How To Create A System Image In Windows

You can create a system image in Windows to quickly restore your computer’s files, applications and Operating System back to a known good state. Your hard drive will fail. It’s only a matter of when it will fail. Making a disk image you can restore to is a painless way to get your system back up and running.

When recovering an Operating System and applications, two terms are often used: Cloning and Imaging. So what is the difference between cloning a hard drive and imaging a hard drive? Cloning a hard drive is making a bit by bit copy of a drive and using that to replace an existing or failing drive. Disk imaging is creating a bit by bit copy of a drive and using the image to restore from in the future if you want to quickly reinstall Windows and your programs all at once.

In this example, we will be creating a disk image that we can restore to at a future date. The best time to create a disk image is after a clean install of your OS, your applications, and after downloading and installing the latest Windows Updates.

Creating Your First System Image

First, Download Macrium Reflect here. Click Next to extract the setup files and to install.

system image

You will be asked if you want to register, which is not necessary and can be skipped. Click through the prompts and use the default settings to install. Once the install is complete, launch the program.

On the main screen, you will see your C drive up top and any possible destination disks below. The C drive will be broken up into a small boot partition and a larger main partition. Make sure both of these are checked.

disk image

Select Image this disk. You will then have a chance to save the image destination to another internal drive or external drive. We do not recommend saving the image to a different partition on the same physical hard drive in case the drive ever fails.

macrium reflect free

Select the folder destination where you want to save the image. In this example, we stored the image file in a folder we created on a separate physical hard drive installed in the computer. Once the destination drive and folder is selected, click OK to proceed. The imaging process is extremely fast, and once complete, you have an exact duplicate of your computer hard drive that you can restore from at any time.

The last step in this process will be to create a bootable Rescue Disk. In the event your computer no longer boots, you will need this rescue media to find and load your image file.

system disk image

From the main screen, click the disk icon to create your rescue disk. Next, click the Windows PE 4.0 option and then insert a blank USB drive or CD/ DVD disk. Follow the onscreen prompts to finish creating the rescue disk and then store this disk in a safe place for future use.

Restoring A System Image File

You can restore your new system image file two ways. If your system is still operational, launch the Macrium Reflect program and select the Restore tab. Browse to your image and then click Next to restore the image. This is a great option if you discover you have a virus or other system errors and want to revert back to a known good state.

Or if the drive no longer boots, you will need to restore the disk image using the rescue disk. To boot to the disk, you may need to first enter the BIOS setup and select either the USB drive or Optical drive as the first boot device. Once you boot to the PE environment, you will be able to select the restore tab and proceed with loading the image.