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Maintaining Your Windows Vista System : Setting System Restore Points

7/14/2011 3:42:35 PM
One of the biggest causes of Windows instability in the past was the tendency of some newly installed programs simply to not get along with Windows. The problem could be an executable file that didn’t mesh with the Windows system or a Registry change that caused havoc on other programs or on Windows. Similarly, hardware installs often caused problems by adding faulty device drivers to the system or by corrupting the Registry.

To help guard against software or hardware installations that bring down the system, Windows Vista offers the System Restore feature. Its job is straightforward, yet clever: to take periodic snapshots—called restore points or protection points—of your system, each of which includes the currently installed program files, Registry settings, and other crucial system data. The idea is that if a program or device installation causes problems on your system, you use System Restore to revert your system to the most recent restore point before the installation.

System Restore automatically creates restore points under the following conditions:

  • Every 24 hours— This is called a system checkpoint and it’s set once a day as long as your computer is running. If your computer isn’t running, the system checkpoint is created the next time you start your computer, assuming that it has been at least 24 hours since that previous system checkpoint was set.

    Note

    The system checkpoint interval is governed by a task in the Task Scheduler (select Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Task Scheduler). Open the Task Scheduler Library, Microsoft, Windows branch, and then click the SystemRestore task. To make changes to the task, click Properties in the Action pane to display the SR Properties dialog box. To change the schedule that Vista uses to create system checkpoints, display the Triggers tab, click the trigger you want to change (Daily or At Startup), and then click Edit.


  • Before installing certain applications— Some newer applications—notably Office 2000 and later—are aware of System Restore and will ask it to create a restore point prior to installation.

  • Before installing a Windows Update patch— System Restore creates a restore point before you install a patch either by hand via the Windows Update site or via the Automatic Updates feature.

  • Before installing an unsigned device driver— Windows Vista warns you about installing unsigned drivers. If you choose to go ahead, the system creates a restore point before installing the driver.

  • Before restoring backed-up files— When you use the Windows Vista Backup program to restore one or more backed-up files, System Restore creates a restore point just in case the restore causes problems with system files.

  • Before reverting to a previous configuration using System Restore— Sometimes reverting to an earlier configuration doesn’t fix the current problem or it creates its own set of problems. In these cases, System Restore creates a restore point before reverting so that you can undo the restoration.

It’s also possible to create a restore point manually using the System Protection feature. Here are the steps to follow:

1.
Select Start, right-click Computer, and then click Properties to open the System Window.

2.
Click System Protection and then enter your UAC credentials to open the System Properties dialog box with the System Protection tab displayed, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Use the System Protection tab to set a restore point.


3.
By default, Vista creates automatic restore points for just the system drive. If you have other drives on your system and you want to create automatic restore points for them, as well, use the Automatic Restore Points list to activate the check box beside each drive you want to protect.

4.
Click Create to display the Create a Restore Point dialog box.

5.
Type a description for the new restore point and then click Create. System Restore creates the restore point and displays a dialog box to let you know.

6.
Click OK.

Note

In Windows XP you could adjust the amount of disk space System Restore used, but you can’t do that in Windows Vista. Instead, Vista always reserves a minimum of about 300MB (on the system drive) to hold restore point data, but it might use more disk space if your system has lots of restore points and if the system drive has enough free space. If the drive runs out of free space, System Restore deletes the oldest restore points to free up some room. Note, however, that there doesn’t seem to be a limit on the number of restore points, so on a massive hard disk with lots of free space you could easily end up with tens of gigabytes worth of restore points. If you want to free up that disk space, run Disk Cleanup as described earlier, select the More Options tab, and then click Clean Up in the System Restore group. This will delete all but the most recent restore point.

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