file system in an undefined state, as Start Up Repair says that the partition table does not have a valid system partition. (The OS and programs are on C: drive and all data is on another partition). I am wondering if I reinstall Windows 7 from the original system disk, and then run System Image Recovery to re-image [either from an external drive or from yet another partition on the internal drive] my original installation together with all the other programs previously installed, thus removing the new installation and replacing it with the layout and settings in the system image.

Ez_Customs
Ez_Customs

is powerful with the home user in mind. it will take care of most the Home user needs, network or physical drive, removable or not. Now if your looking for a full system restore then maybe recovery and Setup is your better option using a Virtual image over the network Windows 7 also has that, I am not sure how to use it 100% though. I know that the system backup can be imaged on the network to your standards and settings. if you didn't know what you needed then you probably messed up yourself. I have have used it off a Second HD and well it worked just fine without problems.

phstacker
phstacker

I just recently had the opportunity to use the system recovery feature. I found the Network image storage to be limited and when performing a recovery, the program requires you to know the location as opposed to being able to Browse. Other than that, and using a USB storage drive for backups, it works great. I'm not seeing any long recover times - yet. Previous to this I have used Norton Ghost

Ez_Customs
Ez_Customs

I mean look have you guys ever reinstalled Windwos Vista and or Windwos 7 over teh top of an existing installation? My guess is no! I say this because basically when you install Windows 7 over the top of an old installation it will infact make a back up, and all you simply do is copy and paste it over in the areas you need. for most home users and small businesses, this Works Fine, and take 30 minutes to install and maybe another 30 to copy! Actually this will work for huge Corp to, just not as efficiently; 1.) Install Windows Vista/7, during installation it notices hey another Windows installed, Find Windows.old on the root of the boot disk 2.) Install your virus and other security and update. Following up with disabling the internet during the scan, scanning the Windows.old folder. Speed it up by Deleting all user profiles and OS files. remove reasons for restoring when virus like problems are there. 3.) open Windows.old in the root of the boot, copy all left overs to the Root of the boot by using Cut and Paste complete by deleting the Windows.old Basically this is the Same Process you can get more done faster without this back up hd or USB flash, get 20 PC's restoring at the same time on there own processes locally to each machine. More times then not this is all a Client in a Network needs. I do understand before you guys flame me for this that Consistency is important, and well Backups are nice to have in-case a HD fails, but to recovery using the Image tools anymore with Windows 7 and later installs of Vista SP 1, is just silly and takes forever. Network administrators can utilize the setup process nicely and have it all automated, using .sip files over network after installation is completed, and do all the tasks locally per client, by using vLite scripting commands to launch your virus scanning and preparation stuff as well. As a home user I can do my house of 6 PC's in 1 hour 10 minutes on the slowest machine. This is using vLit not even the Microsoft Automated Installation Kit. Yes initial Setup might take a bit, but after you master it and get it going, you never have to touch it again, because this method is so generic even if you add files, the script will compensate dynamically, and if you do have to reinstall a few things, whats it take 1 minute to add a line to the script to install from iso's. Face it, Business networks aren't' changing software but what ounce ever 20 years? Okay it just feels that long, but really open your minds IT guys, there are easier none time consuming ways to do this. Shoot I used ounce simple batch files in Windows 7 Beta's/RC using vLite, surely you high ranking School nerds who spent 10 years in school to be a network Administrator can use batches and automated setups, over a Basic installation process, RIGHT?

SkyNET32
SkyNET32

Great luck with StorageCraft's ShadowProtect. It's compression algorithm can restore an image like 160gig's in like 2 minutes. Their recovery environment is pretty user friendly, and they do have a "hardware independent restore" (HIR) option that allows you to take a master image and restore it to a system with slightly (or very) different hardware. It even allows you to insert updated drivers to the image, before restoring. I usually use it whenever we update to new machines, (doing it over our network would take forever) I'll make a master image, then install it manually to every other machine in the lot.. No worries about missing something in the setup. ;) Philip

mike
mike

I run a sbs2008 and also have a laptop with ssd for o/s(win7). Which would be the best utility to create backup images for these?

jmurraym
jmurraym

Late April I had a problem with my system that required a system restore. I had four system image backups dating back to December 2010. I tried restoring from the most recent and kept getting errors. The only one that worked was the December 2010 image. I no longer rely on the Microsoft product, I am now using Acronis True image. I had good experiences with NtBackup with Windows XP where I had successfully used system restore at least twice so I thought I was on safe ground with the Windows 7 product. Of course NtBackup was not a Microsoft product, poor fool me.

sgcanova
sgcanova

I had to back up C drive today because of noisy operation. I was wondering if this method also backups the D partition which includes the system disk for restoring the OS.

Muttz
Muttz

When I got my new laptop, I removed the crapware, did all of the updates, activated windows, installed SP1 and installed my usual programs. Now I have a better set of restore disks than the manufacturer provided. In an emergency, I can get myself up and running in almost no time. As the OS ages, it becomes very painful to go through all those updates. You will be glad you did this.

stansil
stansil

Thanks for the article. It gives me some confidence and peace! I use the Win 7 facility to image my system to an external hard disk. At the end of the procedure you're promoted to make a bootable CD. I don't do that very often under the assumption that this CD mostly contains just the OS. Is my assumption good, or should I make a new CD with every backup?

dwood
dwood

I have used the image backup utility by Paragon several times, both to restore after some kind of glitch or to move from a standard hard drive to a new SSD hard drive. I only image my OS, programs and settings. My data is on a separate partition that gets backed up every couple of hours.

ramnarayanr
ramnarayanr

your article was informative, thanx. i have a windows 7 (64 Bit) computer. what have never understood in these situations is this: when you use a sytem image recovery process, doe the image contain the latest updates like the service packs and othe office updates, if not, how do i make an image whith these included in it, so that i can save money and time in dowloading these updates after the recovery process? of course, you might have surmised from my comment that i am not a computer expert! you are right.

nattusharan
nattusharan

Hi... I am intending to upgrade my hardware. So can i use this tool to image and replant it in the new hardware? will it work? Can anybody please answer me. thanks in advance - Regards.

alan
alan

I had been using the Win 7 disc imaging system for a few months quite successfully then for some reason it all started taking far too long to complete, some 12 to 18 hours!! (for only 85 GB) Despite researching for a long time I could find no satisfactory answer to this other than Microsoft saying that there is a problem with this system. I now use Macrium Free which takes 40 minutes...

Amalgam
Amalgam

Interesting, although I have never used the W7 Recovery. I use Easeus Disk copy or Easeus Todo and copy to my old IDE's in an enclosure. Simple to use and also free.

pappanoodles
pappanoodles

A friend of some 75 years of age took my advice and made a system image of his HP all in one MS215. 2 months later HD crash. So we replaced HD and restored the system - all ran perfectly. Last week another hard disk crash and I was called to perform the 'magic' again! Except this time I found his External back up disk had been used by the lady of the house for photos etc. He had a set of HP cds which failed to format the drive correctly and after 2 hours of restoring sent him back to square one!. Luckily there is a program "sp44645.exe" (Cyberlink Recovery Disk Utility) which prepares a new or wiped hard drive for the HP disks. It was rather tedious to feed the HP cds one by one but after they had all gone in the restore took another couple of hours! Basically the PC is returned to factory condition with a factory back up image in the D: drive. Then the long haul to re-install all his own software and files and uninstall all the unwanted HP bloat! At the weekend we go to buy a new external 1TB drive onto which we will image his system and use for incremental backup. Then the next time he has a problem..........................

nbdov68
nbdov68

I am using another way to recover my Windows 7 Ultimate instead of using System Image Recovery method. I use Macrium Reflect backup and restore with a USB hard drive which I had partitioned before using it. I had back up 'C' and 'D' drive separately everytime once I'd install a new program and ran it for a week to make sure there's no problem or issues. Of course, I also use the Windows Restore Point before install any new software. Anyways, I found this maybe the best for me because it does not take too much time to use Macrium Reflect to back up and it is better then the others that I had use before; like 'Ghost'. Oh, best of all, Macrium Reflect is FREE.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you run through the System Image Recovery procedure before; what was your experience?

tmenzil
tmenzil

@kliss why not get another hard drive and swap out the hard drive in your machine, restore it using the system image disc created.  This way you are actually testing the purpose and intent of restoring the "C" drive and will know if the process works as designed/intended.

Customizing the restore process to an external drive does not serve the purpose of actually testing the full purpose of image disc's and their usage.

toms
toms

@Ez_Customs  Hey... I hope no one tried to follow your bizarre message here.   Please. Don't go around trying to help people with software problems.  Not your cup of tea

microface
microface

I am interested in learning what you are talking about. How is tool that is used to customize the Vista installation process used in this way ? Are you using vLite to execute special commands?

bobp
bobp

If you made a clone of the whole drive that would include both partitions: C and D. If you backed up only partition C, then no. Some backup programs make a clone of the entire disk, some don't. Some, like EaseUs ToDo Backup, let you choose whether to backup one partition of the entire drive. What did you do?

dennis
dennis

You only have to make the boot CD once. It's a good idea to try it to be sure it works. You only need to make another one if the first one gets lost or damaged. You are correct. It's just a live CD with the OS to get you started with repair, restore, recovery, etc..

BirdLover
BirdLover

I'm amazed by the clever terminology here. My Dell PC came with two partitions - the OS/Win7, and a "recovery" partition. It is still unclear to me how to use the recovery partition. Does the system image include this recovery partition? And even more importantly, does this include a way to return the PC to a factory-delivered configuration? Since there were no cds/dvds or any other media with the PC it seems vendors are leaving us to our own failures. And terminology is scarce that really addresses this issue.

Bill_M.
Bill_M.

The system image can only contain everything that happened up to the time it was created. It doesn't include things that have happened after that. That's why you have to make system images on a periodic basic to keep abreast to newer changes. If you put a daily, weekly or monthly schedule on Windows 7, you don't need to worry too much about it. The choice is up to you.

Bill_M.
Bill_M.

You will most likely experience a lot of BSOD as the image contains device drivers for the old hardware. You'll have a hard time forcing it to work on a new configuration PC unless the difference is just the RAM, hard drive, optical drive, mouse, keyboard and the RAM. Those don't require special drivers.

GreatZen
GreatZen

Certainly my experience at home is atypically fast because I backup from a WD Raptor to an internal 4-disk RAID5 array, but I am backing up 130GB in 35 minutes. I have to think that the extremely slow backup times are primarily derived from your particular environment and aren't inherent in the program. Maybe it requires a substantially larger swap space for optimum performance or something of that nature.

DOSlover
DOSlover

I was surprised when the comment came that the recovery might take a few hours. I am still sticking to XP and have my drives partitioned with working files on the second partition and the system and program files on the C: drive. A reimage of the C; drive takes under ten minutes using DriveImage 2002 running from a bootable CD/DVD with the image also burnt to to the optical media. I think the built in offering in Win7 needs some work but at least it is available!

Bill_M.
Bill_M.

12 to 18 hours to image 85GB? That's really wierd. There really must be something wrong with your installation. My 50GB installation only takes about 30 mins with Win 7 System Image backup and it was imaged to another partition on the same hard drive. You should consider doing a clean install to fix whatever is causing it to be that slow. Oh, BTW, I have also used EaseUs ToDo Backup free edition. It offers different levels of compression to save save at the expense of speed. Perhaps I should try Macrium and compare the results.

salim
salim

This is a little surprising, as Win 7 System Image takes less than a couple of hours for 135 GB, so there may be an issue if it is so slow... I still didn't need to restore my system yet, but I do an image every couple of months... but I use Macrium on my XP home PC...

dennis
dennis

I have used Easeus Todo and Windows System Recovery, even on a Server 2008 with great success. I have used other disk imaging solutions as well, but these 2 are low or no cost and very reliable and fast. If your Win7 system has the documents folders moved to a separate drive or partition, then the Exclude Disks option Greg mentioned will preserve the drive and the current data on it. Otherwise, you can update the data from your most recent backup.

dkforbus
dkforbus

I went to their site and it is not free. Am I missing something?

adams
adams

Most OEM's now either require you to make a set of recovery disks from a prompt or just include the recovery partition you are seeing. Generally, pressing the F11 key during boot will access the recovery system and let you restore to a factory state (including all of the bloatware). Of course if the drive has a real failure you may be out of luck if you didn't create your own external backup. It's always a good idea to get the system the way you want it - remove all of the factory "extras", install your desired software, etc. - and make your own backup to that state. Just update it every so often, depending on your use to determine frequency, and you can always get back up and running with minimum downtime in the case of a drive failure.

nattusharan
nattusharan

Hii Bill, Thanks first for the response. I am a expert 'user', not a tech. expert. So in simple words I assume it will work with some difficulty... right?

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...for ping. I notice that my new Satellite seems to have a custom Toshiba recovery program that allows one to restore to a partition that is smaller than the whole disk, as long as it is large enough to contain the data. I could only wish that they would make the next step, and furnish an HD with the OS, etc., on one partition large enough to contain them, and another for data.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...for ping. I notice that my new Satellite seems to have a custom Toshiba recovery program that allows one to restore to a partition that is smaller than the whole disk, as long as it is large enough to contain the data. I could only wish that they would make the next step, and furnish an HD with the OS, etc., on one partition large enough to contain them, and another for data.

BirdLover
BirdLover

As for "most systems" helping you make recovery disks - mine two purchases did not. We got Samsung for my wife, and at least they have a supported way of making a 5 DVD set complete backup of the HD. Not sure how this affects the Windows version which is also available. What I have found and works is a Linux CDROM that is short sweet, and supports all OS. I'm amazed at PING and it seems it could do everything talked about that people are paying for here. I have used it for one project and test it for that only. I wonder why people continue to use proprietary mechanisms. Here is a link: http://ping.windowsdream.com/

Bill_M.
Bill_M.

There's a bigger change that it won't work but you can try if you have the time and the resources.