Are you ready to say goodbye to 3rd party back-up applications? Windows 7 makes this possible with it’s superb back-up and System Image features built into all versions of Windows 7. For me, I love a clean, fresh install of Windows. Not coincidently, right after a fresh install is the best time to make a system image. This is because making a system image is just like taking a snap-shop of the entire drive.
Creating a System Images will save everything on the drives you select, and then compress them into an image file which is good news since this means less space for backups! At a later time if you want to return the computer to it’s original condition when you bought or built it, you can just load up the image and presto! No more “reformat the computer” ritual, and no more worry about losing your entire system to a computer crash.
Sounds great right? How do you do it?
Before starting this How-To Tutorial, please confirm the backup drive where you will save the image is formatted using NTFS. For more information on this reminder, please see the bottom of this how-to tutorial where I review How To format your backup drive and configure it with the NTFS file system.
How To Create A System Image In Windows 7
1. Click the Start Menu, at the top of the menu Click Getting Started, then on the side Click Back up your Files.
Note: You can also just type Back Up and Windows 7 Search should find the application
2. In the Control Panel window that appears, Click the blue Create a system image link.
3. The Create a system image window should pop-up. Select which hard disk, dvd, or network location you are going to save your system image to. Click Next to continue.
4. On the next page we’ll keep with the basics for now, Check both your System and System Reserved drives. Once you have selected the drives Click Next to continue.
Note: You can select as many drives as you want, but the more you choose to include means the larger the image size will be.
5. The next window is just a review, make sure everything is correct then Click Start backup to start the process. This can take several minutes so patience is required.
6. After the backup completes, you’ll be prompted with the option to create a system repair disc. This is a good idea just in case your system has any problems in the future. Click Yes.
7. Choose which Disc Recording drive you’ll be using to burn the disc. Insert a blank CD or DVD to the physical drive and then Click Create disc.
Now you’re covered if your computer crashes, or if at some point you want a clean slate and return to the way your computer currently is. When that time comes, be sure to read this Tutorial – How-To Restore from a Windows 7 System Image backup.
Important Update – 1/24/2011
Looking through the comments, a number of readers have been running into issues during the backup / image process. While creating the system image and saving the data to the backup drive / external hard drive, the process is aborted and Windows reports the backup drive has run out of disk space even though the drive appears to be almost empty.
One of our readers pointed out the common reason for this failure is probably because the drive was formatted using a FAT or FAT-32 file system. A FAT-32 file system is limited in that it will not support files larger than 4 Gigabytes. So, even if the drive is 500 Gigs with several hundred gigs of free space available, you likely will not be able to save a system image to it being that it’s almost guarenteed that your system image file will be larger than 4 Gigs.
The NTFS file system does not have this limitation so my recommendation is to format the backup drive before hand and use the NTFS file system prior to storing any data on the drive or completing the How-To Tutorial above.
How to Format a backup drive using the NTFS File System
Note: Formatting your backup drive will remove all data from it. If the drive has any data you need, save it somewhere else before you format it.
Open Windows Explorer and Right-Click the External / Backup hard drive where you will store the Windows 7 System Image. From the context menu, Click Format.
Click the File System Down Arrow and Select NTFS then Click Start.
The drive should now be formatted and you should be good-to-go. Now granted, it is also possible to convert a FAT-32 drive to NTFS however it’s possible you could have a bit of data corruption so my recommendation is to just keep things clean and re-format the backup drive as NTFS.