Windows 7 : Troubleshooting and Repairing Problems - System Restore

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System Restore enables you to restore the computer to a previously saved state, so you can “roll back” your computer to the way it was working before your cat jumped on the keyboard, or before you installed that stupid program or device driver that crashed your system. Here’s how it works.

Performing a system restore does not affect personal files, such as documents, Internet favorites, or email. It simply reverses system-configuration changes and removes installed files to return the system to a stored state. System Restore automatically monitors your system for changes. Periodically, easily identifiable restoration points are created. Plus, you can create your own restoration points manually.

Unlike Windows XP, which requires you to start the system in Safe Mode before you can run System Restore, Windows 7 offers System Restore on its System Recovery Options menu .

Configuring System Restore

Before you can use can use the System Restore option, you need to have configured System Restore and saved at least one restore point. System Restore has two control interfaces. One is the System Protection tab of the System Properties dialog box. Open it by clicking the System Protection task in the Tasks list of the System applet in the Control Panel. (It’s protected by User Account Control.) The other control interface is the System Restore utility itself, accessed through Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore.


Each time you modify and save a document such as in Microsoft Word, the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) saves a copy of the previous version. This is referred to as a shadow copy. You can restore previous versions by right-clicking a document in Windows Explorer, selecting Properties, and clicking the Previous Versions tab. However, you may have to first enable VSS through the Services (services.msc) utility.

System Restore is enabled or disabled for all drives in the computer via the System Protection tab (see Figure 1) of the System Properties dialog box. It is enabled by default for the system drive.

Figure 1. The System Protection tab of the System Properties dialog box in Windows 7.

Click the Configure button to open the System Protection dialog box for the selected hard disk. In the Restore Settings section, the Restore System Settings and Previous Versions of Files option is selected by default if System Protection is currently enabled. You can change the default to Only Restore Previous Versions of Files. This configuration disables System Restore, enabling you to only use the Shadow Copy function of Windows 7 to restore single documents to a previous version. The Turn Off System Protection option deletes all restore points for that disk. You cannot restore the disk until you turn on System Protection again and create at least one restore point for that disk.


Unless you’re very low on hard disk space or have another reason to disable System Protection, leave the Restore System Settings and Previous Versions of Files default option selected.

The System Restore drive configuration in Windows 7 permits you to adjust how much of the hard disk (or partition) can be used for System Restore files. This option is also available in Windows XP but not in Windows Vista. Although the slider bar in the Disk Space Usage section of the System Protection dialog box allows you to use the entire disk capacity, by default System Restore uses up to 5% of a disk’s capacity or a maximum of 10GB on hard disks over 64GB, and uses a maximum of 3% of disk space on drives or partitions less than 64GB in size. We can only speculate that the slider enables allocating so much file space for Volume Shadow Copy storage to permit users to override defaults on drives where there’s lots of file volatility and they wish to keep many previous versions, or where shadow copies themselves are quite large.

You can also delete all restore points for the selected hard disk from within the System Protection dialog box by clicking the Delete button. The number of restore points retained by System Restore depends on the amount of drive space allocated to System Restore, as well as the rate and significance of changes to the system.

Creating Restore Points

Windows 7 creates restore points automatically whenever any one of several specific events occurs:

  • When a program is installed using InstallShield or Windows Installer

  • Automatic updates via Windows Update

  • Any restore operation

  • Every seven days if no other restore points were created within that time period

As Figure 2 shows, these factors can result in a lot of restore points being created in a short amount of time.

Figure 2. Various types of restore points on a typical system.

Keep in mind that not all program installations use InstallShield or Windows Installer. Thus, you should always manually create a restore point before you install applications.

To manually create a restore point, open the System Protection tab in the Systems Properties dialog box and click Create (refer to Figure 25.3). Enter a descriptive name for the restore point and click Create. The date and time are added automatically. A progress bar appears while the restore is being created; click Close when prompted to complete the process.

Creating a restore point at any restore operation enables you to reverse a restoration. Thus, if after a successful restoration you are not pleased with the outcome, you can reverse the restoration. The system automatically removes any failed or incomplete restoration operations.

System Restore does not replace the uninstallation process for removing an application. System Restore monitors and protects only against changes to the OS; it does not track the addition of new files to the system. Use the Programs and Features applet in Control Panel or a vendor-provided uninstall routine to remove applications.

Restoring Your System to an Earlier Time

You can restore your system to an earlier time by running System Restore from the System Recovery Options menu when you boot from the Windows 7 DVD or by running System Restore from the System Protection tab or the System Tools menu. From the opening menu, click Next to continue.

Select a restore point from the list in the System Restore window (refer to Figure 25.4). By default, only the last 5 days’ worth of restore points are listed. To select an older restore point, click the Show More Restore Points check box. To view a list of all program, driver, and patch changes that might be affected when returning to a certain restore point, click the Scan for Affected Programs button. Click Close to return to the list of restore points. After selecting a restore point, click Next to continue.

If you have more than one drive with System Restore enabled, select which drive(s) to restore. The system drive is always selected. Click Next to continue, if applicable, and then click Finish. Click Yes to confirm that you want to restore your system. A progress bar appears while System Restore prepares your system, and then your system restarts.

At the end of the process, a dialog box appears, indicating that your system has been restored to the date and time of the restore point you selected.

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