Windows 11 logo on a dark blue shadow background

If your main OS drive fails in Windows, it can take you a while to get back up to speed even if you have conventional backups. You’ll need to reinstall every app and configure each one to your liking. To avoid that, consider making system image backups. Here’s how to do it.

What Is a System Image Backup?

In Windows, a system image backup is an exact copy of your entire C: drive that contains your active installation of Windows, all of the apps you installed, and all the configuration and data files for those apps. They are preserved frozen in place as if encased perfectly in ice.

After a system drive failure, you can restore this system image to a new drive and get back up and running as if nothing ever changed—no re-installation of Windows or apps necessary. Of course, you capture lots of extra data you might not always need in a regular backup, so a system image is ideal mostly for wanting to preserve the exact state of a Windows system.

How to Make a System Image Backup on Windows 11

To make a system image backup on Windows 11, you’ll need to use a legacy tool called “Backup and Restore (Windows 7),” which has shipped with every version of Windows since Windows 7. To launch it, first open Control Panel by opening the Start menu and typing “Control Panel.” Then click the “Control Panel” icon in the resulting list below.

(You can use this same tool to create system image backups on Windows 10 PCs, too.)

When Control Panel opens, look in the “System and Security” section and click the link for “Backup and Restore (Windows 7).”

In the Backup and Restore section, click “Create a System Image” in the sidebar.

Next, Windows will ask you where you want to save the backup. You can choose a hard disk or external drive (other than the one you’re backing up), a DVD, or a network location. Make a selection and click “Next.”

Next you’ll see an overview of what will be backed up. Click “Start Backup.”

The backup tool will show you a progress bar as it creates the system image backup.

A Windows system image being created.

When the backup is complete, close the System Image tool. If you inspect the destination location, you’ll see a “WindowsImageBackup” folder that contains the backup files. Do not move or modify this folder.

Later, when you want to restore the backup, run Backup and Restore (Windows 7) again, look in the “Restore” section, and select the location that contains the system image you’ve created. Windows will restore the backup, restart your PC, and then you’re ready to go. Stay safe out there!

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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