Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

My favorite Life Saver flavor? System Restore

Have you ever wished you could go back in time…and un-do something you did? A couple of posts ago I promised I would return to the subject of Windows’ (XP and Vista) built-in recovery tool, System Restore, and so I shall. System Restore allows your computer to do what you and I cannot do, jump back in history to a time when everything was working properly, to a time before you did what you did…and messed things up. And that’s a pretty neat trick!

Tip of the day: Now before you get entirely too excited, I should caution you that System Restore is not a panacea: there are some things it copies and restores and some things it doesn’t. It does not recover data once the Recycle bin has been emptied — you need an undelete utility for that. It doesn’t recover lost or corrupted User passwords. It is, however, “user friendly” and easy to use. It does, automatically, take “snapshots” of the Registry and some dynamic system files, and is a good way to get an unstable and/or non-booting system back on its feet again without losing your saved data and user settings.

To get started, you need to make sure that System Restore is turned on, and that it has at least 200 megabytes of free hard-drive space to store snapshots on. Turn on System Restore by clicking Start and right-click My Computer >Properties >System Restore tab and make sure there’s no check in the box next to “Turn off System Restore on all drives.” While you’re there, select the drive, or partition, where you want to store the snapshots and click the Settings button. Now you can use the slider to denote the amount of memory you want to devote to System Restore. I set mine to about 500 MB’s, which gives me a good selection of Restore Points (snapshots) without losing too much storage. And now you are set: Windows will start taking snapshots whenever you make a ‘major’ change, like installing a program or device driver.

There are a couple of different ways to use System Restore to go back in time. In the first scenario, Windows still functions, and boots, but is unstable and crashes a lot [Hey, I heard that…] after you did something, and removing that something hasn’t truly rememedied the situation. Use System Restore by clicking Start >Programs >Accessories >Sytem Tools >System Restore. This will launch the System Restore Wizard. By default, the radio button “Restore my computer to an earlier time” is already selected so hit the Next button. Now you will see a calendar, which has the available snapshots/times in bold. Start with the most recent one first, and click Next, and then OK. Your system will reboot, take a while to load, and then a message saying “Your system has been successfully restored to xyz.” will appear. If this doesn’t happen, retry using the next most recent Restore Point.

The next scenario is when you’re in a bad situation where Windows just BSOD’s, or won’t even boot. Boot your machine and hit, repeatedly, the F8 key as if you were trying to get into Safe Mode. When the white-on-black Advanced Start Up screen appears do not hit any key(s)…just yet. Before too long a dialogue will open asking whether you want to continue on into Safe Mode…Y/N? Type an “n” for no. This will launch the System Restore Wizard and you follow the steps as outlined above.

Should this dialogue not open, after a suitable wait, use your up/down arrow keys to highlight Safe Mode and hit Enter. You will now be in the funny-looking, petite version of Windows called, you guessed it, “safe mode”. It’s easy to know that you are, because it clearly says Safe Mode in all four corners of your desktop. Now you can access System Restore through the Start >Programs menu. Again, follow the steps as outlined above.

Sometimes System Restore cannot undo all the damage and it doesn’t work as we’d hoped. If the damage was done by a virus that also infected your snapshots, or maybe simply the computer gods are angry, it may not work at all. There are more steps you can take if this proves to be the case; steps that are short of reinstalling Windows and starting over. I will discuss some of these later as well. I promise.

[For more answers on System Restore, see my two follow-up posts; “A quick System Restore addenda“, and “questions answered”.]

Today’s free link: I mentioned undelete utilities, and there are many out there for you to try. Try to recover files by starting with a scan using Softperfect File Recovery. “…a free and useful tool to restore accidentally deleted files from hard and floppy disks, USB flash drives, CF and SD cards and other storage media. It supports the popular file systems such as FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS and NTFS5 with compression and encryption. If your important files disappeared and you can’t find them in the recycle bin, try this software product and get the files back to life. Easy to use, no installation is required.”

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Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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June 19, 2007 - Posted by | advice, Backups, computers, how to, PC, Safe Mode, System Restore, tech, Vista, Windows, XP


  1. I will confirm, that System Restore has saved my system a number of times. I also have Norton’s GoBack, and that is (I think) even neater. But there is a “certain something” about the stuff which you don’t have to pay extra for. So hurrah! for System Restore.


    Comment by Anon | June 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. System restore was in the computer when I bought it, I have Norton System 2006 works do I need to install Norton Goback?


    Comment by Stanley Daugherty | September 24, 2007 | Reply

  3. If you have GoBack as a component of System Works, by all means install it…but don’t turn off System Restore, either.
    System Restore saves subsets of your Registry and system files only. GoBack uses a different methodology to allow for a more comprehensive “go back in time” ability. For example, SR will not restore files you’ve deleted (and emptied) where as GoBack (usually) will.
    System Restore is a way to undo damage you (or malware) have done to Windows, short of a wipe/reinstall.


    Comment by techpaul | September 24, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] The first step is to create a System Restore point, to give yourself a fallback position. I reco doing this whenever you make significant changes to your machine. (To see my series on the System Restore tool, click here.) […]


    Pingback by If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It* « Tech–for Everyone | October 17, 2008 | Reply

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