Posey's Tips & Tricks

How To Create a Windows 10 System Image Backup

Microsoft gives you the ability to create a comprehensive backup of your entire computer in Windows 10. You just have to do a little digging to find it.

If you were to ask the average person what needs to be protected on their computer, the most common answer would probably be everything.

Although it is well-hidden within the operating system, Windows 10 allows you to create an image backup, which is a comprehensive backup of your entire computer.

Before I show you how to create an image backup, there are two things that you need to know. First, an image backup gives you the ability to return your computer to the state that it existed in at the time that the backup was created. This means that if you restore the image backup, the operating system and any applications that were installed on it will all be recovered.

An important thing to remember, however, is image backups do not allow for selective restoration. You cannot use an image backup to restore individual files and folders, for example. You can only use it to restore the entire system.

The second thing that you need to know is that you should give some thought to your backup target. You can back up your system to a network, but most people use a USB hard disk.

To create a system image, you will need to access the Windows Control Panel. Microsoft has hidden the Control Panel in Windows 10, but you can get to it by right-clicking on the Start button, clicking on Run, and then entering the word "Control" at the Run prompt.

When the Control Panel opens, click on System and Security, and then click on the File History option. File History is a Windows feature that is designed to back up your data files. In contrast, a system image backup will back up the entire operating system, including any applications that might be installed.

Given the difference between a file history backup and an image backup, it might seem odd to go to the Control Panel's File History section. However, if you look in the lower-left corner of Figure 1, you can see that the File History screen contains a System Image Backup link.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1: The File History screen contains a System Image Backup link.

Click on the System Image Backup link, and you will be taken to the Backup and Restore (Windows 7) screen, which you can see in Figure 2. From here, click on the Create a System Image link found on the left side of the screen.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 2: Click the Create a System Image link.

At this point, you will be taken to the Create a System Image dialog box, which you can see in Figure 3. In most cases, there will be a delay of a minute or two while Windows looks for backup devices. Once this process completes, you will be prompted to choose the location where you want to save the backup. As you can see in the figure, the backup can be written to a hard disk, one or more DVDs, or to a network location.

The important thing to remember here is that you cannot save the image to any location that you wish to include within the image. For example, in Figure 3, I have chosen to write the image to drive E:. If I wanted to back up the contents of E: then I would not be able to use E: as a backup target.

Figure 3: Choose your backup target.

Click Next, and you will see a summary screen outlining the backup process. While it might be tempting to just click the Start Backup button, it is a really good idea to review this screen. As you can see in Figure 4, the confirmation screen tells you where the backup will be written, the estimated backup size, and which drives will be included in the backup.

Figure 4: Take a moment to review the summary screen.

Assuming that everything looks good, click the Start Backup button to launch the backup process.

At this point, the backup will begin. At the end of the process, you will be asked if you want to create a system repair disk. Creating a system repair disk is optional, but the repair disk does contain tools for fixing an operating system problem, and an option to restore the image backup that you just created.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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