Windows 10 : System Restore

System Restore resets the PC to an earlier point in time using a system restore point. A restore point is a snapshot of the Windows Registry, Windows settings, and some system files. System Restore tries to keep track of all those files whose modification or deletion could potentially cause problems for the system. It takes periodic snapshots of these files. During a System Restore only these files are restored. Whether you have Restore Points available for a reset depend on whether System Restore is enabled on your PC.

Availability of restore points

To quickly get a list of restore points available, start Powershell as administrator and run the command:Get-ComputerRestorePoint.

System Restore is a very old feature in Windows; it has been available for at least as far back as Windows XP. It has always been enabled by default. But it is disabled by default in some Windows 10 computers. Sometimes Windows updates also seem to turn off System Restore. In short, the availability of restore points is no longer as certain as it once used to be.

The good news is that if System Restore is enabled on your PC, you will most likely have some restore points available to you. This is because Windows creates restore points automatically. This is done both periodically, and before performing certain operations which could potentially destabilize the system. For example, operations like updating windows, updating a driver, etc.

Sometimes Windows deletes restore points after an update

Windows often create restore points, before applying an update. Somewhat confusingly, it sometimes deletes restore points after an update is successful. This is because System Restore does only a partial rollback of the system. Such a partial rollback may break the system after an update. So even if you have created a system restore point manually, you may find it missing when you try to restore using it.

Advantages

System Restore is more convenient than a full image restore. Restore points can be created much faster and takes up significantly less disk space. System Restore does not touch your personal files so you can perform a System Restore without risking losing them. With a full disc restore, you will lose all personal files created after the backup. Automatic creation of restore points has always been a major benefit in practice since most users don’t bother to make full-disc backups.

Disadvantages

The convenience of System Restore comes at a price. As mentioned before System Restore does not do a full restore of the system. Restore points keeps track of only those files which Windows deems to be important for the functioning of the system. These include the system files, the registry, device drivers and many file types which Windows considers to be important like exes, dlls, etc. You could think of it as something like a smart system-backup. It is smart enough to work most of the time, but there is a small risk that the system would end up in an inconsistent state worse than it started with.

Even when System Restore works you might end up with minor inconveniences like broken shortcuts, third-party applications which are neither working nor properly uninstalled, etc. I will explain how to deal with some of these issues later in the article.

The flip side of System Restore not touching your personal files is that it does not offer any protection to your personal files. For that, you have to look at something like file history or third-party backup options. Another, albeit unlikely, problem with System Restore is that there might be a difference of opinion between you and System Restore as to what constitutes a personal file. For example, if you have created a batch file or a VBS script recently, System Restore might delete it thinking that it is a system file.

System Restore when Windows does not load

You should use this option only if you are unable to start Windows normally. If you are able to login to your Windows account, it is recommended that you perform system restore from inside Windows. That way you will have more options at your disposal.

If you are unable to start Windows normally, you can use the Boot Options Menu to access System Restore. For accessing the Boot Options Menu, please see How to access the Boot Options Menu in Windows 10. Since your Windows is not loading it is options 2 and 3 from that page which you should be looking at.

Once you have accessed the Boot Options Menu, follow these steps. In the Choose an option screen click troubleshoot.

The main screen of the Boot Options Menu

In the troubleshoot screen choose Advanced Options.

Troubleshoot screen

In the Advanced Options screen click System Restore. The computer will restart at this point.

Advanced Options screen of The Boot Options Menu

System Restore would ask you to choose an account.

Choose Account

Enter the password and click Continue. If you have not set up a password for your account, leave the password box blank and click Continue.

Enter Password

System Restore application would now start; to learn how to use it, see the section: Performing a System Restore.

System Restore from inside Windows

  1. Click the Start Button.
  2. Search for System Protection.
  3. Select the option Create a Restore point.

Both the search string and the name of the option are a bit confusing but it will work for our purpose. This would open the System Properties window, with System Protection tab selected.

Performing a System Restore

In the System Protection tab click the System Restore button.

System Properties Window

In the System Restore Window, click next.

The first system restore screen

Another Window with the same name would appear. Select the restore point to which you want the computer to be reset. If you are unsure, it is safer to select the most recent restore point. Then, click the Scan for affected programs button.

The second and the real System Restore Window

System Restore would scan for the files which would be affected by the restore operation and list them in the Window shown below.

List of Programs affected by System Restore

The top list shows the recently installed programs which are going to be partially removed if you go ahead with System Restore. System Restore would remove the executables and DLLs and the registry entries made by the program but the other files belonging to the program would remain.

The list at the bottom shows recently uninstalled programs which System Restore is going to bring back from the dead. As with program removal, System Restore does only a partial job with program recovery. System Restore can bring back only the files which were included in the restore point. The other files which got deleted during the uninstall cannot be brought back.

As you can see the application reset done by System Restore is usually an inconvenience. But once the problem is solved, you can reinstall the missing or orphaned applications as required.

Review the changes System Restore is going to make and see if you are okay with it. It would be a good idea to make a note of these changes or take a screenshot of this window for future reference. If you are accessing System Restore from inside Windows, you could consider uninstalling the about to be removed applications manually. This is not required and things usually work fine without performing this step. But there are some applications which don’t like the partial removal done by System Restore and refuse to reinstall.

Close out of the Window with the lists and you will be back in the main System Restore window. Click next to continue.

System Restore Window

System Restore will now ask you to confirm the restore point. It also shows a couple of warnings. There is the standard warning about saving files, closing open programs, etc. The warning about changed passwords merits an explanation. If you have recently changed the password of your account and don’t remember the old password, you will be unable to log in after system restore. The solution is to create a password reset disk as mentioned in the warning. Check out Creating and using a password reset disk in Windows to see how.  Password reset disks work with old and future passwords, not just your current password.

System Restore Confirmation Window

System Restore will give another warning that once the restore process starts, it cannot be interrupted. It also says that if System Restore is being run in safe mode or from the System Recovery Options menu, you will not be able to undo it. Does this mean that you can undo a system restore if you are performing it from inside Windows? The answer is yes; It creates a restore point before performing the restore. If you find that System Restore has not solved your problem, you have the option undoing the restore using this restore point. If you are unable to load Windows properly and can’t run System Restore from inside Windows, then I guess the inability to create a restore point of your currently inaccessible system is not a big problem. Click yes if you are okay to continue.

Final warning before starting system restore

If everything went well, you will see the following success message.

Confirmation of successful system restore

In some cases, System Restore would tell you that it was unable to restore the system. In this case, you could try a different restore point as explained below.

What if System Restore did not solve your problem? You have two options; you can try a different restore point; the other option is damage control. If you feel you are worse off than before, you can undo the restore. Run System Restore again; both options will be available there.

System Restore With Undo

Configure System Restore

In the Start Menu search for System Protection, and choose the option Create a Restore point. This opens the same System Properties window which we saw earlier. To configure System Restore select the drive which you want to work with; then click the configure button. System Restore is typically enabled only for the system drive. You can enable it for other drives as well if you have installed programs in them.

System Properties

The next window shows the System Protection options for the drive you have chosen. In this window, you can enable or disable system protection or set the maximum disk space which will be allocated for storing the restore points. When System Restore runs out of allocated space, it deletes older restore points. There is also an option to delete all restore points.

System Protection options for the choosen drive

Creating Restore Points manually

Search for System Protection using the start menu and choose the option Create a Restore Point.

System Properties window with System Protection tab activated and Create button highlighted

Enter a descriptive name for the restore point and click create. You don’t need to add the date to the name of the restore point since date and time are added automatically.

Create Restore Point window

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