Windows 10

Using System Protection

System Protection enables you to create a restore point, which is a way to back up important Windows system files. Unlike File History, System Protection doesn't require or use any external disks. Also, it does not back up any installed programs or all of Windows 10. Instead, System Protection creates System restore points that maintain copies of the most important system files needed for Windows 10 to operate properly, as well as hidden shadow copies of some of your own personal files.

The idea behind System Protection isn't to protect you from rare catastrophic hard drive disasters; it's to protect you from smaller and much more common mishaps. For example, you install some program or device that wasn't designed for Windows 10 on the grounds that "It worked fine in another version of Windows, so it should work fine here," only to discover that it doesn't work as well as you assumed. Even after uninstalling the program, you find that some Windows 10 features don't work as they did before you got the notion to give the old program or device a try.

Another common mishap occurs when you make some changes to an important file, but they aren't particularly good changes. But you save the changes anyway out of habit, thereby losing the original good copy of the file you started with. Sometimes System Protection can even help you recover a file that you deleted and removed from the Recycle Bin.

Turning System Protection On or Off

System Protection is turned on by default for the drive on which Windows 10 is installed. That means it's protecting your Windows 10 operating system and also documents you keep in your user account folders such as Documents, Pictures, Music, and so on.

If you have documents on other hard drives, you can extend System Protection to protect documents on those drives, too. However, don't try to use System Protection to protect a hard drive that has another operating system installed on it.

System Protection is an optional feature. You can turn it on and off at will (providing you have administrative privileges, because it affects all user accounts). And you can choose for yourself which volumes it monitors. (A volume is any hard drive or hard drive partition that looks like a hard drive in your computer's root folder.) To get to the options for controlling System Protection, first open your System folder using any of the following techniques:

  • Type System Protection in Search and then click the Create a Restore Point option in the results area of the Search page.
  • Open the System dialog box from Control Panel.

The System Properties dialog box appears, with the System Protection tab selected.

To ensure that system protection for Windows 10 and user account files is turned on; first look in the Protection Settings box to verify that the Protection column shows "On" for your system disk (typically drive C:). If the Protection column indicates that protection is off, click the Configure button to open the System Protection dialog box. Then choose one of the first two settings in the Restore Settings group. You can also specify how much disk space to allocate to system protection with the Max Usage slider.

If you turn off System Protection, all existing restore points are deleted.

If your computer contains other volumes, whether you apply System Protection to them depends on what's on the volumes and whether you find it worthwhile to enable System Protection on them.

After you've made your selections, click OK. You're finished. Nothing happens immediately, but Windows 10 creates restore points every seven days after the last restore point was created. Each restore point contains copies of your important system files and shadow copies of files on the volumes you specified.

System Protection needs a minimum of 300MB of space on each protected volume for restore points. If necessary, it uses from 3 percent to 5 percent of the total drive capacity. It doesn't grow indefinitely or consume a significant amount of disk space. Instead, it deletes old restore points before creating new ones. (Old restore points are of dubious value anyway.)

Creating a restore point

System Restore is the component of System Protection that protects your important system files - the ones Windows 10 needs to work correctly. System Restore automatically creates a restore point daily. It also creates a restore point when it detects that you're about to do something that changes system files. But you can also create your own restore points. This may be a good idea when you're about to install some older hardware or software that wasn't designed for Windows 10. This technique isn't required, but it's a smart and safe thing to do.

To create a restore point, get to the System Protection tab and click the Create button. When prompted, you can type a brief explanation as to why you manually created the restore point: perhaps "Before Acme widget install" if you're about to install an Acme widget. Then click Create. Windows creates a restore point, after which you can click Close. Click OK to close the System Properties dialog box.

Next, you install your Acme widget. Take it for a spin, and make sure it works. If it works fine and you don't notice any adverse effects, great. You can forget about the restore point and go on your merry way.

If you find that the change you made wasn't such a great idea after all, first you have to uninstall whatever you installed. That's true whether it's hardware or software. After you've uninstalled the bad device or program, you can make sure no remnants of it lag behind by returning to the restore point you specifically set up for that program or device.

If you install other programs or devices after the bad one, don't skip over other restore points to the one you created for the new item. If you do, you also undo the good changes made by the good programs and devices, which will likely make them stop working! Be methodical: Set the restore point, install the program or device, and test the program or device. If (and only if) you encounter problems, uninstall the device or program and return to the last restore point you set.

Returning to a previous restore point

Say you installed something that didn't work out, you uninstalled it, and now you want to make sure your system files are exactly as they were before. Open the System Properties dialog box and select the System Protection tab. Click System Restore.

The System Restore starts. Click the Recommended Restore option and click Next. This launches the System Restore Wizard. Click Finish to undo the most recent update, driver installation, or software install (for example, our Acme Widget installation). Windows 10 makes those changes and then restarts your computer. Upon restart, you see a confirmation about restoring your system files.

For technical readers, we should mention that you can run System Restore from a command prompt. This is good to know if you can only start the computer in Safe Mode with the command prompt. Type rstrui.exe at the command prompt, and press Enter.

Undoing a System Restore

If you use System Restore and restore points exactly as described in the preceding sections, the process should go smoothly. If you try to use it in other ways, you may not have good results. In fact, returning your system to an earlier restore point sometimes causes more problems than it solves. When that happens, you can undo the most recent restore. Here's how:

  1. Open System Restore.
  2. Click System Restore and then click Next.
  3. Choose the restore point labeled Undo and click Next.
  4. Click Finish and follow the onscreen instructions.

Your computer restarts, and you see a confirmation message about undoing the restore point.

System Restore and the restore points you've just learned about have nothing to do with your document files. System Restore does not change, delete, undelete, or affect document files in any way. You should use System Restore and restore points exactly as described.

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In this tutorial:

  1. Protect Your Windows Files
  2. Using System Protection
  3. Using BitLocker Drive Encryption