windows-10-full-backup-system-image-tool_2020Source: Windows Central

As part of your recovery plan, a full backup should be at the top of your list since it is the best strategy against hardware failure, and apps and upgrade problems, as well as malware attacks that can corrupt your files and damage your Windows 10 installation. If you are not proactively creating full backups, you will be putting at risk documents, priceless pictures, and configurations you have spent long hours setting up.

If you use Windows 10, you have many different methods to create a backup. For example, you can use third-party solutions to backup the entire system or copy files to an external drive manually or upload them to a cloud storage service like OneDrive. However, if you do not want to use manual methods or third-party tools, you can always create a full backup using the legacy built-in System Image Backup tool.

A system image is another way to say "full backup," as it contains a copy of everything on the computer, including the installation, settings, apps, and files. Usually, you will find this tool better suited 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 will walk you through the steps to create a full backup with all your custom settings, apps, files, and installation using the system image tool.

Quick note: The System Image Backup tool for Windows 10 is no longer a maintained feature, but you can still 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 read this guide with alternative ways to back up your computer.

How to create a backup with system image tool on Windows 10

The system image tool allows you to create a full backup to an external drive or network shared folder. However, it is best to use removable storage, which you can then 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 pane.

    Control Panel create system image optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Select the On a hard disk option.
  7. Use the "On a hard disk" drop-down menu and select the location to export the Windows 10 full backup.

    Windows 10 select backup destinationSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the Next button.
  9. (Optional) Select any additional hard drives to include them in the backup.

    Select additional drivers to include in backupSource: Windows Central

  10. Click the Next button.
  11. Click the Start backup button.

    Create a full backup on Windows 10Source: 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 other drives you may have selected.

While the backup is in progress, you can continue working on the device since it uses the "Shadow Copy" feature to backup files even if files are open and apps are running.

After the process is complete, you can disconnect and store the external drive in a safe place. If you have valuable data, you may want to consider keeping the backup in a different physical location.

How to restore a backup with system image tool on Windows 10

If you need to replace the hard drive or hardware failure occurs, you can use one of the backups to recover the device and files.

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

  1. Connect the drive with the full backup to the device.
  2. Connect the Windows 10 USB bootable drive to the computer.
  3. Start the computer.
  4. On the USB bootable drive startup prompt, press any key to continue.

    Quick tip: If the device does not start in the Windows Setup wizard, you will 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 access the BIOS/UEFI, but the steps are usually different per manufacturer and device model. It is recommended to check your manufacturer support website for more specific details.

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

    Windows 10 setup next option Source: Windows Central

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

    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 OptionSource: Windows Central

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

    Select target operating systemSource: 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 are trying to restore an older version of the system and files.

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

    Quick tip: If you choose this option, use the Exclude disks option to prevent formatting secondary drives that may contain data.

  13. (Optional) Check the** Only restore system drivers** option (if the backup contains a copy of multiple drives and you only want to restore the OS).

    Only Restore System DrivesSource: Windows Central

  14. Click the Next button.
  15. Click the Finish button.

    Windows 10 restore backup optionSource: Windows Central

  16. Click the Yes button.

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

If you are about to restore a device, do not interrupt the process as it can cause the backup to fail, making the device unbootable. It is always recommended to have the laptop connected to a power source and a desktop computer to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to avoid problems.

Once the backup has been restored, open Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, and click the Check for Updates button to quickly install any missing security updates.

Wrapping things up

Although there many other solutions to create a full backup of the entire system and files, there are still many reasons to choose the System Image Backup tool. For instance, when you do not have another solution, and you are about to upgrade to a new version of Windows 10. You can use the built-in tool to create a temporary full backup in case you need to rollback.

Or when you are about to replace the main hard drive, or you need a quick way to transfer the installation and files without the need for reinstallation. It is also always recommended to periodically backup your computer if the unexpected happens, and you need to recover from system or hardware failure, malware, ransomware, or hacker attacks.

One thing to keep in mind with this tool is that it is meant to recover the entire system, not files and settings individually. If you want to keep updated copies of your files, you should be using other solutions, such as OneDrive or File History. Also, you need to be proactive about creating backups because you can only recover a system since the last backup. Anything after the full backup, such as apps, settings, and files, won't be available during recovery.

More Windows 10 resources

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