Time Travel with System Restore

Category: Windows

Help! I downloaded a program that was supposed to remove spyware from my computer. But now I'm getting even MORE popups and my system freezes at random intervals. I tried to uninstall but can't find a way to get rid of this thing. What do you recommend?

What is System Restore?

I feel your pain... unless you are very careful, you can download a new program or software update, then find that it makes your system unstable. Wouldn't it be nice if you could go back to a point in time when your computer was working? With System Restore, you can. (Note: the instructions in this article apply to Windows XP. If you are running Windows 7, please see System Restore For Windows 7)

Think of System Restore as the Undo command for Windows. While your computer is on, System Restore takes regular snapshots of your Windows configuration, settings, and program files. These snapshots (known as "restore points") are stored on your hard disk so you can revert back to that point in the event of a computer emergency. Restore points are automatically created when new software is installed, when Windows Update applies changes, on a daily basis, and when you request a manual restore point. If you can remember the most recent time when your computer was working correctly, System Restore will roll back all system changes to that point.
System Restore

Will I Lose Personal Files?

So what exactly does System Restore do? Let's start with what it doesn't do... System Restore WILL NOT remove or modify any personal data files such as word processor documents, spreadsheets, music & photos, web favorites, emails, etc. More specifically, files in the My Documents folder will never be touched. If you are unsure as to whether a file will be affected by System Restore, keep it in that folder. System Restore WILL affect your Windows system files, settings, and recently installed software.

While System Restore can be a wonderful tool to get your computer back to a functioning state after a virus or spyware infestation, I strongly recommend that you use it only in such emergencies. If you have installed a program and suspect that it may be causing trouble, always try Add and Remove Programs in Control Panel first. I offer this caution because System Restore is a rather drastic measure. On the few occasions I've used it, System Restore did solve the problem at hand, but some minor things like fonts, wallpaper and desktop settings were altered. There's also a chance that you'll end up removing a program you've recently installed, which you do want to keep.

Running System Restore

Running System Restore

If your computer seems to be unstable, first attempt to remove any suspected software packages through Control Panel, then do thorough anti-virus and anti-spyware scans. See my articles Free Anti-Virus Programs and MalwareBytes Anti-Malware for some excellent free software to help with those tasks.

If the problem persists, give System Restore a try. To roll back your computer settings to a previously saved restore point:

  • Click the Start button, then select Programs / Accessories / System Tools
  • Click System Restore.
  • Choose "Restore my computer to an earlier time" then click Next.
  • Select a day on the calendar, a restore point description, then click Next.

When System Restore begins, the computer will restart, the hands on your wall clock will spin backwards, and a groovy technicolor swirl will envelope the room. You may hear an audible moan and see smoke rising from your computer as the hard drive grinds. And with a bit of luck your system will be restored to normal functioning.

I have heard that some programs may interfere with the functioning of System Restore. If you have problems getting System Restore to start or complete, see my related article System Restore Not Working.

Do you have experience with System Restore that you'd like to share? Post your comments below...

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Most recent comments on "Time Travel with System Restore"

Posted by:

22 Aug 2011

This saved me!!!! I had what I think is called the "Google redirect virus". Is it a rootkit virus - I think? Basically, you think google is fine, and then all of a sudden my searches would take me to spammed pages that looked correct, but the url was obviously altered to a spam site. My virus software removed a trojan, but this problem would still occur. And then a few hours later the trojan would re-appear again. Repeat cycle next day: reboot, google is fine, then google redirect issue occurs, virus removed, google fine again, google redirect issue again 20 minutes later. I almost wiped the entire OS to start over. However...System restore ran this morning -- SO FAR SO GOOD!!!!!!

Posted by:

22 Aug 2011

I had a nasty program that got on my computer that would not allow me to use any tools including my anti-virus and system restore. Once I got the computer into safe mode I was able to use system restore and it worked then. Learn how to do this with your computers while it is still working. I had to get the information on how to get into safe mode through a library computer.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2011

I love it! I've always told people when I had to use this that I'm sending their computer back in time!

Posted by:

23 Aug 2011

There are some very sophisticated malware nasties out there that will hide all of your program files, disrupt your security programs and generally wreak havoc with your entire computer...and System Restore is also neutered by at least one of those malware programs. If you get a popup window, advising you your computer is infected by a virus, and you should "click here" to repair it...DON'T! If you do, it's almost instantly too late to avoid a lot of heartache and quite possibly a complete system reinstall.

Posted by:

Dean Karr
26 Sep 2011

Could a virus store itself in the My Documents folder where System Restore couldn't delete it?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, it's possible. But keep in mind that it's not the job of System Restore to clean your system of viruses.

Posted by:

19 Jun 2013

Hi - I had a similiar problem - every browser search brought up more ads. - I found a program called YEALT when I went to control panel/programs - I uninstalled it and the problem went away.

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