Windows 10 includes several backup tools, including one that creates system images. By definition, a system image contains copies of the drives required for Windows to run. For example, if Windows 10 is installed using the default configuration, an image of that system will contain a copy of the C drive. Everything on that drive will be copied, including the Windows 10 operating system, system settings, drivers, and applications.
Creating system images in Windows 10 is straightforward. Before doing so, though, you need to understand the role they play in backup strategies so that you do not create a system image for the wrong reason. You will also need to make a few preparations.
What System Images Are Designed and Not Designed For
To understand the role of system images, it helps to first look at what they are not designed for. System images are not meant to be used as daily file backups. There are two traits that make them unsuitable for this purpose. First, you cannot control what gets backed up. Everything on the drive is backed up. As a result, system images take a long time to create and consume a lot of storage space. Even if you had ample time and space to create and store many system images, there is another trait that makes them unsuitable for daily file backups. You cannot restore just one item, such as a certain file. Reimaging a drive restores all the folders and files on it.
System images are designed for quick restorations when Windows does not boot or becomes corrupt, or when there is a hardware failure. Reimaging a computer takes much less time than reinstalling Windows 10, the drivers, and the applications, and then restoring the user files from a backup. Plus, you can use a system image to standardize users’ computers when rolling them out. You can also use a system image to migrate everything from an old hard drive to a new one during a hardware upgrade.
Steps before Creating a System Image
Before creating a system image, you need to decide whether you want to store it on an external hard drive, on DVDs, or in a network location. Storing it on an internal hard drive is not recommended. If your computer is destroyed by fire, for example, your system image would be gone as well.
When determining where to store the system image, it is important to keep in mind that the system image folder will be very large. A safe approach is to assume that it will be the same size as the C drive. To find out this drive’s size, follow these steps:
- On the Start menu, select “File Explorer”.
- Expand “This PC”.
- Right-click “Windows (C:)” and select “Properties”.
- Look at the amount of used space.
By knowing the size of the C drive, you can make a more informed decision about which storage medium to use. For example, if your C drive is 120 gigabytes (GB), you probably do not want to use DVDs, as you would need many of them. A better choice would be an external hard drive.
Before creating a system image, you also need to determine whether you need a system repair disk. To reimage a computer that does not boot, you need the Windows 10 installation media or a system repair disk. If you do not have either one, you can create a system repair disk during the system image creation process. You just need to have a blank CD or DVD on hand.
If your computer does not have a recordable CD or DVD drive, you can create a USB recovery drive instead. You will need to do that separately, following the instructions on Microsoft’s Create a recovery drive web page.
How to Create a System Image
It is now time to create the system image. If you are using an external hard drive, connect it to your computer and turn it on. If you are using DVDs, insert one into your computer. Then, follow these steps:
- Type “Control Panel” in the search box.
- Select “Control Panel Desktop app” in the search results.
- In the System and Security section, choose “Save backup copies of your files with File History”.
- In the lower left corner of the File History dialog box, click “System Image Backup”.
- Select “Create a system image”.
- Specify where you want to store the system image, and click “Next”.
- After confirming your storage medium and the drive to be backed up, choose “Start backup”.
- Wait for the backup process to complete. It might take some time, depending on the size of your drive and where you are storing the system image.
- After the system image is created, you will be asked if you want to create a system repair disk. If you want to do so, click “Yes” and go to step 10. If you have the Windows 10 installation media or plan to create a USB recovery drive, click “No” to close the program. (You do not have to perform step 10 through step 12.)
- Select your CD or DVD drive, and insert a blank CD or DVD into it.
- Choose “Create disc”.
- Close the program once it is done creating the system repair disk.
Keep One Copy Close and Another Far Away
Experts recommend that you have two copies of the system image. One copy should be kept locally so that you can quickly restore a computer if the need arises. The other copy should be in an offsite location if possible. Note that saving a copy in the cloud is not a viable option because of the size of the system image. It would take a very long time to upload and download.
If you are unable to store the system image in an offsite location, you should keep it in a room that is as far away from your computer as possible. Plus, putting it in a fireproof safe is a good idea.
Quicker Recovery Should Disaster Strike
If you have system images of your computers, you will be able to recover from a disaster more quickly than if you just have daily file backups. Your IT service provider can help you determine how often to create images and where to store them. Together, you and your provider can develop a comprehensive backup strategy that best protects your business’s data.