Windows 10 full backup using system image toolSource: Windows Central

A backup of your computer is the best strategy you can use against hardware failure, apps, and upgrade issues, as well as malware attacks that can potentially damage an installation and corrupt your files. If you don't create backups regularly, you'll be putting at risk important documents, precious pictures, and settings you have spent a long time configuring.

If you're using Windows 10, there are different methods you can use to create a backup. Usually, they can range from copying files to external storage manually, storing files in cloud storage services like OneDrive, to installing third-party backup solutions. However, if you don't want to use manual methods and don't want to install third-party tools, you can always create a full backup using the legacy built-in System Image Backup tool.

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A system image is another way to refer to a "full backup," as it contains a copy of everything on the system, including the OS installation, settings, apps, and files. Typically, you'll find this tool more useful when you need to restore the entire system from critical hardware or software problems, such as hard drive failure or when trying to roll back to a previous version of Windows 10.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to create a full backup that includes all your custom settings, apps, and files using the built-in system image tool.

Important: The System Image Backup tool is a deprecated feature on Windows 10, but it's still available, and you can continue to use it for the foreseeable future. The instructions outlined in this guide are meant to create a temporary full backup while the feature is still available. You can also check out this guide with other effective ways to back up your PC.

How to create backup with system image tool on Windows 10

On Windows 10, the tool includes an option to store the full backup in different locations like on an external hard drive or shared folder in the network. However, whenever possible, you want to use removable storage, since you can disconnect and store in a different physical location.

To create a full backup of Windows 10 with the system image tool, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & Security.
  3. Click on Backup.
  4. Under the "Looking for an older backup?" section, click the Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7) option.

    Windows 10 settings backup optionSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Create a system image option from the left navigation pane.

    Control Panel create system image optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Under "Where do you want to save the backup?" select the On a hard disk option.
  7. Using the "On a hard disk" drop-down menu, select the storage location to save the Windows 10 full backup.

    Windows 10 select backup destinationSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the Next button.
  9. (Optional) Select any other drives you may want to include in the backup.
  10. Click the Next button.
  11. Click the Start backup button.

    Windows 10 backup start processSource: Windows Central

  12. Click the No button.

    Quick note: You'll also receive a prompt to create a system repair disc, but because most devices no longer include an optical drive, you can skip it. If you have to restore the machine, you can use a USB installation media to access the recovery enviroment.

  13. Click the Close button.

Once you complete the steps, the tool will create an image of the entire system that includes everything on the primary hard drive and system reserved partition and other drives you may have selected.

When starting a full backup on Windows 10, you can continue to work during the process because the tool uses the "Shadow Copy" feature that enables the ability to backup files even if they're open and apps are running.

After the process has completed, you can disconnect the external drive to store it in a safe place. If you have valuable information, you may want to consider keeping the drive in a different location.

How to restore backup with system image tool on Windows 10

If a problem occurs or you are swapping out the hard drive, you can use a previous backup to restore the device to a working state.

To restore a backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Connect the drive with the backup files to the device.
  2. Connect the Windows 10 USB bootable drive (or the disc containing the system repair files) to your device.
  3. Start the computer.
  4. When you see the prompt, press any key to continue.

    Quick tip: If the computer doesn't start in the Windows Setup wizard, you'll need to access the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) to change the boot order settings. You can use this guide to enter the BIOS/UEFI, but the steps usually vary per manufacturer, and even per device model. It's recommended to check your manufacturer support website for more specific details.

  5. On the "Windows Setup" page, click the Next button.

    Windows Setup Next OptionSource: Windows Central

  6. Click the Repair your computer option from the bottom-left corner.

    Repair your computer optionSource: Windows Central

  7. Click the Troubleshoot option.

    Advanced Startup Troubleshoot OptionSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the System Image Recovery option.

    System Image Recovery Option Source: Windows Central

  9. Select the Windows 10 option as the target OS.

    OS listSource: Windows Central

  10. On the "Re-image your computer" page, select the Use the latest available system image option.

    Use the latest available system image optionSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: You can use the "Select a system image" option if you have multiple backups, and you're trying to restore an older version of the files.

  11. Click the Next button.
  12. (Optional) Carefully select the Format and repartition disks option before restoring the backup, if you are restoring a backup on a new hard drive.

    Format and repartition disks optionSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: If you choose this option, you can also use the Exclude disks option to prevent formatting other drives that may contain important files.

  13. Click the Next button.
  14. Click the Finish button.

    Windows 10 restore backup optionSource: Windows Central

  15. Click the Yes button.

After you complete the steps, the backup recovery process will start on the device. The time to finish the restoration will depend on the amount of data and hardware configuration.

If you're about to restore from backup, be aware that any interruption could cause the process to fail, turning the device unbootable. As a result, it's always recommended to have the laptop connected to a power source and a desktop computer to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) whenever possible before proceeding.

Once the restoration is done, you should also go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, and click the Check for Updates button to make sure the installation has the latest security updates.

Wrapping things up

On Windows 10, there are still a lot of reasons to use System Image Backup. For example, when you don't have another backup software, and you're about to upgrade to a new release of the OS, you can use the tool to create a temporary full backup if you need to rollback.

You're in the process of upgrading the hard drive. The built-in feature can help you to transfer the installation and files without the need for reinstallation. It's always recommended to backup your device regularly if something goes wrong, and you need to recover from software or hardware failure, malware, ransomware, or another unexpected problem.

Although it's a useful tool, there are some caveats. For instance, if you proactively create regular backups, you can only restore an installation and files since the last backup. Any settings, apps, and files created after the full backup won't be available through this process.

Also, the Windows 10 built-in backup tool is meant to recover an entire system, not to restore files and settings individually. If you want to keep an up-to-date backup of your files, you should be using the system image tool in combination with cloud storage services like OneDrive or using the File History feature.

More Windows 10 resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources: