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Windows 7 - An Introduction to Recovery Options

If you have important data stored on your computer and you do not want to risk losing it, you should be prepared for any possibility. Computers can go wrong whether due to user error, technical malfunction or an attack by malicious software. Being able to back up and recover your data will make life a lot easier in such an event. Fortunately, Windows 7 provides various backup and recovery options of its own. For the average user, there's usually no need to spend money on third-party recovery software.

The tools you'll be using are all available in the "Backup and Restore" section of the control panel. You'll also need some kind of backup media. If you want to be able to back up a complete system image of your primary hard drive, including your Windows installation, program files and personal files, you'll need to have a separate hard drive. For backup purposes, an external drive is the most suitable. If you only need to make a backup of your personal files, a USB pen drive is suitable.

One of the most common ways of backing up data is simply to copy it to a USB drive, hard drive or optical media manually. Using Windows Backup and Restore features, however, helps to ensure that everything important is backed up safely. It can also automate the process to make sure that your data is always safe without requiring any further intervention.

1 – Using System Restore
System Restore was first introduced in Windows XP. When system protection is turned on, Windows will automatically back up system files and important configuration options. In the event that your computer stops working correctly, System Restore can usually fix it by restoring your computer to an earlier time. Things such as failed driver installations are a frequent cause of major system malfunctions, for example. By default, Windows 7 usually creates a restore point before a new program, driver or update is installed. System Restore does not affect your personal files in any way.

To manually configure System Restore, go to the Control Panel and change the view to "Large icons" or "Small Icons." This way, you'll see all of the control panel items in one window. Double-click on the "System" icon and then click on "System protection" to the left.

To restore your computer to an earlier point in time, you can simply click the button "System Restore" and run through the wizard which explains the process to you.

More advanced users will often want to configure System Restore themselves. By default, System Restore is always turned on for your primary hard drive. This is the drive which Windows and your programs are installed on as well as your personal files, assuming you keep them in the folders for your user account. To configure System Restore for a particular drive, click on the drive to highlight it and click "Configure." Here you can turn System Restore off for that drive, although this is not recommended.

You can configure the maximum amount of space for System Restore to use. You can also see how much space System Restore is currently using. If your computer is currently running smoothly without any issues, you can safely click the "Delete" button now to free up extra disk space. All but the most recent restore point will be deleted.

Back in the previous window, you can also create a restore point by clicking "Create" and entering a name for the restore point so that you can easily find it later.

2 – Creating a System Repair Disk

Sometimes, your computer may completely refuse to boot up altogether. In this case, you'll be unable to access System Restore. To prevent problems like this from necessitating a complete reinstallation of Windows, you should always have a system repair disk handy.

Creating a system repair disk is a simple enough procedure. All you need to do is type "Backup and Restore" into the start menu search box and press Enter. On the left-hand side of the window, you'll see "Create a system repair disk." Insert a blank CD or DVD into the drive and click on this link. Click "Create" to make the disk.

This disk contains everything that Windows needs to repair the operating system enough for it to boot up.

3 – Creating a System Image

In the Backup and Restore control panel section, you'll also see a link for creating a system image. A system image is a complete copy of your hard drive. This is the safest backup method you can use, since it saves absolutely everything stored on that drive. You can then restore this drive image at a later time and continue using your computer as normal again.

Clicking on the "Create a system image" link will bring you to the wizard. To create a full system image, you will need a separate hard drive with a capacity at least as high as the amount of space used by the disk you're backing up. If you attempt to use another hard disk partition for backing up your data, you will receive a warning. While it is possible to use another partition for creating a system image, it is not ideal since a hardware failure on that disk will often affect the system image too.

You can also use DVDs for backing up your files. This is a highly inefficient method, however, since you'll likely need dozens of them for backing up your entire system.

When you're ready, click "Next," review your settings and click "Start backup."

4 – Using Windows Backup

For most users, Windows Backup provides all of the necessary backup options. You can use this tool for creating backups of your personal files and other things. Clicking "Set a backup" will bring you to the wizard where you can choose the backup destination and choose what to copy. Ideally, you should use a large enough USB flash drive or external hard disk for this procedure. As when creating a system image, avoid backing up your files to another partition on the same physical hard disk.

In the next step, you can either let Windows choose what to back up or choose the folders and files yourself. The latter is generally better if you want to ensure that everything you need is backed up. If you choose the latter, you can select all of the files and folders anywhere on the computer that you want to save. You can also check the relevant box to create a system image here as well.

On the next page, you'll be able to review your settings and schedule a time for Windows to automatically update your backup. Once you're ready, click "Save settings and run backup" to make the backup.

Once you have created a backup, it will appear under the "Restore" area of the Backup and Restore section of the control panel. The disk containing the backup will need to be connected, however.


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