If your PC is behaving strangely, it’s probably down to a recent change you made to your computer. Perhaps you installed a new program or hardware device, or Windows has installed a raft of updates. Either way, your computer has started playing up and a trip to the ‘Program and Features Control Panel’ hasn’t solved it.
Perhaps the program won’t go – even after following our guide to removing stubborn programs. Or perhaps Windows has become so unstable that you’re having problems starting it or using it. It’s at this point that System Restore, a tool built into Windows, will come to your rescue. In this article we’ll reveal how to use System Restore to get your computer back to a working state.
1. How System Restore works
System Restore protects your computer by taking regular snapshots – known as Restore points – of important system files and settings. Restore points can be created by Windows, by programs during the installation process or manually by yourself. When a Restore point is taken, key files and settings are backed up.
Should you run into trouble, you can select a Restore point and undo major changes by rolling back your computer’s key system files and settings to the state they were in when the Restore point was created. This removes recently installed updates and programs – getting rid of problems that they may have introduced.
What makes System Restore very clever is the fact that it doesn’t monitor all of the files on your computer, so your documents, photos and other personal files are left untouched. So if you use System Restore to remove a program from your computer, only the program itself will be removed; any files you create in that program will be left behind.
2. Access System Restore
If your PC is functioning normally, you can access System Restore in a number of ways. The simplest way is via the System Control Panel. Windows 7 users should click Start, right-click Computer and select Properties to access it. Windows 8 users should press [Win] + [X] and select System from the pop-up menu that appears. Select System Protection and click the System Restore button to access it.
If your PC won’t load, you’ll find System Restore is offered as one of the recovery options when you start up. It means you can always access it –unless you have a hardware problem.
3. Restore your computer
System Restore works slightly differently depending on your version of Windows. Windows 8 users will be presented with a “recommended” Restore option, which is the most recent System Restore point. If your problem is a recent one, then leave it selected; if it started before the Restore point was taken, select Choose a different Restore point instead and click Next to select it from a list. Windows 7 doesn’t display a recommended option – it simply displays a list of recent Restore points.
One useful feature is the Scan for affected programs button. Select a snapshot and click this to see what will be deleted, or otherwise affected, by rolling back to this Restore point. This enables you to see exactly what will happen when you restore your computer. Click Close when you’re done.
When you’re ready to restore your computer, click Next followed by Finish. Windows will restart and attempt to roll back your computer. If successful, you’ll need to review the changes and reinstall any non-troublesome updates or programs that were removed.
4. Create a Restore point
System Restore is most successful when you only need to roll back your computer a few hours, and when only a few programs and updates are affected. So it pays to take your own Restore point before making major changes to your computer. That way, if you do have to roll things back, you’re only undoing your most recent installation.
To manually create a Restore point, open the System Control Panel as before and click System Protection again. This time, click the Create button, give your snapshot a suitably descriptive name to help you identify it later, and click Create again to create your own Restore point.
5. Tips and tricks
System Restore works best with recent Restore points, so always start with the snapshot closest to the time your problem started, working your way through previous Restore points if necessary.
If System Restore throws up an error message after attempting to roll back your computer, it may be that the Restore point is corrupt. Usually, though, it’ll work if you access your computer’s recovery options and run System Restore from there.
If the restoration doesn’t work and you want to undo your changes, simply launch System Restore again. You’ll be given an option to undo the changes, bringing your PC up to date again.
System Restore takes up to 10 per cent of available disk space for Restore points, but you can change this figure via the System Protection screen. This is how you do it. Select your drive from the list and click Configure. Use the slider to change how much space is reserved for System Restore.
Windows 7 uses System Restore to back up earlier versions of the same file by default as well as your system settings. You can use System Restore just to monitor file changes on data drives via the Configure button. Restoring earlier versions of a file is done by right-clicking the file in question and choosing Properties > Previous Versions tab. Windows 8 uses File History to store backup versions of the same file.