How-To Geek

How To Restore Windows 7 from a System Image

If a major disaster occurs and you find you’re no longer able to boot into Windows 7, you may need to do a recovery. Today we take a look at restoring your Windows 7 machine using a System Repair Disc and a backed up system image.

Note: This article assumes you have already created a System Repair Disc and have created a system image in Windows 7.

If you can’t boot into Windows because of a hard drive failure or corrupt OS, you might want to restore your system using the most recent image versus a clean install. In this scenario we are assuming that we’ve exhausted every other option, and the only way to save our system is to restore it from an image.

Boot from System Repair Disc

First we need to boot from the System Repair Disc. Pop it in your CD drive and if the BIOS is already set to boot from CD-ROM first, then you will see the following screen. If you don’t see the Press any key to boot from CD or DVD message, then you’ll need to hit the correct key when booting to pull up the boot options screen and choose your CD / DVD Drive. Usually it’s F12 but each system varies, for instance on my IBM Thinkpad it’s a separate Access IBM button.


While the System Repair Disc starts up you will see the message Windows is loading files…


After that the System Recovery Options screen comes up. Here you want to choose the correct keyboard input and click Next.


System Recovery searches for the Windows installation(s) you have on the hard drive.


Assuming we’ve already tried all of the other recovery tools, we want to select Restore your computer using a system image you created earlier and click Next.


At this screen you can see that it found the last system image which is saved on an external hard drive. If you want to use an older system image, click Select a system image then browse through older images until you find the correct one. Because we want everything to be as close to how it was before it crashed, we select Use the latest available system image (recommended) then click Next.


In the next screen just click on Next…there are no other partitions in this instance so we don’t need to worry about excluding disks.


Finally you’re given an quick overview of the selected image and if everything looks right, click Finish.


Click Yes to the warning message that comes up making sure you want to restore the computer with the selected image.


The restore process will begin. It might take a few hours to restore everything depending on the size of the image and how much data there is. Provided there are no errors and the process completes successfully, your system will restart and the system should be restored.



There are a few things to keep in mind when you restore using a system image. An image is an exact copy the hard drive when it was created, so if your last backup was 3 months ago…that will be the drive you’re getting back. All of your programs, system settings, and files are replaced to how they were on the latest system image. It doesn’t allow you to choose individual items to restore, it’s an all or nothing process. This is why it’s a good idea to have your important documents and files saved to a separate drive or network location. The system image will restore your programs, settings, and files as they were when the image was created, but everything else from that point on will be gone. Depending on the date of the system image, allow enough time to run Windows Update, update drivers, patch other software, and tweak everything as necessary. The option to create a system image is available in all versions of Windows 7, and is a great insurance policy to have in case disaster strikes.

Make sure to read our other related articles:

How To Create a System Repair Disc in Windows 7

How To Create a System Image in Windows 7 and Vista

How To Use Backup and Restore in Windows 7

Brian Burgess worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. He's been a tech blogger and journalist for the past seven years, and can be found on his about me page or Google+

  • Published 12/17/09

Comments (31)

  1. calebstein

    Thanks for the great article. Too bad I hadn’t created a system image sooner, because Firefox and Orca browsers both stopped working (I find it funny that both are Gecko based…).

  2. Kent

    Great article, concise, as usual, but I can’t help being paranoid and thinking “If I have a partition C, with my Win7 on it, and a partition D, with all my data, the way I read the article above, Windows is going to destroy my partition D when saving partition C.”

    I hope that isn’t true, but it would be nice to read “partition” if that is what it means and not “disk”.

  3. Seb

    Dowes the restore work with a networked disk as well? I do my backup to my NAS.

  4. SubgeniusD


    Scheduling weekly backups (including default system image backup setting) then reformat – repartition to match layout of most recent image should save practically all valuable data.

    Be that as it may – I also keep Win 7 on a small C partition then My Documents, videos etc on another and copies of all User Apps on another with backups on a separate hard drive. So in the event of a complete OS failure I’ll just reinstall from installation disc to the C partition, then install cumulative updates, then reinstall all User Apps.

    The only reason I do backups at all is insurance for possible hard drive failure. In which case this how-to could prove invaluable so thanks to the author.

  5. truckirwin

    Thanks for the great article. One step further… I need to restore an image to a new HDD. I tried already, but the system restore app says, restore can’t continue because it can find the disk with a windows installation on it. As though it is looking for the existing c:\ to re-image. Frustrating, and I haven’t seen a reference to how to make it restore to a new HDD.

    Any help appreciated.

  6. Graham

    Used this site previously but found this article usless to be kind.
    Created an image disk in Windows, but like the article says, anything windows has a habit of being good on speel, but useless when you come to use it. Nice to have chikky bird microsoft “engineers” telling us what it can do, but better to get the bloody system working first!!!.
    Made an imaage with Macrium, but that did not work either.
    On image restore, it askls for set up information of system hardware, but what file is it and where does it live please??
    Tried to run Windows image repair, but it came up with an error and would not work.

    So I am stumped, and if anyone can give me a few ideas that would be good.


  7. fuck windows

    blow me microsoft be sure next time the whole shit works if you cant even browse for the image and cant locate the damn files then screw u

  8. fuck windows

    i got images on my western digital my whole network i imaged on one disk but ofcourse i cant find the files with that crap backup program wtg thanks again microsoft and thank you 2 that the usb hardrives work flawless when they lose power and u feckers make raw files from em
    blow me i hope you get cancer bill and die

  9. fuck windows

    thinking about buying a mac next time

  10. k

    read these articles or the documentations! It cracks me when people say I am going to buy a mac because Windows sucks… that easily tells me that you are an amateur user that cannot read! no offense!

  11. Nitesh Shrestha

    This is the good idea but I got some problem about Restore Windows 7 from a System Image. I have restored but some my important data is forgetten to copy in hard drive. Is this possible if my important data will restore again? If possible, plz do not forget to give instructions & Process. Hoping you all…..

  12. Will

    Gonna use this to upgrade my HDD

  13. Dr. Beverly Kurtin

    I get a chuckle from those folks who are going to buy a Mac bbecause they lack the intelligence necessary to READ manual, otherwise known as RTFM – read the fine manual. Of course, manuals no longer come with most programs because people didn’t read them. Want to buy a Mac, go ahead; Microsoft earns about a third off their profits from Mac buyers. You get a chance to pay MORE for less, restricted numbers of programs available, and outside of that, I can’t begin to think of a reason to purchase something that costs more and does less.

    The rumor that Microsoft “stole” the Windows/Mouse combo from Mac is just plain ignorance on parade. Bill and Paul bought Seattle Computing’s DOS, hired the guy who developed it and, to the best of my knowledge, he’s still with Microsoft and is one of Microsoft’s millionaires. The TWO BIG MISTAKES that make Microsoft the incredible behemoth it became.

    First, Xerox’s PARC developed what became Windows; they also developed the mouse. THEN SOMEONE FORGOT TO PATENT IT!

    Microsoft was hired to develop IBM-DOS. BUT NOT EVEN THE MIGHTY IBM BOTHERED TO CLAIM A COPYRIGHT which left Microsoft wide open to change a few things and publish MS-DOS.

    Meanwhile, IBM didn’t make their computer designs propitiatory, so the prices of clones crashed to the point that this is being written on a $350 laptop that used to cost quite a bit more. The first computer that I actually owned was a Radio Shack Model 100 laptop. When I bought an extra 8 k of memory, someone asked e what I was going to do with ALL THAT MEMORY?

    So by all means buy a Mac, Microsoft will love you for it. And stop for a moment and think…MICROSOFT DOES NOT MAKE A COMPUTER, THEY MAKE SOFTWARE AND SOME
    PERI PHIALS. When you buy a Mac you are overspending and getting less for your money to boot!

    The great thing as far as Microsoft is concerned is that they will make money from your purchase.

    As for the folks who had to use foul language to express themselves, why bother using a computer in the first place? Just grab a crayon and some paper, lay on the floor and express yourselves to the Max.

    When I want to question a person’s parentage I suggest that they were born from unmarried parents or wonder “aloud” whether the individual’s mother still has to wear flea collars. C’mon, get creative; if you use computers you can certainly find other words than crude, unwelcome four-letter words.

    Doc Bev

  14. Zach Mannel

    What happens if it is a new hard drive, and your system image is stored on a WD external hard drive, and you need to load drivers before you can install the image? How would you load the drivers? I’ve tried a few of the obvious sounding ones, but they will not load. Lastly, is it even possible to restore from an external drive using the system repair disc?

  15. Jui©ebox.

    Zach to answer one of your questions, each drive manufacturer has a program you can download for adding a new drive. Just download it from their site if it did not come with the drive. Its not the diagnostics but it will say for adding a new drive. There should be a version to burn to cd so that the drive can be initialized without being in windows (change boot order in bios to boot from cd drive) after burning this program to cd. Sometimes in windows you also need to right click my computer, then select manage, then disk management and you will see the new drive but it wont show in “my computer”. You have to highlight the new drive and make the drive active which assigns a drive letter. NEXT I too still have not found out how to restore using an image backup to a new drive. Microsoft really gets me angry. It will not let me select a different hard drive to install the image to.

  16. Jack

    This procedure works but not if you want to restore to a previous system image.

    Try it – In the step “Select a System Image Backup” if you pick the Select a “System Image” rather than use the recommended latest one, I get an error message stating that the system image is on a hard disk but Windows need to format that disk to restore your computer.

  17. Foggy

    Same as Zach – I’m trying to resore from external USB -a WD mybook. A prompt to install drivers appears, but it rejects the drivers. Besides, the drive shows up in my computer and I can browse it while booted on the repair disk, so why sould a driver be neded?
    Curiously, in the tutorial above he is restoring from the same drive I’m having trouble with. I’m going to try restoring from another internal HDD next. Hmm

  18. Chris

    Excellent instructions and I know they do work because Ive had it work, once. Now everytime I try to restore an image I end up with error 0x800704cf. I can get as far as ‘restore an Image you Created Earlier’ but it doesnt find any. The Use The Latest Avail…selection is greyed out for me. I can map to the location manually but when i try to login to the network (admin for sure), it comes back with that error. Ive been through all the sites siggesting network settings, firewalls, 6to4 adaptors and all the like but nothing works:( Im stumped.

  19. Jessie

    if i have a computer that has crashed. Can I make a recovery disk from another computer that is running on the same windows and use it to recover the one that crashed? The computer start up and get pass the windows logo and then my screen goes black with a white cursor on the screen. Will this recovery disk work? Please give me some info on this

  20. John

    i’m running windows 7 Ultimate x64 on a MacbookPro.
    after my windwos installation i made a System restore disk, burned it to 2 disks. No errors to see.
    my problem is now that windows won’t recognise the disk’s. so now i can’t restore my windows as you just explained above.
    I can see the files on my disk’s (WindowsImageBackup), but windows just won’t read em. i have tried to copy it to my external harddisk, but that didn’t help either.
    Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Best regards

  21. autnagrag

    This is all very nice for the experienced Windows users. I will not trust backing up to Windows 7 Ultimate 32bit image until I have an actually restored system that works. As usual, the messages given by the restore CD are terrifying. I especially like “All disks to be restored will be formatted & replaced with, etc.” I have lots of disks in different formats, at least two of which are internal in this notebook computer. I want Windows to restore the system to a different hard drive just now formatted (not quick format) to MBR/NTFS by Windows 7. I asked the Restore “Wizard” to exclude every other drive except the source (where the restore image resides) and the Target.
    Blam! “The System Image restore failed because a disk which was critical at backup is excluded.” Remedies suggested are detach it, clean it with DiskPart, or change the disk signature. It’s hard to detach, I won’t trust Windows not to ruin it if it has access to it, whether the signature has been changed or not. It looks like I’ll have to take the computer apart just to test the backup procedure. I sort of like Windows 7, but this is a bit much to go through. I’m getting the idea already how much confidence I should place in my restore images. Does anyone know a way around this other than taking the notebook computer apart to deny Windows access to the disk that was the source of the backup system image that now resides on an external drive?

  22. Alan


    I went through the exact same problem. I have three drives labeled C, F and G in my PC. My C drive (Win7) is dying, so I created a image of it on G.

    Then I disconnected the C drive and replaced it with a new drive (same size). When I get to the restore image page from the boot CD, it tells me that it wants to restore the image on the new disk as well as my F drive. Of course, I excluded the F drive immediately. After that, Win7 would give me the error “the System Image restore failed because a disk which was critical at backup is excluded”.

    I have only backed up my C drive, why does it want to restore my F drive?

    So I went ahead and disconnected my F drive and re-created the C drive image. This time, backup and restore works without error.

    Backup and Restore in Win7 doesn’t seem to work very well when multiple drives are present.

  23. A.H.

    @Dr. Beverly Kurtin – Dear sir, I read (most of) your post and agreed with virtually all your points. However I just want to share with you some points from my side :
    a) There is no way that I can picture Microsoft as a fair, credible and straight-forward kind of corporation, for some simple reasons : 1) bloating their OS needlessly (or may be to profit Intel and HD manufacturers – a not completely excludable theory), 2) differences between OS releases are hardly worth the upgrades, however you are literally PUSHED – eg. who complained from XP-SP3? and what’s in 7 that offers improved or upgraded functionality over XP ? those worthless Glassy looking frames and buttons ? ask anyone (myself included) whose job entails handles large amounts of large size files and he will answer that XP was WAY faster in copying and moving (proven by benchmarks BTW), etc.
    We all have our suspicions that, starting from the ’90s corporates have raised the “profitability” issue to the very top of their priority list, and at ANY expense, you name it : quality, end-user support, even their own staff (throwing thousands of workers to the streets and out-sourcing their work to off-shore countries such as India). The overall picture of corporates in America is EXTREMELY GRIM and foreboding. The “know-how” is no longer in the US, the “workmanship” is no longer in the US, the “skills” are slowly being migrated to Asia. Look at a workshop in the US and count the tools that are made in China – the complete reverse of the image in the ’80s and ’70s.
    and finally : b) Don’t be like a guy who walks into a strip club and complains that the language used is very foul and the smell of cigarette smoke is choking ! The web is the new strip joint place – kids are all over it, and old-timer (like me) ethics is a word to be laughed at now. Sigh !

  24. IVAN

    My windows 7 desktop crashed and I do not have a Recovery disk to back get in. How can I access my OS?

  25. Patrick

    Hi, I tried a lazy backup and I think it bit me int backside.

    My new computer was failing so before I exchanged it I created a system image rather than backing up the files. When I got the new computer I simply restored the image on the new computer. Now a bunch of files have ended up in the wrong place (some that look like they belong in Program Files are in My Documents).

    Is there a way to fix it, or is it just easier to put up with a slightly weird file system?

  26. Akindele

    It IBM with window xp, dark edition. It just crashed and don’t knw whether 2 u repair disc, i.e ur system image 2 get rid of it or do u have any precription 4 me over d problem….!

  27. Charlie Matthews

    I am trying to do the above, however my device will not see the external hard drive which contains the image file that I wish to restore my system from. Any ideas?

  28. lalo

    windows – mac who cares who is the better… I use Ubuntu as my main machine, at least I do not spend money on expensive software…. windows only for work related stuff.

  29. Jonny

    Hi. I’ve been researching backup options (fastest, most idiot proof way to backup system state to an image on an external, that can be recovered from even after formatting and reinstalling w7 with 64bit architecture… just in case it all goes wrong)…

    Is this the solution for me? Or something more acronis-y?


  30. Lewis

    Hi, I’m trying to recovery from my Dell notebook via a USB 3.0 external drive. I plugged into the USB 3.0 port after reboot, the recovery pop up saying Windows cannot find a system image on this computer. If I plugged into a USB 2.0, it will work. Does anyone know if there is problem with recovery via USB 3 ports? I have more than 2 systems, unable to do recovery from USB 3.0 port. Not sure why…

  31. Chaugdec

    Will this work on Macs running bootcamp? What key do I press to access the CD/DVD?

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