The Windows Learning Center

System Protection and System Restore in Windows 7

Summary

Backing up is a very important part of computer maintenance. A Windows 7 system tool that helps in backing up is called System Protection. How to use it and the associated System Restore are discussed.

New in Windows 7

One of the least satisfactory features of older Windows operating systems has been the backup utility. Almost useless in Windows 98 and not much better in Windows XP, the backup application was greatly improved in Windows Vista. However, some desirable features were still lacking, especially in the Home Premium edition. Now, with Windows 7, Microsoft has finally provided a full-featured backup facility that includes disk imaging and the ability to access backup copies of individual files. One part of the overall backup package is what is known as System Protection and its function System Restore.

System Restore and System Protection

Microsoft and others tend to mix the terms "System Restore" and "System Protection" together. In fact, I find the Microsoft literature to be confusing. I suspect that this is because System Restore keeps changing from one version of Windows to the next and has evolved considerably since Windows XP. The overall feature is now called "System Protection". The term will be new to many home PC users who are accustomed only to hearing about System Restore. System Protection is actually the primary feature and includes the original System Restore functions familiar from previous Windows versions together with backups of data files on designated disks. Although these additional backups were available in more expensive Vista editions, they were not accessible in Vista Home Premium. However, they are now part of Windows 7 Home Premium as well as other editions of Windows 7..

In this article I will discuss the functions provided by System Restore. Because it is common usage and is convenient, I will use System Restore somewhat loosely to refer to both the creation and the restoration of restore points. Note that System Protection and System Restore require administrator privileges.

What does System Restore Do?

For whatever reason, Microsoft has been vague in its description of exactly what System Restore does. In fact, there are two kinds of backup going on. In addition to System Restore, there is Shadow Copy. The exact role of these two methods of backup is not always clear to ordinary PC users. System Restore is involved with the backup of system files like the Registry and boot files and also executable files. But using System Restore to rollback does not involve personal files. One problem is that what Microsoft has meant by "personal" files has not been explained very clearly. Personal files are non-executables defined by their file extension. Picture files, music files, text files, document files are examples of personal files. On the other hand, note that System Protection does save previous versions of data files you have changed as well as the system files. These personal file backups are called previous versions and the process is called "shadow copying". However, these personal files are not involved in a restoration to a previous state using the System Restore function itself . If you find this bifurcation of backups confusing, that is because it is.

System Restore takes a snapshot (called a restore point) of the system files, programs, and executable files. A restore point can be used to rollback the system to the state it was in at a given time in the past. Normally a snapshot of the system files is taken approximately every 7 days. (In older versions of Windows, it was every 24 hours.) Restore points are also made before the installation of Windows updates. In addition, you can create restore points manually. Also, many programs make Restore points before they are installed.

How to access System Restore and make a new restore point in Windows 7

It is a good idea to make a system Restore point before making changes in your computer setup or installing new programs. Many, but not all, programs will automatically create a restore point but it does no harm to make one yourself. As is usual for Windows, there are several routes to opening System Restore. You will not find it in the Programs menu, however. One way to open System Restore is to right-click Computer and choose "Properties". On the left side of the window that opens, (figure below) click "System Protection".

Windows 7 System Protection in Control Panel

After you click "System Protection", the dialog box for System Properties with the "System Protection" tab selected will open as shown next:

Windows7 System Properties

Another way to reach the dialog box shown above is to enter "protection" in the Start-Search programs and files line and choose "Create a restore point" from the list under Control Panel.

To create a new restore point, click the button "Create" in the lower right corner of the dialog box. You will then be asked to name the restore point as shown in the next figure.

Name restore point in windows 7

After entering a name, click the button "Create". The next two windows will appear, one during the creation and the other when the creation is finished.

Creating restore point in Windows 7

Restore point finished

Making a new restore point will create new versions of data files on monitored disks as well as of the system files.