Oh no! Your computer just crashed after you downloaded and installed the latest video card driver for your system. Don’t sweat it. Windows XP is bundled with a cool feature called System Restore. It allows system administrators to restore XP computers to a previous state without losing the following files: Email, Favorites, My Documents, and Cookies. It does this by monitoring changes in your files and folders and taking a snapshot of your system at regular intervals. Once 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 in time when the operating system was working. In this post, we will discuss how to configure your System Restore options and how to restore to a previous point in time.

System Restore 101

This new feature in Windows XP runs in the background as a service. It constantly logs changes to your system in C:\WINDOWS\System32\Restore (Figure A). In addition to this constant logging, System Restore takes regular snapshots of your system state, which includes the following: User Accounts and System Settings.

Figure A

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

By default, System Restore will create a restore point every 24 hours. If this is a machine that 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 boot-up as long as one has not been created in the last 24 hours.

You can adjust this time frame in the registry. Simply open Regedit from a command prompt and browse to Hkey Local Machine\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\SystemRestore (Figure B.). Once you are there, change the RPGlobalInterval from its default setting of 86,400 seconds to the appropriate amount (86,400 seconds is 24 hours). In addition, Restore points are deleted every 90 days. To change this value, adjust the RPLifeInterval from 7,776,000 to an appropriate value (7,776,000 is 90 days).

Figure B

You can also specify a protected location in the registry that the System Restore will normally overwrite.

1. Open the 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 of the location that System Restore won’t restore to a previous point.

4. Double-click the new value and enter the appropriate path that you want protected from System Restore (Figure C).

Figure C

Configuring System Restore

Before using the System Restore functionality, you should become familiar with how you can configure your options for optimal performance. You can access the System Restore options by opening Control Panel | Performance and Maintenance | System | System Restore tab (Figure D).

Figure D

Note: If you are using the classic view, open Control Panel | System.

In Figure D, you can turn off the System Restore feature completely or specify the amount of disk space for System Restore to use. The System Restore feature uses a maximum of 12 percent of your disk space by default. This can take up quite a bit of your hard drive space, so plan accordingly before changing this setting.

Manual restore points

At any time if you feel it is necessary, you can create a manual restore point. You must have administrative access to perform this function. This can be done by performing the following:

1. Open Help and Support from the Start menu.

2. Select Undo Changes to Your Computer with System Restore (Figure E) and the Welcome to the System Restore window will appear (Figure F).

3. Choose the Create a Restore Point radio button and click Next (Figure G).

4. Enter a Restore Point Description and click Create (Figure H). The restore point is created (Figure I).

5. Click Home.

Figure E
Figure F
Figure G
Figure H
Figure I

Restoring your computer

In the event of a crash or any other incident that leaves your computer in a state of non-bliss, you can quickly restore your computer by performing the following:

  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 J). Click Next.
  4. Review your Selected Restore Point (Figure K) and click Next. This will shut down your computer and restore your computer to an earlier point in time.
Figure J
Figure K

Note: You can undo your latest restore by following the same procedure and selecting Undo My Last Restoration (Figure L).

Figure L

In this article we have discussed the various ways you can easily recover your system in the event of a crash. We also provided you with some basic configuration knowledge to quickly and easily configure System Restore to work optimally on your system. The System Restore feature is a powerful tool that will help you run Windows XP without a glitch.