We previously reported that the system image backup feature was removed in Windows 8.1. This isn’t entirely true — while the graphical interface for creating system images was removed, you can still create system images with a PowerShell cmdlet.

This is good news for system administrators, as it allows them to create and restore system image backups without switching to third-party tools like Norton Ghost. System images are different from recovery images created with recimg because they contain a full snapshot of the system’s hard drive, including user files and settings.

Create a System Image Backup

First, you’ll need to connect an external drive to your system, which will serve as the backup drive. You can also back up to a shared folder over the network. However, you can’t save the system image backup to the system drive or any other drives you’re backing up.

Next, open a PowerShell window as administrator. To do so, press Windows Key + X and select Windows PowerShell (Admin) in the menu that appears. You can also search for PowerShell from the Start screen, right-click it, and select Run as Administrator.

In the PowerShell window, run a command like the following one to start a backup:

wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:E: -include:C: -allCritical -quiet

The above command tells the Windows to back up the C: drive onto the E: drive, including all critical volumes containing the system’s state. The -quiet switch tells the cmdlet to run without prompting you.

Of course, you’ll have to replace the values with your own preferred values. Instead of “E:” for the backup target, use whichever drive you want to save the system image to.

If you wanted to back up several drives or partitions in the system image, you’d include them as a comma-separated list:

wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:E: -include:C:,D:,F: -allCritical -quiet

You could also back up to a shared folder over the network:

wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:\\remoteComputer\\Folder -include:C: -allCritical -quiet

For more information on the cmdlet’s syntax, consult the Wbadmin start backup page on Microsoft’s Technet site. You can also run wbAdmin start backup without any switches to view the command’s options.

The command will take some time to run. After it’s done, you’ll find a “WindowsImageBackup” folder containing your backup images on the backup drive you specified.

Restore a System Image Backup

System image backups can’t be restored from within Windows as they’re overwriting the Windows system entirely. To restore a system image backup, you’ll need to boot from Windows 8.1 installation media, recovery drive, or system repair disc.

Insert the installation media or recovery drive and reboot your computer. When the installation process Starts, click the Repair your computer link.

Click the Troubleshoot tile to access the troubleshooting options.

Click the Advanced Options tile to access the options intended for advanced users.

Select the System Image Recovery option to re-image your computer from a system image.

Windows will walk you through restoring a system image backup. Connect the external drive containing the system image backup to your computer if you haven’t already — you’ll be able to restore directly from it to your computer.

Microsoft has clearly hidden this functionality so average users will use Windows 8’s new File History backup tool and Refresh and Reset features.

Luckily, they haven’t removed this feature entirely, so system administrators and geeks can continue to create and restore system image backups on Windows 8.1 — no third-party software required.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »