What Does System Restore Do?

Category: Windows

System Restore is a great feature in Windows that lets you roll back the clock on system changes. Have you ever wondered how System Restore affects your computer's resources, performance and what's really going on behind the scenes? Read on...

What Is System Restore Really Doing?

What does Windows' System Restore backup feature do all day on your computer? Is it worth having System Restore on all the time, or is it wasting resources you could use?

System Restore runs quietly in the background doing nothing but monitoring your computer's ever-changing state. By "state", I mean the system settings stored in your registry; what files are on your hard drive and which have changed in some way. So it doesn't consume much computer resources by running constantly. You won't gain noticeable performance by turning off System Restore.

System Restore saves your computer's current state to a file called a Restore Point when one of the following events happens or is about to happen:
free registry cleaners

  • When software is installed using the Windows Installer, Package Installer or other installers which are aware of System Restore.
  • When Windows Update installs new updates to Windows.
  • When the user installs a driver that is not digitally signed by Windows Hardware Quality Labs.
  • Every 24 hours of computer use or every 24 hours of calendar time, whichever happens first. Such a restore point is known as a system checkpoint. System Restore requires Task Scheduler to create system checkpoints. Also, system checkpoints are only created if the system is idle for a certain amount of time.
  • When the operating system starts after being off for more than 24 hours.
  • When the user requests it.

On Windows Vista, shadow copies created during File Backup and Complete PC Backup can also be used as restore points. Your restore points can consume a healthy chunk of your hard drive, but that's under your control.

By default, Windows allocates up to 15 per cent of your hard drive's available space for the saving of restore points. When this space is filled with restore points, the oldest restore point is deleted on a "first in, first out" basis. If your hard drive is getting close to being full, Windows may also delete some older restore points to free up space. You can change the disk space amount and other settings in the System Restore configuration dialogue.

  • Click Start, then Control Panel. (On XP, select "Classic View")
  • Click System, then click System Protection (On XP, click System Restore).
  • Select a drive and click the Configure/Settings button. A dialogue box appears that lets you
    • Turn System Restore protection on or off for this drive.
    • Set the percentage of disk space devoted to restore points
    • Delete all stored restore points (Vista or Win7)

Programs installed since the last restore point was created will be lost when you restore your system using System Restore. That's one way to get rid of malware, but it can also get rid of recently installed programs you want to keep. You should have backup copies of the installation packages, or be able to download them. See my related article for more details on how to run System Restore.

You should also have a way to boot your computer from CD, DVD, or flash drive in case your hard drive gets so messed up you can't boot from it normally. The Windows installation disc is one way. You can make a System Recovery disc too. Either will let you access restore points on the hard drive to set things right again.

Got comments or questions about System Restore? Post your thoughts below...

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Most recent comments on "What Does System Restore Do?"

Posted by:

24 Sep 2009

So, if I have a malware virus such as Antivirus 2009 I can simply use System Restore to remove all traces of the malware?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Possibly... if you know for sure WHEN the virus first appeared on your computer, you can restore to a point prior. But I would recommend something like MalwareBytes Anti-Malware instead.

Posted by:

24 Sep 2009

To make sure that I have at least one restore point for each calendar day, I found a little vb-script that does it for me. I put the script in my startup folder so it runs on every boot.

Set SRP=GetObject("winmgmts:\\.\root\default:Systemrestore")

CSRP=SRP.CreateRestorePoint("Hacked the registry", 0, 100)

copy the above two lines into wordpad and save the file as "SetRestore.vbs".

then put the file into your startup folder where it can run on each boot.

I just copied this ad verbatim. The "hacked the registry" bit is the name of the restore point, so I presume this could be anything!

Works fine, as it puts in a restore point at every boot-up.

Posted by:

24 Sep 2009

System restore doesn't work on my computer anymore. I have Windows XP Home Edition. Why might that be?

EDITOR'S NOTE: What might be happening when you try it?

Posted by:

25 Sep 2009

I experienced twice what Doug went through. Dell then sells me more "bug" control that doesn't seem to prevent the malicious crowd from playing havoc with my system. Why can't I get my Windows XP to restore when "stuff" gets by my "bug" control. It would save me $$ as I would be able to restore my own system and not have to buy more "bug" control. Perhaps Dell and Microsoft do not want me to have control??

Posted by:

Ruth Brown
25 Sep 2009

Like Doug, my system restore stopped working some time ago. I think some download from Microsoft caused the problem same as Standby no longer works.
I just live without it. I'm buying a new computer with Windows 7 next year.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2009

I quit using System Restore a long while back. I use ERUNT. IMHO a much better way. Check it out. It's free and it works.

I don't like System Restore. Each Restore point is valid only if the previous Restore point is valid. ERUNT creates a stand-alone 'save the bacon' copy per schedule or on request.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2009

Ruth Brown:

Like Doug, my system restore stopped working some time ago. I think some download from Microsoft caused the problem same as Standby no longer works.
I just live without it. I'm buying a new computer with Windows 7 next year.

Aahh Ruth, Ruth, Ruth.

Why not give Ubuntu a spin? It's free it will revitalise your existing PC, costs nothing to try it, and did I mention it won't cost you anything?

Posted by:

25 Sep 2009

My system restore never, ever seems to work if run from the full working desk-top on both my machines. Always comes up with "your computer cannot be restored" etc; "no changes have been made". Tried it a few days ago from safe mode and it worked fine. I gather that some security software may stop it working. Can anyone enlighten me further on that?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, it's quite possible that your restore point contains a file that's infected. So your anti-virus may be preventing System Restore from restoring that file.

Posted by:

26 Sep 2009

I like your site BUT the very annoying pop up of your pic and its ad that hits every page is a real pain. How do I disable this?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Good question! If that popup appears on every page, then you have either disabled cookies, or you have an overly restrictive cookies setting. It's only supposed to appear once every 14 days, and never again if you subscribe to the newsletter. Try resetting your cookies setting to the defaults and I think the problem will go away.

BTW, there's a lot of misinformation about the "danger" of cookies. See http://askbobrankin.com/eat_your_cookies.html

Posted by:

Stuart Hampson
28 Sep 2009

I found my "System Restore" did not work and using trial and error I discovered it was my Norton antivirus that was blocking it.
Open Norton, Click on Settings (at top), untick "Norton Tamper Protection" Ignore any protests from Norton but remember to restore Norton's setting.

Posted by:

29 Sep 2009

I've been to the Ubuntu website, where all I can find are references to Ubuntu in a Linux context. Does this mean it won't work with Windows XP?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not really related to System Restore, but... Ubuntu is an implementation of the Linux operating system. It's not an application program like Word or Firefox that you can install on your XP system. You CAN install more than one operating system on your computer, but you'll have to choose one to take control at boot time. That said, there are ways to run Ubuntu in a virtual machine environment, in a window on your XP desktop. See http://askbobrankin.com/running_linux_in_windows.html

Posted by:

01 Oct 2009

I disabled my System Restore, when I discovered how very many nasty infections out there manage to hide themselves in places where the System Restore ensures that they come along for the ride on any attempted clean ups!

Posted by:

Bev Longstaff
02 Nov 2009

I just had some space taken from my D Disc and added to my C disc as I wasn't using the D disc. Now I find that my System Restore has been turned off. (I use Windows Vista). I also use McAfee anti-virus. How will this affect my security?

Posted by:

18 Oct 2010

Question... I accidently uninstalled some things that I should not have today... would systerm restore fix it so that they are reinstalled like the day before...?

Posted by:

03 Apr 2011

Will manual changes to the registry be reversed with System Restore? I followed directions to uninstall and use an Uninstaller to further remove leftover registry entries, and using a restore point from two weeks before I did all this work didn't seem to restore the broken functionality that I started with in the first place.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Doing a System Restore should roll back changes to the registry.

Posted by:

24 Sep 2011

hey! is the system restore will work on software counterfeiting coz i have problem on it

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