Windows Backup - How it Works and How to Create a System Image

We will continue the System Recovery series with an article about an utility called Windows Backup, part of the Backup and Restore features. This tool allows you to make copies of your data and also create a system image which includes system settings, programs and files. In this article I will show how to access Windows Backup, how to configure it for automatic or manual backup and how to create a System Image.

What is Windows Backup

As the name says, this tool allows you to backup your operating system, its settings and your data. You can let Windows 7 choose what to back up or you can select the individual folders, libraries, and the disk drives you want backed up. By default, your backups are created on a automatic schedule, but you can manually create a backup at any time. Once you set up Windows Backup, it keeps track of the files and folders that are new or modified and adds them to your backup.

Also Windows Backup offers the ability to create a system image, which is an clone of a drive, having the same size. A system image includes Windows 7 and your system settings, programs, and files. You can use it to restore the content of your computer if your hard drive crashes. When you repair your computer from a system image, you have to know that it is a complete restoration process, you can't choose individual items, programs or system settings. Basically the drive is overwritten with the files from image.

How to access Windows Backup

Windows 7 offers numerous ways to open the Backup and Restore features.

You can find them on 'Start Menu -> All Programs -> Maintenance -> Backup and Restore ' .

Also you can you can go to Start Menu, type the word 'backup' in the search box of and choose Backup and Restore.

You can access it by opening the Classic view of the Control Panel and clicking on the Backup and Restore shortcut.

In the new Control Panel view, it can be found under Control Panel -> System and Security -> Backup and Restore.

All methods will open the Backup and Restore window.

Configure Windows Backup and Create your First Backup

By default the Windows Backup feature is turned off. To start using it, you have to configure it. Follow the steps described bellow to configure and decide which type of backup you need: automatic or manual, depending of your needs.
NOTE: You must be logged in as Administrator to configure Windows Backup.

After you've opened the Backup and Restore window, just press the 'Set up backup' link.

The next window will provide a list of available drives for saving your backups. Also you have the possibility to save the backups on a network by pressing the designated button.

NOTE: The 'Save on a network option' is available only on the Professional or Ultimate editions of Windows 7. If you press the 'Save on a network button' button, a new window will appear where you have to complete the network location and, possibly, a username and password.

After you've chosen the location of your backup, the next window will offer you two options regarding the content of the backups: 'Let Windows Choose' and 'Let Me Choose'.

If you want to use the default option - 'Let Windows choose' - Windows Backup creates two backup types in a single operation: a system image, that can be used for disaster recovery, and a backup of data files found in your user's libraries, the Windows desktop, and default Windows folders.

The second option - 'Let me choose' - allows you to back up individual folders, drives or libraries.

In this tutorial I will show you how to use the second option. Select it and press the Next button.

In the next window you have to choose what the backup will contain. For instance, if you need to save My Documents and to clone the operating system partition, check the boxes Document Library and 'Include a system image of drives: (C:)'.

I recommend to include in every backup a image of your operating system drive by checking 'Include a system image of drives'. After you select the desired items press the Next button.

Next you can review the backup job and have the possibility to select how your backup process will run. To configure your scheduled backups use the 'Change schedule' link (see explanation below). When done, click 'Save settings and run backup'.

When you open the 'Change schedule' window, you can establish some options for the automatic backup, such as the frequency of the backup (daily, weekly or monthly), the day and the hour. If you want to run only manually your backups, don't forget to uncheck the 'Run backup on a schedule' option. When done with the schedule configuration, press OK.

After you finish all the needed configuration press 'Save setting and run backup'. A new window will appear which shows the status of your backup.

Backups are saved in this format: '(backup location)\(computer name)\Backup Set (year-month-day) (time)'. In my case, the path was 'G:\WindowsImageBackup\Maximilian-PC\Backup 2010-07-16 140319'.

How to Create a System Image

Windows Backup offers an interesting feature which allows you to create with a few clicks an image clone of the entire hard drive or a single partition.

The first step is to open Backup and Restore and click on the 'Create a system image' link.

Next you have to choose the location of the backup. There are available three locations: hard-disk, DVD or network (available only in the Professional or Ultimate editions of Windows 7). In this case, the backup will be placed on the hard-disk.

After that, you have to select the drives which will be included in the new image.

In the final step you have to press the 'Start backup' button and you will have to wait for the process to start. Make sure you have enough space on your hard-drive before starting the entire process. Otherwise you will get an error (Backup Error 0x80780048) and the process won't be completed.

A window that display the status of the action will appear. Here you have only the option to 'Stop backup' if you consider necessary.

After the process is complete a pop-up window will be displayed that asks you if you want to create a system repair disc. If you don't wish that this window to be displayed the next time you use the backup feature, just check the option 'Don't show me this message again'. In a future tutorial I will show you how to create a system repair disc. For now just press the No button.

To finalize the process just click the Close button.


Windows Backup is a safe way to backup your computer just in a few clicks. To help ensure that you don't lose your files, you should back them up periodically by setting either an automatic backup to be performed or run it manually. I recommend that after a clean installation of Windows 7 to do a system image of the operating system drive. Don't hesitate to share your experience by leaving a comment and don't miss our further tutorials. For more other system recovery options, the following articles are recommended.