Windows 10 full backup using system image toolSource: Windows Central

A backup of your entire system is your best strategy against hardware failure, software issues (such as from upgrades), and malware that can not only damage an installation but also corrupt your files. If you don't proactively create regular backups, you could end up losing important documents, irreplaceable photos, and custom configurations that you may have spent many hours setting up.

On Windows 10, you can create a backup using different methods, which can range from manually copying files to an external storage, to storing files securely in OneDrive or another cloud service, to using third-party backup solutions. However, if you don't want to use third-party tools or messy manual methods, you can also create a full backup using the legacy System Image Backup tool.

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A system image is another way to say "full backup," as it's a copy of everything stored on your computer, including the Windows 10 installation, settings, apps, and personal files. The primary benefit of this method is that you can use it to restore your entire system from hardware or software problems using the same or different drive very quickly.

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: Microsoft no longer maintains the System Image Backup tool in the latest release of Windows 10, but you can still use it. These instructions aim to help you create a full backup while the feature still available to create temporary backups or protect older releases of Windows 10, Windows 8.1, or Windows 7. You can also check out this guide with six effective ways to back up your PC.

How to create backup with system image tool on Windows 10

The tool allows you to save a backup in different locations, such as inside a network folder or secondary hard drive. However, it's recommended to use a removable storage, which you can easily disconnect and store in a safe place.

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 backup settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. On the left pane, click the Create a system image option.

    Control Panel 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 full backup of Windows 10.

    Backup destination optionSource: Windows Central

  8. Click the Next button.
  9. Select any additional drives that you may want to include in the backup (if applicable).

    Include drive to be backed up optionSource: Windows Central

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

    Start backup option Source: Windows Central

  12. Click the No button.

    Quick note: After the process, you'll see an option to create a system repair disc, but because most devices no longer include an optical disk drive, you can skip the prompt. If you ever need to restore a backup, you can use a bootable USB flash drive to access the recovery enviroment.

  13. Click the Close button.

Once you complete the steps, the tool will create a backup of your computer, including everything on the main hard drive as well as system reserved partition, and additional drives that you may have selected during the wizard.

The System Image Backup tool uses the "Shadow Copy" technology that allows backing up files while they're open, and apps are running, which means that you can continue to work during the process.

The last thing left to do is to disconnect the external drive with the backup and store it in a safe place.

How to restore backup with system image tool on Windows 10

If you can't start your computer, or you're replacing the main hard drive, you can use a backup to restore your device to a working state.

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

  1. Connect the backup drive to your computer.
  2. Insert the Windows 10 USB bootable drive (or the disc containing the system repair files) to your device.
  3. Start the device.

    Quick tip: If the computer isn't booting into the Windows Setup wizard, you'll need to change your system's Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) settings. You can use this guide to entering the BIOS/UEFI. However, these settings are different depending on the manufacturer, and even by device model. So make sure to check your computer manufacturer support website for more specific details.

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

    Windows Setup Next OptionSource: Windows Central

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

    Repair your computer optionSource: Windows Central

  6. Click the Troubleshoot option.

    Advanced Startup Troubleshoot OptionSource: Windows Central

  7. Click the System Image Recovery option.

    System Image Recovery Option Source: Windows Central

  8. Click on Windows 10 as the target operating system.

    OS listSource: Windows Central

  9. 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 copy.

  10. Click the Next button.
  11. (Optional) If you're restoring a backup to a new hard drive, you can also carefully select the Format and repartition disks option before restoring the backup.

    Format and repartition disks optionSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: If you're selecting this option, you can also use the Exclude disks option to prevent formatting other data drives already connected to your computer.

  12. Click the Next button.
  13. Click the Finish button.

    Windows 10 begin backup restoration optionSource: Windows Central

  14. Click the Yes button.

After you complete the steps, the process of recovering your device using a previous backup will start. The time to finish the restoration will depend upon the amount of data and your hardware configuration.

When restoring a device from a backup, you have to be aware that any interruption or failure is likely to prevent the process from completing making the system unusable. To minimize the chances of running into problems, make sure that the laptop is connected to a power source, and in the case of the desktop computer, make sure it's connected to a battery backup.

Once the restoration has been completed, if it's been a while since the last time you created the full backup, it's recommended to go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, and click the Check for Updates button to download the latest security patches.

Wrapping things up

There are a lot of reasons to use the System Image Backup tool on Windows 10. For instance, if you're planning to upgrade to a new version of Windows 10, creating a backup will come in handy if something goes wrong, and you need to rollback, or you need to restore your files in the event they're deleted by mistake.

Also, it's always recommended to take backups regularly in the event that you need to recover from software or hardware failure, malware, ransomware, or another unexpected problem.

However, you need to consider the caveats of using this tool. For example, you have to be proactive in making regular backups of Windows 10, as you can only restore an installation and files since the last created backup. Any data, apps, and settings created or applied after the backup won't be recoverable using this process.

In addition, the System Image Backup tool was designed to recover an entire system, not to restore files, settings, and apps 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 File History or OneDrive.

More Windows 10 resources

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