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Windows XP System Restore
System restore is an important tool for guarding against system file corruption or loss. Here are some facts about it.

System Restore is a basic system tool that anyone who uses Windows should know about. Much has been written about it but, unfortunately, I find that many average PC owners do not understand its functions.For whatever reasons, Microsoft descriptions are not as clear as might be wished. I am going to review the features of System Restore for the average user and also point out some tips that those with more experience can use.

System Restore tutorial

In addition to the discussion here, I have prepared a visual tutorial for beginners demonstrating the basic details of how to use and configure System Restore. The tutorial is in Macromedia (Adobe) Flash format and is partially interactive. Click here to play the clip. It will open in a separate window. To return to the article close the tutorial window

What System Restore does

The System Restore function in Windows XP is one defense line against file corruption or loss but it is far from a complete backup. Many PC users are confused about what System Restore actually does. When you create a restore point, what is actually being saved?

System Restore monitors certain parts of Windows XP known as the "system state". The system state includes the Registry, COM+ Class Registration database, boot files, and certain file types. The file types that are monitored are listed at this Microsoft page and include EXE and DLL files. If you can read XML, you can also see the list on your computer at %windir%\system32\restore\Filelist.xml. Note, however, that these file types are not necessarily protected if they are placed directly on the desktop.

Periodically (usually once a day) System Restore takes a snapshot of the system state and stores the various files in a condensed form. At some later time, the system can then be rolled back to a previous system state. By no means, however, does that include all your files.

What System Restore does not do

Contrary to what many think, System Restore does not back up the computer. It does not monitor changes to personal data files such as documents, pictures, email, and so on. For example, one folder that is not monitored by System Restore is My Documents. So if you use My Documents for your personal files, you will need another way to keep them backed up. Also not backed up are your Internet cookies and favorites and many other types of files created by the user. System Restore monitors only a core set of specified system and application file types.

Configuring the space allotted to restore points

By default, System Restore will set aside 12% of each of your drives for saving restore points. Although you may have a big hard drive and no need of the space, a lot of extra restore points can slow down processes such as virus checking, disk defragmenting, and other procedures. I discuss the details of the procedure for changing the amount of space that is reserved on another page. Also discussed there is how to turn off System Restore for drives or partitions that do not need to be monitored. If you use a separate drive for a dual-boot system or if you have partitions for data, turn off System Restore for these volumes. There is no benefit from monitoring non-system or non-XP files.

Make System Restore easily available

I try out a lot of system tweaks and new software and that means that I am frequently creating new System Restore points. Opening System Restore from the All Programs menu or from Control Panel is a bit tedious. So I prefer a shortcut. (I discuss the details of how to make shortcuts to programs on another page.) To make a shortcut to System Restore use the command: %SYSTEMROOT%\System32\restore\rstrui.exePlace the shortcut on the desktop or other convenient location.

Another quick way to make a restore point is with a script. I have wriiten one that can be downloaded here.

Srdiag.exe- a little known tool

The restore point files are saved in a hidden system directory in a proprietary binary format. They should be left alone. Advanced users who need to troubleshoot System Restore can use the tool srdiag.exe to obtain information about the restore points in text form, Either navigate to \Windows\system32\Restore and run the program srdiag.exe from there or open Start-Run and enter%SYSTEMROOT%\System32\restore\srdiag.exe The srdiag.exe tool collects information that is related to System Restore and puts it in a CAB file that is placed in the folder Windows\system32\restore.

System Restore and System Protection in Windows 7

System restore is much expanded and improved in Windows 7, where it is part of a larger backup feature called "System Protection". The Windows 7 feature is discussed on this page.

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