You can create a system image, which contains a copy of Windows and copies of your programs, system settings, and files. The system image is then stored in a separate location from the original programs, settings, and files. You can use this image to restore the contents of your computer if your hard disk or entire computer ever stops working.

If you're using Windows Backup to back up your files, you can have a system image created each time your files are backed up. The files can be saved on a USB flash drive, CDs, DVDs, or a hard drive. The system image must be saved on a hard drive. By default, the system image only includes the drives required for Windows to run.

If you want to include additional drives in the system image, you can manually create a system image. If you manually create a system image, it can be saved on a USB flash drive, CDs, DVDs, or a hard drive. Follow the steps below to manually create a system image. For information about system images, see What is a system image?

Note

  • To create a system image of a drive, it must be formatted to use the NTFS file system. If you save the system image on a hard drive or USB flash drive, it must be formatted to use the NTFS file system. For more information about NTFS, see Convert a hard disk or partition to NTFS format.

Watch this video to learn how to back up your programs, system settings, and files (0:45)

To back up your programs, system settings, and files

  1. Open Backup and Restore by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Backup and Restore.

  2. In the left pane, click Create a system image, and then follow the steps in the wizard. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Keeping different versions of system images

If you're saving your system images on an internal or external drive, or on CDs or DVDs, you can keep several versions of system images. On internal and external hard drives, older system images will be deleted when the drive runs out of space. To help conserve disk space, you can manually delete older system images. For more information, see What backup settings should I use to maximize my disk space?

If you're saving your system images in a network location, you can only keep the most current system image for each computer. System images are saved in the format of drive\WindowsImageBackup\computer name\. If you have an existing system image for a computer and are creating a new one for the same computer, the new system image will overwrite the existing one. If you want to keep the existing system image, you can copy it to a different location before creating the new system image by following these steps:

  1. Navigate to the location of the system image.

  2. Copy the WindowsImageBackup folder to a new location.