What is a Windows system image?
A Windows system image is an exact copy of the system partition or entire hard drive (with Windows installed), including operating system(OS), System Reserved Partition/EFI System Partition (ESP), recovery partition, boot sectors, custom settings, and all programs installed & files saved on those partitions.
Then, you can restore your computer to an earlier date quickly even when it fails to boot, bring everything back and use it as normal. Thus, you don't need to reinstall Windows and programs or lose any data.
In addition, you still can create a system image in Windows 10 or 11 for another computer and ensure your computer is bootable after restoration. This is the greatest advantage of the system image.
When should I create a system image backup?
A system image is very useful for OS development, hard drive upgrade, performance optimization, etc, so it is necessary to create a system image backup in Windows 11/10/8/7. Here are some situations:
▶ Create an initial backup after getting a new computer or clean install OS and commonly used programs. This is probably the best time point for system image, because everything is clean and your computer runs smoothly. Once something bad happens later, you will be able to bring the computer to its original state.
▶ You want to replace your slower mechanical hard drive with a speedy SSD. You can create a system image, swap the hard drive out for SSD and restore system image to SSD. If the hard drive and SSD can be connected to your computer simultaneously, you can migrate OS from HDD to SSD by system clone (in AOMEI Backupper Professional), saving much time and effort.
▶ Backup system before your disk fails. When receiving some error warnings, such as "SMART failure predicted on hard disk", "Hard disk failure is imminent", and "Windows detected a hard disk problem", you need to create a system image or disk image at once. That’s because those messages indicate your hard disk is failing.
Best software to create Windows system image
Windows comes along with built-in system image software - Backup and Restore (Windows 7), it was first introduced in Windows 7 and later inherited in Windows 8, 10, 11 and supports backing up internal, external, or network drive.
It seems to be a good choice, but sometimes you may feel frustrated with its weak compatibility of it.
- The disk saving system image must be formatted as NTFS, etc.
- The "Create a system image" feature is not working for USB drive. For details, you can see: The drive is not a valid backup location.
- The system image is not compressed, so it will take up a lot of disk space.
- The built-in software does not support schedule settings, so you can only create a system image manually. This is not just a matter of wasting time, but more likely to result in data loss if the last backup is not the latest version.
In addition, it only works for the same computer or at least the computer with similar hardware. If you use it to restore system image to different hardrware, you will receive system restore failed error. And it requires the destination disk equal to or larger than backup drive.
In sum, it is worth trying if you only have one computer and just don't want to reinstall Windows. But if you have two or more computers or want to minimize image size and data loss risk, try third-party powerful backup software like AOMEI Backupper Standard.
Create system image on Windows 10 or 11 (Universal)
Before creating a Windows10 system image with AOMEI Backupper Standard or in other systems, learn what you will use during the backup process.
- System Backup: It is able to back up everything on the system partition, including OS, drivers, programs, data, etc.
- Schedule Backup: It allows you to set daily/weekly/monthly backup to backup any changes regularly. And you still can wake the computer to run the scheduled task 2 minutes before it starts.
- Incremental Backup: By default, this software backup system with Incremental Backup, which only backup changed files since last backup.
- Compression: This software supports both normal and high compression level. Defaultally, it will compress backup image to smaller automatically with normal compression, thereby creating multiple backups and redeucing disk usage.
In addition, the created system image can be used to restore the computer with different hardware as long as you check the "Universal Restore" feature during the restore process. And it's only available on the professional version of this software.
Then, download AOMEI Backupper Standard and install it on your computer. Then, prepare an external hard drive and be sure it can be detected by Windows, so you can use it to store the system image. For server users, try AOMEI Backupper Server!
Step 1. Move your mouse pointer to "Backup" tab after opening this software and click on it. Then, choose "System Backup" from the right list.
Step 2. You are able to edit the default "Task Name". The system partition and boot-related partitions will be selected by default, which ensure your computer is bootable, especially useful for green hands.
Step 3. Click the second column to choose a destination location. You can create system image in Windows 10 on USB drive or other devices, such as, external disk, network drive, NAS, etc.
Note: If you want to backup Windows 10 to network drive or NAS, please be sure you share the folder to everyone and add it by clicking Add Share or NAS Device.
Step 4. Choose Daily/Weekly/Monthly backup in the "Schedule Backup" option to make sure the system image is up-to-date.
- Optionally, select premium feature - USB plug in if you want to create a system image in Windows on USB, it will backup system automatically when USB connected. This feature is available on the professional version.
- By default, the backup method is incremental backup, which backup only changes since the last backup. Thus, it takes less backup time and uses less disk backup. Consider the data integrity and independence, differential backup (supported by professional version) will be a better choice.
- On professional version, you are able to delete old backup automatically to free up disk space with one of automatic backup cleanup methods.
- You still can click Options" to write a comment, enable normal or high compression, intelligent sector backup, etc.
Step 5. After finishing all your settings, just click "Start Backup" to begin creating system image in Windows 10 on USB. Please wait patiently until the backup task completes. The backup speed depends on how much data you have and the writing & reading speed of the source disk and target disk.
After creating Windows 10 system image, you can restore Windows 10 system image to new hard drive easily when something bad happens. Also, you can restore system to different hardware as long as you check the "Universal Restore" (supported by the professional version) feature. Follow the steps below:
If your computer is still bootable, you can click "Restore" -> tap on "Select Task" -> select system image -> select "Restore this system backup" and "Restore system to other location"-> select the new hard drive or SSD and finally click "Start Restore".
That's it. If you cannot see any backup image using the "Select Task" option, please go back and use "Select Image File" to manually choose the system backup image.
If your system crashes or the disk fails, you can use “Create Bootable Media” to make a Windows PE bootable USB or CD. It allows you to start up your computer and then perform system image recovery. The steps are exactly the same as when your computer is bootable.
If you don't have a USB or CD/DVD, you can choose to create a recovery environment in Windows 10 with the "Recovery Environment" feature. And you can easily select it at the next system startup.
If you only want to restore individual files from the system image rather than the entire system, you can use “Explore Image” to mount the system image as a virtual partition and copy data to a new location.
If you want to deploy a system image to multiple computers simultaneously instead of performing manual restoration one by one, you can use AOMEI Image Deploy (supported by AOMEI Backupper Tech or TechPlus edition) to perform system deployment.
Meanwhile, it still supports creating portable version of AOMEI Backupper to a removable device and use it to on any computer withou reinstalling again. Click Tools and select Create Portable Version to start.
Backup and restore your computer OS in a more efficient way:
AOMEI OneKey Recovery is an excellent one-key backup and restore software, which enables you to create a bootable system image on it and set schedule settings to run backup task automatically.
In addition, you are still able to specify fast recovery key F11 or A or launch this software at the system startup and perform system restore from Windows PE, even when your computer is slightly damaged. You don't need to create a bootable device separately to boot a corrupted computer.
Wrapping things up
Creating a system image in Windows 11/10/8/7 is essential for computer users to protect system and data on it, which can greatly reduce the risk of data loss. More so, its backup settings make this task simple and efficient, including daily backup, weekly backup, monthly backup, incremental backup, etc.
Also, you can use this software to create disk image in Windows 11/10/8/7 with its "Disk Backup" feature, backup specific partition(s) you want with "Partition Backup", or directly backup files with "file backup". Its features are much more than these and trust me, it's one of the most powerful software to protect your computer. Please download it to explore yourself.