Dave’s Computer Tips: Why System Restore is a Poor Backup

by David Hartsock for Daves Computer Tips

Microsoft has included a system restore function in Windows since Windows ME as a way of providing protection to the important system files of the operating system. How successful this has been is open to discussion, and many will say it has been less than reliable in versions prior to Vista.

Microsoft took a much needed look at the system restore feature while designing Vista and made many changes for the better. Unfortunately they choose to commit 15% of a computer’s storage to System Restore and did not include a method for the user to easily modify any settings related to System Restore. This prompted our How to Change Vista’s System Restore Size article. Windows 7 continues with the Shadow Copy storage method but changes the disk storage requirements to 300MB as a minimum and 5% of available storage as the default, or 10GB, whichever is less. Windows 7 also adds a very useful way for users to modify settings and interact with System Restore, but before we look at how to change settings we should have a better understanding of the limitations and function of system restore in general.

What does System Restore backup?

System restore in Windows 7 isn’t a catch all backup and should never be relied upon as such. As I stated earlier system restore’s sole purpose is to protect itself, not your data!

This is Microsoft’s description:

System Restore uses restore points to return your system files and settings to an earlier point in time without affecting personal files…

That seems pretty straight forward, but let’s look at what System Restore does protect:

Windows system files – Files are monitored by extension. It is an extensive list, but you won’t find .mp3, .doc, .jpg, etc in the list.

The Registry – A snapshot of the registry is taken, but this won’t necessarily protect your programs and documents.

User Profile – Files located in user accounts (C:UserNameAppData) that are directly related to the Operating System.

What System Restore does not protect:

Your documents.

Your photos.

Your music.

Your email.

Your program settings.

Hopefully you can see by the above that System Restore should not be relied upon to safeguard any of your personal data!

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This excerpt is shared with permission from davescomputertips.com.

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10 thoughts on “Dave’s Computer Tips: Why System Restore is a Poor Backup”


    1. Thank you Avery, It was always good if something messed up and I could go back to the time before things messed up..
      Have a great week 🙂


  2. Thank you Peter, System restore is a great program, but I don’t use it as a back up for my files folders and such, but it is great if a program you just installed, causes problems, so you can move back it up to the time before you installed the troublesome program.

  3. System restore is one of the more brilliant feature MS introduced. It comes into its own when one has/wants to fiddle with system settings. How often have you change a few settings in 2 minutes only to find that it doesn’t work and then you spend 2 hours to get them back to a working state?
    Whoever thought that it is a backup of user data must be brain dead.

  4. I think SpywareBlaster contains a tool similar to system restore. It is not a dedicated program for restoring, but it might prove useful.

  5. Yeah I’ve tried and probably only successfully a few times actually got system restore to work properly, but i don’t think i have ever tried it with windows 7. I would suggest a better option if you have windows 7 professional, use system back up, and create a restore disk for your PC. Set it up so it saves a new copy once every week. Ive used this once and it worked great.

  6. My system restore in XP doesn’t work anymore,
    I have tried different info to make it work, but still no luck. Is there another program out there that will do what system restore does ? thank You and I sure enjoy your info columns.
    Thank You

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