How to create system image backup on Windows 10

A full PC backup should always be part of your recovery strategy — here's how to use Windows 10's System Image Backup tool.

Windows 10 full backup

On Windows 10, a system image backup is a legacy tool that allows you to create a “full backup” to a USB drive. In other words, a full backup is a copy of the entire system drive and secondary drives (if applicable), including the Windows installation files, applications, settings, and files.

It’s always essential to have a backup of your computer as it could help you recover from any system failure, errors, or malware. In addition, since updates are mandatory on Windows 10, it means that if there is an issue where the computer won’t boot because of a buggy driver or update, you’ll need a recovery mechanism to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

In this guide, you will learn the steps to create a full backup of your computer using “System Image Backup” on Windows 10 and how to recover individual files as needed.

Create backup to USB on Windows 10

To create a full backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings on Windows 10.

  2. Click on Update & Security.

  3. Click on Backup.

  4. Under the “Looking for an older backup” section, click the Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7) option.

    Open backup and restore settings

  5. Click the Create a system image option from the left pane.

    Create system image option

  6. Under the “On a hard disk” setting, select the external USB drive for the full backup of Windows 10.

    Select USB driver for backup destination

    Quick tip: You can use an external USB hard drive with data already on it. The tool will not format or erase any files in the drive. Instead, it will create a folder called “WindowsImageBackup” to save the system image.
  7. Click the Next button.

  8. Select any other drive you want to include in the Windows 10 full backup (if applicable).

    Backup additional drives

  9. Click the Next button.

  10. Click the Start backup button.

    Create full backup of Windows 10

  11. Click the No button at the end of the backup.

Once you complete the steps, the backup will be created on the external USB drive. You will also be protected to “create a system image repair disc.” However, you can skip this option since you can use the Windows 10 bootable media to access the recovery environment.

Create backup to network drive on Windows 10

If you don’t have external storage with enough space, you can also backup the system over the network to a file server or network-attached storage (NAS).

To create a backup of your computer to network drive, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings on Windows 10.

  2. Click on Update & Security.

  3. Click on Backup.

  4. Under the “Looking for an older backup” section, click the Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7) option.

    Open backup and restore settings

  5. Click the Create a system image option from the left pane.

    Create system image option

  6. Under the “On a network location” setting, click the Select button. 

    Windows 10 backup network location

  7. Confirm the network path to the shared folder.

    Windows 10 backup network credentials

    Quick note: You must first create and share a folder in the destination computer, network-attached storage (NAS), or file server.
  8. Confirm the user credentials to access the shared folder.

  9. Click the OK button.

  10. Click the Next button.

  11. Click the Start backup button.

    Create full backup network shared folder

After you complete the steps, the tool will create a full backup in the specified folder location. However, since the process will happen over the network, the backup could take a long time.

Restore backup on Windows 10

To restore a full backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Power off the computer.

  2. Connect the Windows 10 USB installation media.

  3. Connect the USB backup drive.

    Quick tip: The device must be configured to boot from USB. If this is not the case, you will need to enter the BIOS and reconfigure the boot order. Since this is different on most computers, you need to check your manufacturer support website for specific details.
  4. Power on the computer.

  5. Click the Next button on the “Windows Setup” page.

  6. Click the Repair your computer option from the bottom-left corner.

    Windows 10 Setup repair your computer option

  7. Click on Troubleshoot.

  8. Click the System Image Recovery option.

    Advanced option System Image Recovery

  9. Click on Windows 10.

  10. Select the “Use the latest available system image” option.

    Select backup to restore

  11. Click the Next button.

  12. (Optional) Check the “Format and portion disks” option if the backup restoration will be to a new drive.

  13. (Optional) Check the “Only restore system drives” option to restore only the drives needed to run Windows 10. 

  14. Click the Next button.

    Select backup to restore

  15. Click the Finish button.

  16. Click the Yes button.

After you complete the steps, the backup will restore on your computer with all the installation files, applications, configurations, and personal files.

Restore files from backup on Windows 10

The system image backup is meant to restore the entire system, not individual files. However, you can still open the image to recover individual files.

To restore backup files from an external drive on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.

  2. Search for Create and format hard disk partitions and select the top result to open the Disk Management app.

  3. Click on Action and select the Attach VHD option.

    Attach VHD

  4. Click the Browse button.

  5. Browse inside the WindowsImageBackup folder that contains the backup files.

  6. Double-click the folder with the computer name.

  7. Double-click the Backup xxxx-xx-xx xxxxxx folder.

  8. Double-click the largest VHDX file to mount the image in File Explorer.

    System image VHDX mount

  9. Click the Open button

  10. Click the OK button.

  11. Right-click the volume on the mounted drive (blue icon) and select the Change Drive Letter and Paths option.

    VHD change driver letter on Windows 10

  12. Click the Add button.

  13. Select a drive letter.

  14. Click the OK button.

  15. Open File Explorer.

  16. Click on This PC.

  17. Open the mounted drive and browse the location of the files you want to recover.

  18. Select and copy the files.

    Restore files on Windows 10

  19. Paste the files to the location you want to restore them.

Once you complete the file restoration, right-click the drive and select the Detach VHD option and the OK button to detach the backup drive.

When restoring files from backup, you can only recover files that were backed up and created before the full backup. To keep files up to date, you should consider using different solutions, such as File History or OneDrive.

It’s important to note that Microsoft is no longer maintaining the backup system on Windows 10, but you can still use the feature. The reason is that the company wants you to use the reset feature to fix problems on Windows 10 and cloud storage services like OneDrive to keep your files backed up in the cloud.

However, many things can go wrong on your computer, and having a backup can be considered one of the best disaster recovery strategies. You should always consider creating a full backup at least once a week or before making any changes or performing an upgrade.

It doesn’t matter the computer you have, it’s just a matter of time before it fails or something will happens, and having a full backup of your entire system will help you in many ways.