Q. Is a System Restore the same as a backup in Windows?
A. While System Restore and backups can both help get your computer back to normal if something goes wrong, the two are different things. (The common technical advice to “restore the system from a backup” can also lead to confusion.)
System Restore, which was introduced as a troubleshooting tool back in 2000 with the release of the Windows Millennium Edition (Window ME) operating system, allows users to create and save a “restore point,” or a snapshot of their Windows system files at a certain time. Later, if Windows begins to behave erratically because of a corrupted or damaged system file, you can use the restore point to go back to that moment in time when the computer was working properly.
The Windows System Restore software automatically creates restore points each week, and makes fresh ones before installing software (like a system update or drivers for new hardware). As a precaution, you can also create a restore point manually.
In the current version of Windows 10, you can do so by telling the Cortana assistant, “Open System Restore,” or by entering “Create a restore point” in the Start Menu’s search box. (In earlier versions of Windows, go to the Start Menu to Control Panel, choose System and Security and then System. Click the System Protection link on the left side of the window.) Whichever way you arrive at the System Protection tab of the System Properties box, click the Create button at the bottom to name and save the new restore point.
While System Restore is helpful when the Windows system itself is crashing and burning, the utility backs up system files — and not the documents, photos, music, videos and other content you have added to the computer. To preserve copies of your files ahead of potential catastrophes like accidental deletions or dead hard drives, get an external drive to use with the backup software included with Windows (or to use with a third-party backup program), or find an online backup service you like.