How do I create and use a Windows 7 System Image to recover from a crash?

It is a fact, systems crash eventually. Jack Wallen shows you how to use System Image to recover from catastrophic system crash.

What do you do when a computer crash happens? Hopefully you have been managing a viable, full backup of your data so you can get that machine back up and running as quickly as possible. But what happens when, unbeknownst to you, that data backup is not usable? For whatever reason, it's not there or it's corrupt...what do you do then? Well, hopefully you have an image of your system to fall back on. And you should.

Creating a system image in Microsoft Windows 7 is a very simple task. With Windows 7 you have all the power and tools you need to create a perfectly good system image of your machine. But I wouldn't do this at just any time. Instead you will want to take this image soon after the operating system has been installed and is set up precisely how you want it. And it won't matter what applications you have installed, because you are not limited to burning the image to a CD or DVD. You can also house that image on an external drive. Very handy should that image grow beyond the size of a standard DVD.

So, how is this done? Let's take a look at the process step by step.

It's almost inevitable. In fact, it's almost a mathematical law:

w + (d*V) = lC

Where W = the more you work at your computer, d = data, V = value of data on said computer, and lC = likelihood of crash.

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Step 1

Click on the Start button and enter "backup and restore" (no quotes), which will launch the Control Panel in the Backup and Restore window. In this window, you can do a number of things:

  • Create a system repair disc.
  • Select a backup to restore files from.
  • Recover system settings or your computer.
  • Create a system image.

Obviously it's the last piece that we want. You will find the link for that tool in the left navigation. Click on that, and you are ready for the next step.

Step 2

When you click the Create a System Image link, Windows will start searching for valid locations to place the image file. Once Windows has stopped searching, you will have three options:

  • On a hard disk
  • On one or more DVDs
  • On a network location
Let's take a look at the process of doing this on a hard disk. Once the discovery process is over, the tool will show all possible destinations in a drop box. Select the location you want (Figure A) and click Next.

Figure A

If you decide to do this on a network location, make sure your network connection is fast and reliable.

Step 3

The final step is to review what is being backed up as well as the size of your backup. You don't have to worry that Windows will try to save a too-large image on a drive. If there is not enough room, the process will not proceed. When you are OK with the settings, click the Start Backup button (Figure B).

Figure B

Your backup size will be reported to you. The older your system, the larger the image file (in most cases).

Depending on the size of the system image you are creating, this process can take quite some time. In fact, this is a process I would leave as an overnight job (just make sure it does not interfere with any backup jobs you have scheduled).

Step 4

Now, what to do with that image? Let's say your machine does tank. What is the process for restoring from the newly created image file? Simple. But you will have to have created a System Restore disk.

To do this, click on the Start button and enter "system repair" (no quotes) in the Search field, and when the results appear at the top of the window, select Create a System Repair Disc. This will open a single window where you select the drive to use to save this to. You can use only a disk drive in this case. You don't have to worry about whether you are using a CD or DVD as the system repair disc is fairly small in size. Select your drive and then click Create Disc.

Step 5

Hopefully it will not come to this step, but should you have to recover your system all you need to do is pop in the system repair disc, boot from it, and (when prompted) select Restore Your Computer Using a System Image That You Created Earlier. You will have to locate the image you created, and then the process will begin in reverse. Your system will be restored to whatever state it was at when you created the system image.

Final thoughts

Hopefully you will never have to use this How Do I, but on the off chance that you do, you will be very glad you took the time to create that system image when you did. Otherwise you could be very much out of luck. Remember, though, once you have created that image (and the System Restore Disc), you will want to keep those safe from harm's way. I would highly recommend you do not store the image on the same external drive you use for backups. Store the image and then store the drive -- and store that system repair disc as well -- in a safe place.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....