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System Restore in Windows

By . Last modified: 2014-08-14.

How to use System Restore for restoring your computer to an earlier state in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1

Here are some troubleshooting steps to try before using System Restore:

  • Last Known Good Configuration often solves booting and stability problems after installing software, drivers, or messing with Registry entries. This is available for Windows XP, Vista and 7 only.
  • Always boot to Safe Mode at least once - this often repairs corrupted file system and essential system files.
  • If Windows is able to boot, use System File Checker and icacls.exe to repair corrupted system files.
  • While Windows is running, use free WhoCrashed for determining BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) causes.
    In Windows Vista and later, Reliability Monitor might also reveal faulty drivers or software.

System Restore (aka System Protection in Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1) literally turns back time for your computer - it restores the system files, programs, drivers and settings that were used at a time when your computer was still working well.
It also restores your previous Windows password in case you changed it recently - so please make sure you remember your previous password!

Do not worry, System Restore will not touch your documents, e-mails, pictures, videos, etc. It will restore only system and program files, and settings in Registry. But if you have installed a program after the time you want to restore your system to, you will still have to reinstall that program.

Never expect System Restore to remove a virus, rootkit or any other malware - use free anti-virus programs and free anti-malware programs for this job.

System Restore is available both in Safe Mode and while running Windows normally. The only difference is that after restoring to an earlier restore point in Safe Mode of Windows Vista, 7, 8 or 8.1, the action cannot be undone; if you have Windows running normally, you can undo the restoration.

System Restore is configured and turned on by default. You can read about its settings in the Configure System Restore in Windows article.

It is preferred to start System Restore while Windows runs in its normal mode. If Windows is unable to start or run normally, use one of the following options to start System Restore:

Restoring to an earlier point with System Restore

In Windows XP, open Start menu and browse to All Programs, Accessories, System Tools. Click System Restore.
In Windows Vista and 7, click Start button or press Ctrl+Esc on your keyboard, type "system restore" into Start menu Search box and click System Restore.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W to open Settings Search, type "system restore" into Search box and click Create a restore point. That's correct, this just opens System Protection window and does not create a new restore point.
Windows XP, All Programs menu. Open Accessories and System Tools. Then click System Restore. Windows Vista, Start menu. To start System Restore, type 'system restore' into Start menu Search box and click System Restore. Windows 8, Start screen, Settings Search. To open System Protection, type 'system restore' into Search box and click 'Create a restore point'.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, you must also click the System Restore button on System Protection tab of System Properties window.
Windows 8, System Properties, System Protection tab. Click 'System Restore' to restore to an earlier point in time.

If you have no restore points available or System Protection is turned off, you are out of luck with System Restore. This might be some malware has disabled System Restore completely.

If you have several versions of Windows (for example, Vista and 7) installed on the same hard disk or partition, then starting one Windows version deletes all restore points for other versions - stupid, but for some reason Microsoft decided to implement it this way (the same folder is used to store Restore Points).

Windows XP, System Restore has been turned off and cannot be turned on in Safe Mode. Click OK. Windows 7, System Restore, no restore points have been created. Click Cancel.

If you do have something to restore, you will be reminded that System Restore will not affect your documents, e-mails or other personal data - just programs and their settings will be restored. Click Next.
Windows XP, System Restore in Safe Mode. Click Next. Windows 7, System Restore in Safe Mode. Click Next.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, if you launched System Restore from Recovery Environment and there are System Restore Points available, Windows will ask you to sign in first. Click your user name, provide your password and click Continue. Please note that U.S. keyboard layout is active by default, so use the Change keyboard layout button if needed.
Windows 8, Preparing system restore. Stand by. Windows 8, System Restore in Recovery Environment, Choose an account to continue. Click your user name. Windows 8, System Restore in Recovery Environment, Enter the password for this account. Type the passphrase and click Continue.

In Windows XP, a calendar appears. The dates that are in bold have restore points. Select the one you need and click Next.
Windows XP, System Restore, Restore Point Calendar. Select a bold date and then click the restore point you want to use. Click Next.

In Windows Vista, a list of all available restore points is displayed. Select the point you need and click Next.
Windows Vista, System Restore, Choose a restore point. Click on the Restore Point you want to recover and click Next.

In Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, not all available restore points are shown in case you have recently created a restore point yourself. In that case, put a check mark in the Show more restore points box.
Windows 7, System Restore, select a restore point. If you have created a manual restore point yourself recently, you will see only that restore point. Check the box named Show more restore points. Then select the needed point and click Next.

To see which programs will be affected by restoring to an earlier restore point of Windows 7 and 8/8.1, click the one you want to restore in the list and then click Scan for affected programs. Building the list will take a while.
Check the Programs and drivers that will be deleted list and the Programs and drivers that might be restored list. Please note that restoring a program does not always mean that this program will start or work correctly - you might still have to reinstall the program. Click Close, choose your restore point and then click Next.
Windows 7, System Restore, a list of programs and drivers that will be removed and a list of programs and drivers that might be restored after restoring the selected Restore Point.

A summary screen appears. Click Next or Finish.
Ignore any warnings about the drives where System Restore was turned off.
Windows XP, System Restore, summary. Click Next to start restoring the selected Restore Point. Windows 8, System Restore, Confirm your restore point. Click Finish.

In Windows Vista, 7 and 8/8.1, System Restore warns that restoring cannot be undone if you are using it in Safe Mode. Click Yes to start restoring. This warning does not appear if you start System Restore while Windows runs normally.
Windows Vista, System Restore cannot be undone if you run it in Safe Mode. Click Yes to continue.

If started from Windows normal mode, the restoration process usually logs all users off and message "Windows is shutting down" might be displayed. Do not worry, System Restore just needs to unlock files and settings before it can run properly.

Restoration process takes time - from ten minutes to several hours is absolutely normal.
Do not reboot or power off your computer during the restoration process!
First, System Restore initializes and restores Windows files and settings (no, your documents are not affected!), then it will clear temporary files.
Windows XP, System Restore, Restoring files.Windows Vista, please wait while your Windows files and settings are being restored. System Restore is initializing.

Windows XP, System Restore, Restoring settings. Windows 7, please wait while your Windows files and settings are being restored. System Restore is removing temporary files.

After System Restore is complete, your computer will restart. In Recovery Environment, an additional dialog will be displayed, click Restart.
Windows 8, System Restore completed successfully. Click Restart.

If Windows starts normally, then the restoration probably solved your problem. Please note that the restart and logging on after System Restore might take noticeably more time than usual - this is normal just this once.

If Windows will not restart your computer automatically in three hours, verify that the hard disk activity indicator light is not on and does not blink within a minute. You can then press reset button or hold down power button for more than 5 seconds to reboot or turn off your PC. After turning off, wait 20 seconds and turn the computer back on.
Windows should start normally and System Restore was probably not interrupted.

Log on as usual and you will hopefully see a System Restore success dialog. Click Close. In Windows 8 and 8.1, the dialog appears only if you open Desktop.
If the restoration affected programs or drivers, you might need to reinstall them - but make sure that they are not the cause of your Windows problems! Reinstall one of the programs or drivers and then restart to see if Windows works correctly. Then continue with reinstalling the second one, restart again, etc. Welcome to the world of troubleshooting! Laughing
Windows XP, System Restore, Restoration Complete. Click OK. Windows 7, System Restore completed successfully. Click Close.

If System Restore fails

In case System Restore did not finish its job well enough, you will see an error message after logging on to Windows. Read the Details part carefully - this includes the probable cause of failure.
Here system was rebooted during restore (you should never do that while restoring!). Click Home or Run System Restore to retry restoring to an earlier point of time.
Windows XP, System Restore, Restoration Incomplete. Click Home to select another Restore Point.

Here System Restore was not able to access some file or files. Although the details part talks about anti-virus programs, the real cause was that files or folders were messed up on hard disk drive. You should boot into Safe Mode then, because a disk check is always performed before starting Windows. Then, in Safe Mode, retry the restoration process.
Click Close in such case.
Windows 7, System Restore did not complete successfully. Details part reveals that some file could not be accessed. Boot Windows into Safe Mode and retry System Restore.

Undoing a System Restore

If restoration itself succeeds, but you have even more problems than before, you can undo the last System Restore operation. In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, you can undo only if you ran System Restore in normal mode of Windows, not Safe Mode! In other cases, just restore some other restore point available (described here).

To undo the last restoration, run System Restore again:

  • In Windows XP, open Start menu and browse to All Programs, Accessories, System Tools. Click System Restore.
  • In Windows Vista and 7, open Start menu and type "system restore" into Search box. Then click System Restore in search results.
  • In Windows 8 and 8.1, open Settings Search using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W, type "system restore" into Search box and click Create a restore point. In System Properties window, click System Restore.

If System Restore detects a previously restored state, you have an option to undo it.
Select Undo my last restoration (in Windows XP) or Undo System Restore. Then click Next.
In Windows XP, ignore any warnings about disks that had System Restore turned off.
Windows XP, System Restore. If you need to undo the last restoration, select Undo my last restoration. Then click Next. Windows 7, undo option in System Restore. If you need to undo the last restoration, click Next.

Click Next or Finish to start undoing.
Windows XP, System Restore, Confirm Restoration Undo. Click Next. Windows 7, undoing System Restore, Confirm your restore point. Click Finish to undo the latest restoration process.

In Windows Vista, 7 and 8/8.1, a warning about interrupting System Restore appears. Click Yes.
Windows Vista, System Restore cannot be undone if you run it in Safe Mode. Click Yes to continue.

You will again be logged off and System Restore will take from 10-30 minutes to several hours. After Windows starts again, log on and check that you see success message about System Restore Undo.

 

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