Five tips for using System Restore effectively

If a crash hoses your Windows system, System Restore can help you get things working again. Here are a few tips and precautions that will help you put this tool to work.

Windows 7 System Restore is a powerful tool that enables you to turn back the clock on Windows. This is quite handy when something goes awry. After a bad crash, or after a program or user has caused a serious issue with the operating system, System Restore can take that computer back to a time when it was working properly. System Restore is fairly simple to use, but it is powerful and should be used wisely. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you make best use of this tool.

1: Work with antivirus

System Restore works in conjunction with the installed antivirus by inducing a scan during the restoration. If, during the restoration, a file is determined to be infected, the antivirus will quarantine it as usual. This is effective -- unless the antivirus can't detect and quarantine the infection. If there is an infected restore point that must be used, temporarily disable the installed antivirus program, disconnect the computer from the network (to prevent further infection), and run the restore. Once the restore has completed, you can try to remove the infection. If all restore points are infected, I would recommend deleting them all and re-creating a new point once the infection has been removed and the computer is running as desired.

2: Don't rely on it for antivirus

In the same vein, the Windows System Restore tool should never be thought of as an antivirus tool. I have come across this a number of times, where a user (and even an administrator or two) assumed that restoring to a previous state would remove whatever virus is on the computer. The flaw in that logic is that System Restore does not modify user data, so any infected files won't be changed. Because of this, System Restore can't be used to turn back the clock to a previous point that was not infected.

3: Keep multiple GOOD restore points

System Restore allows for the retention of multiple restore points. Although Windows 7 will create automatic restore points (or when Windows is updated), I always recommend regularly creating your own so you know you have a working restore point that represents a particular moment when the machine was working properly. Say, for example, you are about to manually install a new service pack or an application that will make numerous changes to the Windows registry or to other critical settings. Make sure you create a new restore point prior to the upgrade or installation. To manually create a restore point click Start, right-click Computer, click on Properties, click on System Protection, and click the Create button. When prompted, give the restore point a name that makes it clear what restoring to this saved point will do (for example, Pre-Service Pack 1).

4: Always scan for affected programs and drivers

When doing the actual restore, make sure you have System Restore tool scan for affected programs. When doing this, you will get an immediate overview of what's going to be affected by the restore. This could be the final saving grace, should you catch a program or driver to be affected that you do not want to change. If this happens, attempt to restore a different save point or don't restore at all. This will also show any programs and/or drivers that have been added or deleted since the last restore and that are to be either added back or deleted from the current system. If you don't scan for affected programs and drivers, you jump into the restore blind -- which I do not recommend.

5: Use caution when dual-booting with XP

If you have a machine that dual-boots Windows 7 and Windows XP, every time you boot XP all but your most recent Windows 7 restore points will be lost. This means that your most recent Windows 7 restore point needs to be a valid point for restoration. Imagine this scenario: You install an application that wreaks havoc on your Windows 7 registry and in the process, a new restore point is created. You dual-boot into Windows XP and then back to Windows 7, only to find Windows 7 is hosed. Can you fix it with System Restore? No. All but that most recent restore point are now gone, so you could be in a bit of a bind.

To prevent that from happening, download this registry setting change, right-click the file, click Merge, and okay the installation. Once the settings in this file have been successfully merged with your Windows registry, those restore points won't be deleted when you boot Windows XP.

The System Restore tool is incredibly valuable. Not only will it restore a machine to a working state, it will save precious time in the process. Having to troubleshoot issues vs. restoring to a working state is often a no-brainer. But jumping into the restore process blindly could cost you time and dollars. These tips will help you approach the task ready to make the Windows 7 restore as effective as possible.