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Using System Restore

System Restore is a feature of Windows XP and beyond, it lets you reverse harmful changes you have made to your computer. Harmful changes cause the computer to perform poorly, hang up, or barely boot. Most of the time, an installation of third-party software or a "new and improved" device driver causes these changes. With Office applications, it could also be a third-party Office add-in, a rogue macro, or perhaps even a virus.

You use System Restore to return your computer to its state on a restore point from an earlier date that you choose, a date when the computer was working properly. You can think of a system restore point as a snapshot of your computer, and if you ever need it, you can return to that snapshot without losing any data you have recently created. You will use System Restore to return to a stable computer state if your PC ever becomes unstable.

System Restore won't solve all your problems though. If you have a virus or if a macro has done irreparable harm, you may have to take another route. However, it never hurts to try System Restore, although for viruses, antivirus options are a better choice.

Although System Restore returns your system to a previous state, it does not change the files you are working with. You can be sure that the application will not destroy (or lose) any of the following files:

  • Personal files, such as work documents, spreadsheets, or presentations
  • Media, including music, pictures, and videos
  • Cookies and Internet history
  • E-mail, attachments, contacts (even those created after the restore point)

Restore points, the snapshots of your system are created automatically and for different reasons. Restore points are created at the following times:

  • When you install a new application that is System Restore API compliant, which almost all programs are
  • When you install a Microsoft update
  • Before a Backup Recovery operation
  • Before installing an unsigned driver
  • At 24 hour intervals
  • When you create one manually or turn off and then turn back on System Restore

A restore point includes registry settings and the entire registry, Windows File Protection files, COM+ database, Windows Management Instrumentation database, IIS metabase, local profiles, and more. System restore points do not include Windows XP passwords, Content Advisor passwords, contents of redirected folders, files not monitored by System Restore (third-party application files with unknown origin), and similar items.

If you can boot the computer, you should give System Restore a shot at correcting whatever problem you have. If you can not boot normally, try booting in safe mode (press F8 during boot up). If you want to use System Restore to recover from a virus, hijacked home page, or malware, it is always best to let your antivirus software have a go at it first. If that does not work, then try System Restore. After any successful removal of a virus, turn System Restore off and back on to remove any lingering viruses that may be hanging around in your restore points.

Enabling System Restore

System Restore is enabled by default, so you probably do not need to do anything here but check to make sure it is turned on. The only reasons it would not be on are if you have less than 200MB of free disk space, you have manually turned it off, or a network administrator has disabled it. To check to see if System Restore is enabled, and to configure the available options for System Restore:

  1. Right click My Computer and select Properties and then in the the System Properties dialog box, select the System Restore tab.
    To view System Restore settings, select the System Restore tab in System Properties.
  2. Verify that Turn off System Restore on all drives is not checked. If it is checked, deselect it and then select the drive that is being monitored, if more than one is available, select each one separately to configure and perform the rest of the steps on each.
  3. Click Settings.
  4. In the Drive Settings dialog box, note how much hard drive space is allotted to System Restore data. By default, this setting is 12%. For this computer, that is almost 10,000MB. You can move the slider to the left to allot less. However, we prefer to leave the defaults as they are, unless we are low on hard drive space.
  5. Click OK to close the Drive Settings dialog box, and OK again to close System Properties.

Creating a Restore Point

Although System Restore creates restore points by default, you may want to manually create one if you suspect you are about to do something risky, such as install software or a screensaver you have downloaded from the Internet. To create a restore point manually:

  1. Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and select System Restore.
  2. From the System Restore Welcome Page, select Create a restore point. Click Next.
  3. Name the restore point with a descriptive name, such as the reason you are creating it. Click Create.

Restoring to an Earlier Time

To use System Restore to restore your computer to an earlier date and time:

  1. Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and select System Restore.
  2. From the System Restore Welcome Page, select Restore my computer to an earlier time. Click Next.
  3. From the Select a Restore Point page, use the arrows to move through the calendar, and select a point to restore to. Click Next.
  4. Verify that you want to make this change by selecting Next and then wait while the process completes, your computer will reboot.

System Restore is a good choice when you have installed harmful software on your computer. Sometimes, System Restore works to repair problems with rogue macros and viruses too. However, for viruses, it is best to let your antivirus program have a go at it first. System Restore will not recover open files that are lost when there is a power outage though, and it won't cause missing files to magically reappear. For those tasks, you need to take a different approach. However, System Restore is an effective tool when you need to get your system back to a state prior to when a third-party application caused a specific conflict or problem.

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