<This is the 5th article in a series of posts discussing backup and recovery offerings in Windows 7. >
Imagine one day you got to your desktop and realized that some programs on your machine started crashing; or you’ve noticed some degradation in your machine’s performance. You’re not so sure when this started happening or what caused it…what should you do?
Action Center is your friend
By now, you’ve probably already figured out that the Action Center is the hub in Windows 7 for finding and resolving issues related to your PC. As a first step, you should always check if there are any problem reports or solutions already available. Action Center can be accessed from the notification area on the task bar:
In addition, Action Center provides two additional options – Troubleshooting and Recovery. The first option provides the tools for diagnosing various computer problems, ranging from Aero disabled to program compatibility issues, and guide you through additional steps such as Remote Assistant if the problem could not be resolved. The second option attempts to fix the issue by restoring the machine to a previous good state. In this blog we’ll focus on the second option – Recovery.
In the Recovery control panel, the most prominent option is System Restore. If you’re not familiar with System Restore from previous versions of Windows, it is a tool that would help you roll the state of your operating system back to an earlier point in time, known as a restore point, without affecting your personal files such as documents and pictures. There are several reasons why we recommend System Restore as the first step as oppose to other recovery options. First, it’s the least intrusive option since it rolls back only your system and application files and leaves your personal files intact. Second, if System Restore is initiated from the running OS, an “undo” restore point is created so the process can be reversed. Last but not least, the process is fast and typically takes only a few minutes to complete.
You can access System Restore even if your computer is unable to boot into the operating system. When that occurs, start your computer and hold down F8 to access the recovery option menu where System Restore will be one of the options available. However one thing you should keep in mind is that System Restore initiated from a non-bootable OS will not have the option to undo the operation, though you may be able to attempt to restore to other restore points.
What’s new in System Restore
The System Restore wizard is intuitive and look and feel largely like it was in the previous versions of Windows. In a nutshell, all you need to do is pick a point in time that you would like to roll back to, and then your computer will be restarted to complete the operation.
Even though the experience is familiar, this doesn’t mean there’s no improvement done on System Restore. In fact, here are a few great additions that would help make your system recovery experience even easier in Windows 7:
· View affected programs
Ever wonder what programs or drivers might be affected by performing a restore? Now you don’t need to guess. When you select a restore point, you can see the list of programs, drivers or Windows Updates that you might gain or lose by rolling back in time. You can view this info by selecting the “Scan for affected programs” option in the wizard.
· Using a system image backup as restore point
There’s always a trade-off between how far back in time one can restore to, and the amount of space required on the OS to save older copies of your data for this recovery purpose. Now here’s a new solution. In Windows 7, system images you are already creating as part of your backup to a hard disk can also be used for the purpose of System Restore. Essentially, instead of re-imaging the entire disk, System Restore will extract just the system files from the image and use it like any other restore points. This allows you to potentially roll back to a much earlier point in time, and also an option to perform a less intrusive recovery prior to completely re-imaging your machine. These system image-restore points, if available, can be found in the System Restore UI by selecting “Show more restore points”, with the restore point type indicating that it’s from a backup.
Adjusting System Protection settings in Windows 7 (advanced)
System Restore, Previous Versions and system image backups’ versioning all use the same underlying technology – System Protection (aka Volume Shadow Copies). Here we’ll show you how to adjust settings for these features using the updated System Protection page in Windows 7.
At a high level, System Protection is used to keep track of changes to your personal and system files across an entire drive, such that you can restore them to an earlier state by discarding these changes (via Previous Version and System Restore respectively). The checkpoints that you can roll back to, call restore points, are created during application and driver installations, Windows Update, and at regular intervals if one has not been created in the last 7 days. They can also be created on demand from the System Protection page.
System Protection is turned on by default for the OS drive, but can also be turned on for any additional drives formatted NTFS and greater than 1GB. By default, protection is set to maximum by providing both Previous Version and System Restore capabilities. In Windows 7, however, there’s a new System Protection option “Only restore previous versions of files”. As mentioned earlier, System Restore is designed to bring your system back to an earlier state without affecting your personal files. However, if you are a programmer or system administrator who store programs or scripts on your computer, these files might be undesirably rolled back by System Restore due to their executable nature. By storing these files in a separate data drive and selecting this option, you’ll be able to enjoy Previous Versions protections of such files, but at the same time not having to worry about these files being accidentally rolled back by System Restore. You should not select this option for the OS drive.
For drives 64GB or smaller, a maximum of 3% drive space will be allocated by default for System Protection. For drives greater than 64GB, 5% will be allocated, with a cap at 10GB. You can adjust these settings by selecting the appropriate drive and changing the maximum usage slider. As space runs out, older restore points will be deleted to make room for new ones. Therefore a larger setting will allow more space to be used for storing restore points, which means the ability to restore further back in time. However this also means that less space will be available for other storage purposes on that drive, so it is a tradeoff that needs to be taken into consideration. Similarly, Windows by default allocates a maximum of 30% of disk space on the backup target drive for storing older versions of the system images. This value can be adjusted by using this same control.
The System Protection page also provides the ability to delete all restore points. Note that selecting this option will delete ALL data stored under the system protection storage area, including restore points for System Restore and Previous Versions; earlier versions of system image backups, or any shadow copies created by 3 rd party applications. New restore points will continue to be created unless you turn off system protection entirely. Since System Protection storage has an automatic space management policy, and it can never grow beyond the allocated maximum value, we do not encourage using this functionality if your only motivation is to conserve space.
In the next post, we’ll continue to discuss the rest of the system recovery options on the Recovery control panel, focusing on recovery from a system image.
- Windows Backup team
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