Tricks: Windows System Image Recovery (Windows 10/ 8.1/ 8/ 7)
How to make windows system image backup work?
Recently, I had updated my personal computer to the latest windows operating system, Windows 10. It worked beautifully until recently when Microsoft released a major update to the OS. After the update, my system started to crash without warning. I realized there may be a driver issue, but there were no updates available for my system. The only way for me was to restore the computer to the previous installation, which was Windows 10 (Note that I had originally updated my system from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10).
I restored my computer using Windows 10 system recovery options. However, my system did not work as it was working before. That indicated that something is screwed recently either by the latest driver or windows update or hardware failure. It kept shutting down itself for no visible reasons. I feel like I am stuck here. If there are software related issues, it should be fixed when I restore the entire system to the previously known working time point and if that doesn’t fix the issue, I can assure that it is a hardware issue. To isolate the issue, I need to now bring back the system to original windows state that was working. I can do the factory restore, but it would be too old system snapshot and too much work to again install all software and adjust settings back.
I realized that thankfully, I have a Windows System Image that I generated using my previous Windows 8.1 before updating to the Windows 10 several months back. I also used Macrium Reflect (MR) to generate system image. Some of my friends recommend me to not trust Windows’s own system image and use 3rd party tool citing its reputation and reliability. I, therefore, had created a system image using both, Windows 8.1 and Macrium Reflect (MR). However, I have not restored a system from the system image before, so I had no idea how well it will work if it does!
I first tried to use Macrium Reflect (MR) but I failed. It needed Windows PE recovery environment to boot and my attempt to create one did not work. Further, I got confused with all different drive options and PE recovery environment versions, it was overwhelming. If I had tried hard to figure out issues, I may have succeeded but I did not feel compelled to do so and decided to try Window’s very own system image restore. After several failed attempt and isolating issues one-by-one, I was successful at restoring my system using windows system image.
There were few points that can make this work or break. I decided to put out so if anyone trying to use Windows System Image (I recommend), keep these points in mind and you would have no issues restoring the system.
- WindowsImageBackup : Do not rename the system image backup folder
WindowsImageBackup is the default folder name when you create the system image with Windows. DO NOT RENAME. If you would like to organize your backup better, put it in other folder named and dated as you would like. If you rename and few months later, forget it, you will not be able to restore the PC.
- WindowsImageBackup : Keep it in the root directory when restoring a system
When you are ready to restore the system from the system image, put back the WindowsImageBackup folder in the root directory of the external hard drive. If you had stored it within the other folder, take it out. It should be like,
("D" is the drive letter here. It may depend on your system configuration)
- Computer Name: Make sure it is exactly same
Make sure the name of the computer is same as when you generated the system image. If in doubt, double click the WindowsImageBackup folder and see the name of the folder inside. It defaults to the Computer name you had when you generated that system image. If it doesn’t match your current computer name, rename your current computer. I am not sure in an event when you can’t rename the computer (i.e. when you are unable to boot into the windows/ windows is completely corrupted or erase) what are the options. You may add your insight on that topic in the comments section of this post and I will update this section.
- Bootable environment: Make sure to use identical Windows OS bootable CD/USB
If you are restoring the Windows 8.1 system image, make sure to boot from the CD/USB drive running on Windows 8.1 OS. It can be rescue media created with same Windows or the full OS installation media. If you boot the system from the Windows 10 or Windows 7 installation media or rescue disk created with Windows 10 or 7 and try to restore the Windows 8.1 System Image Backup, it would give an error.
In my case, Initially I had some or all of above issues and every time I attempted to restore the system image, it failed. To successfully restore the Windows System Image, I needed to do following and resolve all of the above issues:
- Download Windows 8.1 .iso file and create a bootable USB,
- Renamed my computer to the name I used before (Since I changed the name a while back),
- Put back the WindowsImageBackup into the root directory of the external drive
- Boot the system from the bootable media
- Select repair installation
- Restore the system from the System Image Backup
At the end, I highly recommend built-in Windows System Image Backup and Recovery. It is easy, free and already installed on your computer. It may not be as powerful as Macrium Reflect/ Clonezilla or other dedicated recovery tools but is adequate for a home user like me.