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System Image Backup in Windows 8.1

By , winhelp.us logo. Last updated: 2018-08-21

How to create or update System Image Backup in Windows 8.1

There is no traditional backup and restore functionality in Windows 8.1, but there is still a way to create a full image of system drive (the disk/partition where Windows is installed) that can later be restored from Recovery Environment.

Please remember to create Recovery Drive for easy access to Repair your PC options.
You might also want to create a Custom Recovery Image for better Refresh your PC functionality.

System Image Backup has been around since Windows 7, so you can use almost the same instructions. In Windows 7, you need to open Backup and Restore Center from Start menu instead of File History to see the System Image Backup link.
In Windows 8 and 10, all instructions are exactly the same as for Windows 8.1.
Please note that Windows 7, 8 and 10 allow easy scheduling of such backups.

Caveats for System Image Backups in Windows 8.1

Clearly, Microsoft wants you to use File History, OneDrive (aka SkyDrive) and maybe even Storage Spaces for storing, syncing and backing up your personal files, and Refresh your PC or Reset your PC for restoring Windows to a working state. Maybe that is why System Image Backup is so difficult to find in Windows 8.1.

Here are a few things you should know about system images in Windows 8.1:

  • You can create only one System Image Backup on a drive unless you rename the backup folder each time after the backup is complete: previous version in the default backup folder will always be overwritten.
  • There is no easy way of scheduling image backups, and for the previous reason, it is not really recommended either. You do not want to automatically overwrite a good system image with image of a computer that does not run properly.
  • System Image Backup cannot be used for restoring individual files or folders in Windows Recovery Environment (RE): restoring the image means overwriting everything on the target drive. File History is the proper solution for backing up and restoring personal data in Windows 8.1.
    You can, however, restore individual files by mounting the .vhdx disk image file in Disk Management if you have a working Windows 8, 8.1 or 10 computer.
  • Target drive for the backup must be NTFS-formatted. FAT, FAT32 and exFAT file systems are not supported. You can convert a FAT/FAT32 partition to NTFS without losing any data, but please do not do this on a Windows 8/8.1/10 Recovery Drive as the drive must be FAT32 to support UEFI boot.

Using DISM to verify that Windows Component Store is intact

Before you create a full backup, it is strongly recommended to check for corruption in Windows Component Store - there is no point in backing up a broken installation that will probably fail in the near future.

Warning: Windows 10 version 1511 (build 10586.36) has a known problem with DISM's RestoreHealth command ending with error 0x800f081f: just ignore this one.
To check Window version information, open Start, type winver and click the result.

Open elevated Command Prompt: either open Start screen, type cmd, right-click on Command Prompt and select Run as administrator; or if you've set to display Command Prompt in Taskbar Navigation settings, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+X to bring up Quick Links menu (a list of commands for power users) and click Command Prompt (Admin).
Windows 8.1, Search everywhere. To open elevated Command Prompt, type 'cmd', right-click 'Command Prompt' and select 'Run as administrator'. Windows 8.1, Quick List with Command Prompt commands. Click 'Command Prompt (Admin)'.

In the black window, type or copy-paste the following command to have DISM (Deployment Imaging and Servicing Management) tool verify the integrity of Component Store: Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /ScanHealth . Press Enter key to launch the command.
The check takes up to 15 minutes to complete, and if the result reads "No component store corruption detected", you have the green light to create the System Image Backup.
Windows 8.1, Administrator Command Prompt. Type 'Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /ScanHealth' and press Enter key to verify that Windows Component Store is intact.

If the result reads "The component store is repairable" instead, type Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth and press Enter key to fix the corruption. The process can last up to 15 minutes again and positive result reads: "The restore operation completed successfully. The component store corruption was repaired." Move on to the System Image Backup creation then.
Windows 8.1, Administrator Command Prompt. DISM result 'The component store is repairable'. Windows 8, Administrator Command Prompt. To fix Component Store, type 'Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth' and press Enter key.

In case the RestoreHealth command fails no matter what, it is best to perform a non-destructive reinstall of Windows 8.1. This seems to be the only solution to the infamous DISM error 0x800f081f.

Creating a System Image Backup in Windows 8.1

To access the feature, open Search everywhere (keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q), type File History and click the result.
Yes, you read it right: "File History". Also, connect your external hard drive with plenty of available disk space now.
Windows 8.1, Search everywhere. To create or update a System Image Backup, type 'File History' and click the first result.

Click the link titled System Image Backup in the bottom left corner of the File History window.
Windows 8.1, File History window. Click 'System Image Backup' in the lower left corner.

If you cannot find the System Image Backup link, open elevated Command Prompt as instructed in the DISM section above, type sdclt.exe and press Enter key.

System Image Backup has been around since Windows 7, so you can use almost the same instructions. In Windows 7, you need to open Backup and Restore Center from Start menu instead of File History to see the System Image Backup link.
In Windows 8 and 10, all instructions are exactly the same as for Windows 8.1.

Please note that Windows 7, 8 and 10 allow easy automation of such backups.

Windows Vista's Business and Ultimate editions also include a similar feature. Open Backup Status and Configuration from Start menu, click the Complete PC Backup tab and then click Create a backup now.
The sdclt.exe command also works since Windows Vista.

First, System Image Backup looks for available DVD-writers and hard drives. While you can use network drives for backing up your PC, it is not recommended because backed up data cannot be securely protected on a network target.
I do not recommend using DVD-s for backups, either - optical media is vulnerable to scratches that might ruin the whole backup set, plus there are countless problems with restoring disk images from DVD-s.
If possible, use hard drives as your backup targets.

In accordance with common sense, you cannot create a system image on the same partition/volume where Windows is installed (usually drive letter C:). I also strongly recommend against keeping backups on another partition/volume of the same physical drive. You see, if this hard drive or SSD fails completely, you would lose Windows, all your data and all backups at the same time. Not really useful, huh?

In the Create a system image window, select On a hard disk. The best one might be already selected, but you can change the target drive using the combo box.
I recommend using destination drives that are connected to standard controllers (not SCSI, SAS, RAID and other controllers that Windows cannot automatically recognize or find driver for) or standard USB ports.

If you've created a system image on the selected drive before, there will be a line stating "Most recent backup on drive:" beneath the combo box.
There's a catch: a previous system image in the default backup folder will always be overwritten, so you need to rename the WindowsImageBackup folder (either add the date of the backup, or use number sequences) to have multiple system images on the same drive.
Click Next.
Windows 8.1, Create a system image, Where do you want to save the backup. Select the target hard drive from 'On a hard disk' combo box and click Next.

Windows then lists your backup location and size, plus drives/partitions that will be backed up.
Again, if there is a previous system image on the drive where you want to back up your PC, a yellow warning sign with the text "Any existing system images for this machine might be overwritten" appears.
Click Start backup if you're satisfied with the settings.
Windows 8.1, Create a system image, Confirm your backup settings. Click 'Start backup'.

Depending on the size of selected drive(s), the backup might take several hours. Click Close after it is complete.
Windows 8.1, Create a system image, The backup completed successfully. Click Close.

Scheduling System Image Backup in Windows 8.1

While it is not recommended to schedule System Image Backups in Windows 8.1, you might prefer to do so if you have more than one external hard drive dedicated for backups.

In such case, you can manually create one backup on one drive and leave it untouched forever: this will be your fail-safe backup right after installing and updating Windows and necessary software (you should use File History for backing up your personal files and folders).
Then schedule a PowerShell command that creates and updates backup on a different physical drive on a weekly basis.

To use this advanced scenario, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q to open Search everywhere, type schedule and click Schedule tasks.
Windows 8.1, Search everywhere. To automate System Image Backup, type 'schedule' and click or tap 'Schedule tasks'.

Right-click Task Scheduler Library and select Create Basic Task from the menu.
Windows 8.1, Task Scheduler. Right-click 'Task Scheduler Library' and click 'Create Basic Task' to add an automation job.

In the Create Basic Task Wizard window, type Name for the new task. Description is optional.
Click Next after you're done.
Windows 8.1, Create Basic Task Wizard. Enter Name and Description. Then click Next.

Set Task Trigger to Weekly and click Next. If programs and apps on your Windows device change rarely, you can select Monthly instead.
Windows 8.1, Create Basic Task Wizard, Task Trigger. Select 'Weekly' and click Next.

Because creating a system image slows your PC down for quite some time, choose a start time when your machine is most probably not in heavy use.
Click Next again.
Windows 8.1, Create Basic Task Wizard, Task Trigger Weekly. Set a start time and click Next.

Leave Start a program selected for Action and click Next.
Windows 8.1, Create Basic Task Wizard, Action. Leave 'Start a program' selected and click Next.

Type powershell.exe into Program/script field and then copy and paste the following line into Add arguments (optional) field:
wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:E: -include:C: -allCritical -quiet

Replace drive letter E: in the -backupTarget argument with the appropriate one for your backup destination disk if necessary.
Because Windows 8.1 always assigns drive letter C: to system drive (the one where Windows is installed), changing this one is not needed.
The -allCritical option includes everything (additional partitions/volumes or drives) required to start and run Windows properly in the backup. I guess you all know what -quiet means.
Windows 8.1, Create Basic Task Wizard, Action, Start a Program. Type 'powershell.exe' for Program/script. Enter 'wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:E: -include:C: -allCritical -quiet' into 'Add arguments' field. Click Next.

In the final screen of Create Basic Task Wizard, tick the Open the Properties dialog for this task when I click Finish check box and click Finish.
Windows 8.1, Create Basic Task Wizard, Finish. Put a check mark into the 'Open the Properties dialog for this task when I click Finish' check box and click Finish.

In the Security options section of Task Properties window, select the Run whether user is logged on or not option and tick the Run with highest privileges check box. Then click Change user or Group button next to the When running the task, use the following user account field.
Windows 8.1, Task Properties. Enable the 'Run whether user is logged on or not' and 'Run with highest privileges' options. Then click 'Change User or Group'.

Type system into Enter the object name to select field and click Check Names. The name turns into all capital letters and gets underlined. Click OK.
Windows 8.1, Task Properties, Select User or Group. Type 'system' and click 'Check Names'. Then click OK.

Back in the Task Properties window, open Settings tab and enable the Run task as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed option. This ensures that the backup is always created.
Windows 8.1, Task Properties, Settings tab. Turn on the 'Run task as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed' option. Then click OK.

Finally, click OK to save the task changes. Make sure that the destination drive is always connected during the scheduled time.

To verify that the backup task runs and finishes properly, open WindowsImageBackup folder on the target drive. There should be a subfolder with your computer's name - open it and then open another subfolder, Logs, and see if the Backup_error_<date and time>.log file is empty. If it is, the backup finished successfully.
Please note that you might have to use administrative privileges to open the folders for the first time.
Windows 8.1, File Explorer. The 'WindowsImageBackup\<your PC name>\Logs' folder contains log file for the latest System Image Backup.

Another way is to check backup log in Event Viewer. Use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+X to open Quick Links menu and click Event Viewer. Alternatively, right-click or tap and hold the Start tip on Taskbar.
Windows 8.1, Quick Links menu.

Expand Applications and Services Logs, Microsoft, Windows, Backup items and click Operational. You'll then see the list of events related to backing up your device. Here are some most common backup events in Windows:

  • Event ID 1 - The backup operation has started.
  • Event ID 4 - The backup operation has finished successfully.
  • Event ID 5 - Backup started at <date and time> failed with following error code <number>.
  • Event ID 8 - Backup cancelled.
  • Event ID 14 - The backup operation has completed. This event appears even if backup was cancelled or did not finish successfully.
  • Event ID 20 - Backup started at <date and time> failed as another backup or recovery is in progress.
  • Event ID 50 - Backup failed as required space was not available on the backup target. Free up some disk space on the target drive or increase available disk space on Windows disk.

Windows 8.1, Event Viewer. Event Properties - Event 4, The backup operation has finished successfully.

How to restore Windows 8.1 from a System Image Backup

First, you need to get into Windows 8.1 Recovery Environment (WinRE) using Recovery Drive or bootable Windows 8.1 installation DVD. If Windows is running, you can invoke Settings charm (keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I), click Power and hold down Shift key while clicking Restart.
Detailed instructions are included in Repair your computer in Windows 8 and 8.1 tutorial.

Click or tap Troubleshoot in Choose an option screen, then choose Advanced Options in Troubleshoot screen.
Windows 8.1 Recovery Environment, Choose an option. Click Troubleshoot. Windows 8.1 Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot. Click 'Advanced options'.

Next, in Advanced options screen, click or tap System Image Recovery, and choose your operating system. In this example, it is Windows 8.1.
Windows 8.1 Recovery Environment, Advanced options. Click 'System Image Recovery'.

Follow instructions in the Restore a System Image in Windows guide on how to complete System Image Recovery. The process and options are exactly the same as they were in Windows 7 and 8.


 

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