Are you ready to say goodbye to 3rd party back-up applications? Windows 7 makes this possible with its excellent back-up and System Image features built into all versions of Windows 7. For me, I love a clean install of Windows. Not coincidentally, right after a fresh install is the best time to make a system image – because creating a system image is just like taking a snapshot of the entire drive.
Creating a System Image 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 its 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, then at the top of the menu Click Getting Started, then on the side Click Backup your Files.
Note: You can also just type BackUp, 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 where you are going to save your system image. Click Next to continue.
4. On the next page, we’ll keep with the basics; but 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, so make sure everything is correct then Click Start backup to start the process. This process can take several minutes, so patience is required.
6. After the backup completes, you are presented with the option to create a system repair disc. This option 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 you want a clean slate and the option to be able to 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, some 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 aborts 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 since your system image file will probably 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 before 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 just to keep things clean, and reformat the backup drive as NTFS.