Create a Windows 7 System Image for Full Backup and Restoration

One thing that was introduced into Windows Vista and and became more available in Windows 7 is the built-in capability of creating a full backup image of your system so that it can be restored back when Windows becomes corrupt or not bootable. One good thing about using the Windows built-in system image backup is you don’t need to install any third party software such as Acronis TrueImage or Macrium Reflect and all Windows 7 users have it immediately to hand.

If you’re unsure what system imaging actually does and how it could help you, a system image is an exact copy of your system drive that gets backed up and saved into a file. If your system develops problems later on that can’t easily be fixed, you can use this backup to restore the computer back to that earlier point in time. If you’ve ever use the System Restore option, System Imaging is like that but restores the whole drive not just certain files.

Although the Windows Backup and Restore tool is pretty basic in terms of features, and the speed is not as fast as third party drive imaging software, it is good enough for most normal situations and the backing up or restoring can be achieved in several different ways.

Here are a few points to note when using the System Image function:

  • Try not to change the partition structure of the backed up volumes or the restore could fail. Although system imaging is supposed to be able to reformat to the previous layout, this is a common cause of a restore failing.
  • System Image will backup and restore ALL files on the system and you cannot at any point select individual files or folders. You will however, have the option to backup any files before a restore if using the Control Panel.
  • Backup to network is not available in Windows 7 Home Premium or Home Basic.
  • Only NTFS formatted partitions can be backed up. Make sure if you’re saving to USB sticks or portable hard drives they are NTFS formatted.
  • Imaging is available in Vista Business, Enterprise and Ultimate but not in Home Premium or Basic. Go to Control Panel -> Backup and Restore Center -> Back up computer. You cannot backup to network in Vista.
  • Windows 8 still has this feature in Control Panel -> Windows 7 File Recovery.
  • Don’t mix 32-bit and 64-bit discs on your operating system. For example, if you have a 32-bit Windows installed you will need a 32-bit repair disc or 32-bit Windows install DVD to perform a restore.

Creating a Windows System Image

Here we’ll show you how to create Windows 7 backup system image, the steps for Vista and Win 8 compatible versions are broadly the same. You can only do this from within Windows itself. There are a few ways of running the Windows Backup and Restore Tool which will also allow you to create a repair disc or backup files and folders, choose 1 from any of the following:

  • Click the Start orb and type backup into Search. You should see Backup and Restore appear in Programs, press Enter.
  • Click the Start orb -> All Programs -> Maintenance -> Backup and Restore.
  • Go to Control Panel and select Backup and Restore from an icon view, or System and Security -> Back up your computer in Category view.

Now in the Backup and Restore tool, click Create a system image in the left pane.

Create a system image

This will open up the Create a system image window. Alternatively, you can get directly to this window from the desktop by using Win Key+R and typing the following into the Run dialog box:


sdclt.exe /blbbackupwizard

Now select where you’re going to backup the system image to, which can either be to hard drive, multiple DVD discs or a network location if your Windows version supports it. Removable USB devices such as flash drives will show under hard disks. If you try to select another partition on the same physical hard disk you’re backing up from, there will be a warning about it because that hard drive failing will result in both operating system and the backup being lost. If you place ANY value in your backups at all, it’s strongly recommended to use a different physical device to save them to.

volume selected is on the same physical disk

The next screen will offer to backup any other volumes you might want to include in the process, the main system partition and the small 100MB boot partition if present will be automatically selected and cannot be touched.

which drives do you want to include in the backup

Note: Sometimes in a multiboot system, one of your other operating system partitions will be auto selected and grayed out so you can’t turn it off. This is usually the case when you install Windows 7 after another operating system and the bootloader system files are located on that partition and not Windows 7’s. Apart from some tricky methods of manually moving all the boot files onto the windows 7 partition and making it an Active / System volume, it is recommended to either accept the included volume or use another backup software.

Confirm your backup settings

At the final confirmation window, the Backup and Restore tool will tell you how much space it could take to create the backup and clicking the Start backup button will start the process. Depending on the amount of data to backup and the speed of the hardware, this could obviously take from a few minutes to an hour or more. If you receive an error at this point, you might like to read our article on a possible cause for a system image backup failure.

Windows is saving the backup

After the backup process completes, you will be asked if you want to create a system repair disc. This is highly recommended if you don’t have a full Windows install DVD to hand and can also be created later on from the Backup and Restore tool main window. If you would like to create a repair CD on a USB stick, please follow the repair disc to USB instructions in our post detailing how to do it.

On page 2 we’ll show you the various ways you can restore your system image.

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