Using Windows XP's system restore tool

How to use this helpful tool.

Restoring a user's desktop computer that refuses to boot, or acts in strange ways, can be a time-consuming chore. Fortunately, Windows XP contains a light version of the GoBack utility from Roxio that lets you return your system to a previously working state.

The System Restore tool works by saving a snapshot of your important system and program files as part of a package that is called a restore point. By default your system saves a restore point at least once a day, as well as when you make major changes to your system such as an application install. The ingenious tool can be a real lifesaver.

To begin a restore:

  • Restart the computer and Press the F8 key to bring up the Windows Advanced Options menu.
  • Select Last Known Good Configuration and press Enter.
  • If you get a boot menu, select Windows XP from the list. This takes you back to you most recent restore point.

If you've been able to reboot your system, but your system is still messed up, you may need to return to a restore point further in the past. In this case:

Log into Windows as an Administrator, and then Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and finally System Restore to open the System Restore tool. When the tool starts up make sure that Restore my computer to an earlier time is selected. Then on calendar display called Select a Restore Point, click on the most recent restore point that you think is good. Complete the wizard, and your system restarts. Log in again as an Administrator, and if the restore was successful your system will post a Restore Completion dialog box.

If you didn't get back to a satisfactory state, you can undo the restore by opening the System Restore tool and selecting the Undo my last restoration option.

Keep in mind that this utility, handy as it is, is not a substitute for system backup. If you lose a data file or a configuration file that isn't part of the snapshot, System Restore won't bring it back. But you can solve a lot of problems this way, and get to a point where you can employ your backups.


Barrie Sosinsky is president of Sosinsky and Associates, a Medfield, MA consulting company.


This was first published in February 2003

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