Restoring your computer to
a pre-defined point

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One of the biggest conveniences of Windows XP is that you can set up restore points so that if for any reason your computer starts malfunctioning after you do something major, such as installing a new software, you can easily bring the computer back to that pre-defined point when it was functioning normally. I personally find this feature very reassuring, even though I never had to use it!

Windows XP periodically records a snapshot of your computer's registry settings, some critical system files, and some program files and stores them as restore points. It does that behind the scene, without letting you know. If at any time your computer becomes unstable or acts erratically, you can use these restore points to bring back the computer to a state when it was working normally. You do this by using the System Restore utility. You can also create these restore points yourself. In fact, whenever you are doing something major to your computer such as installing an unsigned driver or software, or changing registry settings of your computer (please do not attempt to do this unless you are a pro) and you know that this kind of action might make your computer unstable, it is highly advisable that you create a restore point using the System Restore before you do such act so that in case your computer becomes unstable after such an act, you can use System Restore to bring it to the point when your computer was last running corrcetly.

Okay, let's jump in and see how to use System Restore. You can access System Restore in 3 different ways.

1. Through Help and Support:
a) Click Start
b) Click Help and Support
c) Click Undo changes to your computer with System Restore under Pick a task. (Please see screenshot below).

Help and Support Center
Figure 1
Help and Support Center.
Click to enlarge image. After viewing the enlarged image
click on the Back button to come back to this page.

2. Through Control Panel:
a) Click Start
b) Click Control Panel
c) Click Performance and Maintenance
d) On the left panel click System Restore. (Please see screenshot below).

Performance and Maintenance
Figure 2
Performance and Maintenance.
Click to enlarge image. After viewing the enlarged image
click on the Back button to come back to this page.

3. Through the All Programs menu:
a) Click Start
b) Point to All Programs
c) Point to Accessories
d) Point to System Tools
e) Click System Restore.

When you arrive at System Restore, the Welcome screen looks like this:

Welcome to System Restore screen
Figure 3
Welcome to System Restore screen.

Note that on the left side of the screen there is brief explanation of what System Restore does and when should you use it. Below it is a hyperlink to System Restore Settings. You can customize a lot of settings by clicking on that link. But let's leave System Restore to its default settings until we know for sure what we are doing.

On the right side of the welcome screen, you will find two tasks you can perform with System Restore.

Restore my computer to an earlier time
Create a restore point

By default, you will see the first option is already pre-selected. Assuming you want to restore your computer, click on Next. That will bring up the next screen showing a calender with some dates in bold. Those are the dates when Windows automatically created Restore Points for your computer. If you use your computer every day, all the dates may be in bold. Click on the latest bold date when you think your computer was working normally. Next to the calender, you will see a list displaying restore points available for that date (some days may have multiple restore points created by the computer and/or you). From that list, select a restore point you want to go back to, and then click Next. See screenshot below.

Select a Restore Point
Figure 4
Select a Restore Point.

The above screenshot shows, for February 27, 2009 my computer created 4 Restore Points, and I have selected the top one (latest one for the day) created at 6:23:09 PM.

After choosing the Restore Point as shown above, when you click Next, Windows will undo everything (some things will not change, see notes below) that was done to your computer after that Restore Point, and then restart your computer. It is important to save all your unsaved documents and close all open programs before performing System Restore as your computer will automatically restart after System Restore. Hopefully, System Restore will bring back your computer to its previous stable state. If not, you can try again using a different restore point. You can also undo (reverse) the changes made by System Restore. Please see notes on the bottom of this page.

To create a Restore Point yourself, on the Welcome to System Restore screen (Figure 3) select Create a restore point, and then click on Next. The following dialog box will appear:

Create a Restore Point
Figure 5
Create a Restore Point.

In this dialog box, write a short description of the Restore Point so that you can easily recognize it in the future. Windows automatically adds the date and time when the Restore Point was created. But I often write the date myself as it helps me to remember when certain thing was done. You may or may not want to do that. After writing your description, just click on Create. In the next window, Windows will confirm creation of your Restore Point. You can now just click on OK to close that window and get out of System Restore.

Several Notes:

  • Windows automatically creates Restore Points daily, if you use your computer regularly. It also creates Restore Points when special events take place such before new device drivers, automatic updates, unsigned drivers, and some applications are installed.

  • While System Restore reverts your computer to a previous setting (Restore Point) when your computer was stable, it does not alter your personal files, such as files saved in My Documents, My Pictures, My Music, My DVDs, My Videos etc. It also does not alter documents like Word documents, e-mail settings and messages, and your Internet favorites list.

  • System Restore works like the Undo command found under Edit menu of most programs.

  • System Restore cannot help if your computer's hard drive has crashed or got physically damaged because all Restore Points are saved in the hard drive of your computer. If you cannot access your hard drive, you cannot use System Restore.

  • To use System Restore, you'll need 200 MB of free space in your hard drive. This is the default setting. This space used is to store the data collected for each Restore Point. If 200 MB of free space is not available in your hard drive, System Restore will disable itself until 200 MB is available again. When the 200 MB of allocated space becomes full, the System Restore will start to overwrite on the old data beginning with the oldest data. The 200 MB of default space allocated to System Restore can be increased. To learn how to increase this space click here.

  • System Restore is a rather drastic step to take to fix problems in your computer. You should try more simple remedies before trying System Restore. First try re-starting the computer. It is amazing to see how many computer problems can be fixed just by taking this simple step. If your computer has become unstable immediately after installing a new program, try removing the program by using Add or Remove Programs found in the Control Panel or use the uninstall feature of the program if it has one. Many other remedies can be and should be tried before using System Restore. Click here to learn what else can be tried.

  • Often time a computer's sudden instability happens after installing an outdated or unsigned or incompatible software. While use of System Restore can bring back your computer to a previously known stable state, it normally does not remove the program from your computer though it can if you choose to apply it. It is advisable, to remove the program from the computer by using Add or Remove Programs found in the Control Panel if you have used System Restore first before removing the program.

  • If installation of a device driver has caused the erratic behaviour of your computer, learn here how to use the Device Driver Rollback feature without using the System Restore.

  • It is a good idea to create Restore Point manually before installing any new program though Windows XP will automatically create Restore Points IF that program uses "restorept.api-compliant" installer. But how would you know about such technical things? Normally, programs that comes in CDs or DVDs, and the program's box says "Windows XP compliant", can be expected to use "restorept.api-compliant" installer. May be for such programs you do not need to create a Restore Point manually before installing it. But to be on the safe side, I always do. It does not take more than a minute or so. But always create a Restore Point manually before installing a program like a screensaver or similar that you have downloaded from the Internet. These little known programs most likely do not use "restorept.api-compliant" installer. Moreover, this type of programs are more likely to cause computer instabilities. So please take the precaution if you must use this type of programs. Better be safe than sorry.

  • Hungry for more info on System Restore? Read the articles on System Restore I have listed on the links page.

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