Most PC users know of the System Restore feature in Windows which has been around since Windows ME. It’s a basic solution that backs up important areas of the operating system before a software/driver install or at set points, but being enabled by default means it can help less experienced users get out of a sticky situation more easily. Problems with System Restore include it’s not totally reliable and malicious files can be backed up into to the restore points themselves meaning you could potentially be restoring viruses back onto your computer.
There are other ways to help keep your system running more reliably and free of malware, such as taking regular full system backups which later versions of Windows can now do with system imaging, or run programs in a sandbox application. Another way is having the computer automatically restore itself to a previous point in time whenever you boot the computer. This wipes away everything from the previous session including installing unsafe software or drivers and even spyware and malware. It’s also a good method for easily defeating ransomware.
This is especially useful if someone else uses your computer or they keep breaking their own Windows because it’ll be safe in the knowledge that almost anything they do to it will be forgotten at the next boot. Here we look at 3 free applications that can automatically erase the previous windows session after you restart or shutdown your computer. 1. Toolwiz Time Freeze
Toolwiz Time Freeze has gained many admirers in the few years it’s been out, mainly due to two things; firstly it’s proved to be reliable, and secondly, it’s easy to setup and configure. This may be a negative mark for more advanced users but if you just want something to work, Time Freeze is something you should look at. There is also a version of Time Freeze included in the free all-in-one clean, tweak and repair utility Toolwiz Care but only in the install version, not the portable version.
Setting up Time Freeze is a pretty simple process and during installation it will popup the window below requiring you to configure the main options for the program. The disk caching option is the amount of disk space Time Freeze puts aside for the changes that take place while it’s running, this can be left at the default or set to a larger size if the computer doesn’t get rebooted often or there’s lot of activity during sessions. The cache file is stored in C:\TOOLWIZTIMEFREEZE.
Enabling Time Freeze in Safe Mode is a useful option to more fully protect the system. Protecting the program from unauthorized access is handy because it stops average users from trying to start or stop freezing or accessing the settings window. The start with Windows option doesn’t enable freezing on boot but just sends the program to the system tray, you can enable freeze on boot from the options window. Enabling the freeze is done from the tray icon or the main window.
Because you can’t unfreeze without rebooting, excluding files and folders is quite important because you can allow individual documents to be saved or tell Time Freeze to ignore specific folders if you’re happy for the contents to survive a reboot. Do note that only the C system drive is frozen, any other partitions you have will remain untouched. Toolwiz Time Freeze is light on resources using no more than about 2MB of memory, works from XP up to Windows 8/8.1, and is updated fairly regularly.
2. Reboot Restore Rx
Reboot Restore Rx says it’s ideal for public access computing environments such as internet cafés and libraries although it obviously works perfectly fine for home use. It’s potentially a more secure solution than Time Freeze because the protection works at the hard drive sector level and can also protect the Master Boot Record (MBR) of the hard drive where other software mostly works at the windows file system level.
There really is very little to configure during the setup phase of Reboot Restore Rx, all you have to do really is choose which drives you want to protect within the program, the advantage here is you can choose more than just the C system drive and also protect games or data partitions etc. After install is complete, the program will ask for a reboot, this is now your restore baseline and every subsequent reboot will revert to this point.
The only interaction with the program you have in Windows is right clicking the tray icon to disable Reboot Restore Rx, this will permanently disable the program until you enable it through the tray icon again, at which point a new baseline point will be created. It is possible to leave this disabled through several reboots and then go back to the last baseline you created by using the boot menu which appears before the system starts. Simply start tapping the Home key on your keyboard when you see the Reboot Restore Rx screen during boot to bring up the menu.
We found it odd that how to get to this menu and what it does is buried in the website knowledgebase because it’s important. The Restore System option will set the system back to the last baseline point even when disabled in Windows, Uninstall will remove the boot menu from the system if you are having major issues with the program. Reboot Restore Rx only uses a few Megabytes of memory while in use, supports from Windows 2000 up to Windows 8.1 and is constantly kept up to date.
3. Returnil System Safe Free 2011
Time Freeze and Reboot Restore Rx are both standalone products and free for personal and commercial use, System Safe Free on the other hand is a cutdown version of the full shareware application and only free for personal use. The name also gives you a big clue that the software hasn’t been updated for a few years. The free version can be enabled during installation, free registration is also required to keep using some functions after 30 days.
Because this is a free version of a full product, several things are disabled such as the System Restore Rollback function, Real Disk Access and importantly the File Manager which allows you to copy/move files while Virtual Mode is on. System Safe is also a bit more complicated to use because among other things it also includes a basic built in Virus Guard although you can disable it if you already have a better and more permanent antivirus solution.
To start Virtual Mode all you need to do is right click the tray icon or press the Start button from the GUI, now the real system partition will be protected from changes until you reboot the system. Like the Toolwiz exclude option, Returnil uses a method to allow you to save files that survive a reboot although it works differently. System Safe can mount a virtual disk drive where you can store all your files, then after the reboot you can access the files from the virtual drive and save them where you want.
Some other useful options are setting the percentage of hard drive space to use for Virtual Mode (default is 50%), turning on Virtual Mode when you boot Windows, adding extra partitions to the protection mode, password protecting the program and a file protection option that can protect individual files or folders on other partitions. Returnil System Safe Free uses just over 20MB of memory during use and is known not to be fully compatible with Windows 8 or 8.1 due to its lack of updates.