System Restore is a Windows feature that can help fix some crashes and other computer problems. To know when to use it, you’ll have to understand just how System Restore works.
System Restore can’t solve every problem – for example, you can’t use it to restore your personal files if they’re accidentally deleted or modified. However, it’s another tool you can use when your computer isn’t working properly.
Windows automatically creates restore points once per week. System restore points are also created before major system events such as installing a program or device driver, installing a system update, or uninstalling some software. Windows also creates a restore point just before you restore from a restore point – this allows you to undo the restore operation.
Restore points contain a snapshot of Windows system files, program files, and registry settings. System Restore won’t restore your personal files, whether they’re documents, images, music, or anything else. Don’t count on System Restore to restore your personal files in case of emergency – it will only restore system files.
How System Restore Can Help
When you restore from a restore point, System Restore restores the system files, program files, and registry settings from the restore point to your computer. This effectively resets your system settings, installed programs, and system files to a previous state.
This is useful when an unexpected problem occurs. For example, if you install a device driver that makes your computer unstable, you’ll want to uninstall that driver. However, in some cases, the driver may not uninstall properly, or it may damage system files when you uninstall it. If you use System Restore and select a restore point that was created before you installed the driver, this can restore your system files to the previous state before any problem occurred.
For help using System Restore, check out our full walkthrough: Using System Restore to Recover your Windows 7 Computer
A number of potential problems can occur with System Restore:
- System Restore Can’t Replace Files – System Restore operates on critical system files, and they can’t always be replaced while the system is running – for example, an antivirus program may be interfering. If System Restore doesn’t work, you should try running it in Safe Mode – restart your computer, press F8 during the startup process, and select Safe Mode. Note that youcan’t undo the restore process if you use System Restore in Safe Mode.
- Restore Points Contain Damaged Files — When you use System Restore, you should try to select a System Restore point that was created before the problem started occurring. Restore points created after the problem started will contain the corrupted files and won’t fix your problem. However, you can try another restore point if one doesn’t fix your problem
- No Restore Points Help – If no restore point fixes your problem, you’ll need to find another solution. You can try booting from a Windows 7 disc and using the system repair options, restoring from a full backup, or doing a complete reinstall of Windows (or recovery from your computer’s repair partition) if nothing else helps.
Tweaking System Restore
While System Restore normally operates automatically in the background, you can create your own restore points whenever you like. You can also make System Restore use less drive space or delete old restore points to free up space.
System Restore isn’t a cure-all, but it can fix some problems. While you can disable it entirely, we don’t recommend this. If hard disk space is a concern for you, System Restore can be configured to use very little space on your drives.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 10/4/12