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Creating a System Recovery Disk in Windows 7: A step-by-step tutorial

In a corporate environment, the IT staff isn't always responsible for backing up individual desktop computers. Even so, you may be able to benefit from creating a Windows 7 System Repair Disk. This disk, which is created through the Backup and Restore Center

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can be used to perform a bare-metal restore, and it can also be used for other diagnostic tasks. In this article, I will show you how to create and use a Windows 7 System Repair Disk that can be used for all of your Windows 7 systems.

The Backup and Restore Center

When you open the Backup and Restore Center, you will notice that the pane on the left contains options to create a system image (a system image is a type of backup that you can use to perform a bare-metal restore of Windows 7) and to create a System Repair Disk, as shown in Figure 1 below (click on image for full size).

Figure 1: The Backup and Restore Center

Windows Backup allows you to create a system image by clicking on the "Create System Image" link shown in Figure 1, but you can also include a system image within a regular backup. If you look at Figure 2 below (click on image for full size), you will notice that there is a checkbox at the bottom of the screen that you can use to include a system image as a part of your backup.

Figure 2: Including a system image within a regular backup

Windows Backup makes it easy to create either a standalone system image or to include a system image with a regular backup. But having a system image does you no good if you can't restore it. The reason why the option to create a system repair disk is located just below the option to create a system image (in Figure 1) is because you can use the system repair disk to restore your system image. There are actually several other things that you can use the system repair disk for. But before I show you what the system repair disk can be used for, let me show you how to create one. Ideally, it is good to have both a system image and a regular backup. You can use the regular backup to restore individual files and folders, while the system image is used for bare-metal recovery.

Creating a System Repair Disk

To create a system repair disk, insert a blank DVD into your computer, and then click the "Create a System Repair Disk" option found in the Backup and Restore Center. When you do, Windows will display the dialog box shown in Figure 3 below (click on image for full size). To complete the process, just select your DVD drive from the drop-down list and click the "Create Disc" button.

Figure 3: Creating a System Repair Disk

Using the System Repair Disk

As I mentioned earlier, the system repair disk is designed to facilitate a bare-metal recovery. Windows 7 gives you the option of creating a system image as a part of the backup process. You can't restore that system image without a repair disk. Therefore, you don't even have to have Windows installed in order to use it. Simply insert the disk into a PC and boot from it. When you do, you will be taken to the System Recovery Options screen, shown in Figure 4 below (click on image for full size).

Figure 4: The System Recovery Options screen

Obviously, the option on this screen that tends to draw the most attention is the System Image Recovery option. This is the option that you would use if you wanted to restore a system image. In a corporate environment, however, it is much more likely that you would benefit from the other options because it is rare for corporations to back up individual workstations. Most of the time if a failure occurs, the workstation is simply re-imaged rather than restored.

The first option available to you is the Startup Repair option. Clicking on this option causes Windows to attempts to detect and repair any boot problems that may prevent Windows 7 from loading properly.

The second option on the list is the System Restore option. The system restore feature periodically takes snapshots of the Windows operating system. Snapshots are also automatically created prior to performing some tasks that make major changes to the operating system, such as installing a service pack. The idea is that if problems occur, you can roll the system back to an earlier point in time before the problem occurred. Sometimes though, when a problem does occur, it may be severe enough to prevent Windows from booting. Using the System Repair Disk gives you access to any available recovery points from outside of the Windows operating system.

For these three options, none of these disks need to be created beforehand. System recovery points are an internal Windows mechanism. The System Repair Disk just helps you to get to those recovery points if the system won't boot.

The second to the last option on the System Recovery Options screen is the Windows Memory Diagnostic option. My experience has been that if users suddenly start receiving the Blue Screen of Death, and no changes have recently been made to the operating system, then the problem is almost always caused by memory errors. Having a diagnostic utility that you can run from outside of the Windows operating system makes memory errors much easier to detect.

The last option is the Command Prompt option. Those who are familiar with DOS commands can use the Command Prompt to assess the state of the file system, extract data, or make repairs to the operating system.

Although the System Repair Disk is primarily thought of as a mechanism for restoring system image backups, it can also be used as a mechanism for diagnosing and repairing problems with the Windows operating system. This is especially useful when no system image exists or when you do not want to overwrite the operating system's current configuration with a previous system image.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.


This was first published in November 2009

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