How to Create a System Image in Windows 10/11 (Free & Easy)

In need of creating a system image backup in Windows 11, 10, 8, 7 or another computer? Learn how to create a system image and then restore your computer in the event of a PC disaster from this page.


By Ivy Updated on March 29, 2024

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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.

👉 Can I create a system image with the built-in tool?
👉 Best software to create Windows system image🔥
👉 Create system image on Windows 10 or 11 (Universal)🔥
👉 Bonus tip: More efficient way to backup and restore your computer OS

Can I create a system image with the built-in tool?

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. 

Create A System Image

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 mentioned below. 

Best software to create Windows system image

AOMEI Backupper Standard, the best free backup software for Windows PC, can help you with system image creation.

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. (This feature is available on the Professional version or higher.)

Download AOMEI Backupper Standard and install it on your computer right now! For server users, try AOMEI Backupper Server!

Download Freeware Win 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP
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Create system image on Windows 10 or 11 (Universal)

Before creating a system image with AOMEI Backupper Standard in Windows 10 or other systems, please prepare an external hard drive and be sure it can be detected by Windows, so you can use it to store the system image.

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.

System Backup

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.

Name the Task

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.

Select Destination

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. 

Schedule System Image


  • 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.

Start System Image

How to restore system image

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.

Restore Windows from System Image Backup

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. 

Create Bootable Media

Note: 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 (paid feature). And you can easily select it at the next system startup.

More advanced recovery features

  • 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 to perform system deployment.
  • To run backup and recovery operations on different computers without repeatedly installing AOMEI Backupper, you can create portable version of AOMEI Backupper. (supported by AOMEI Backupper Tech or TechPlus edition)


Bonus tip: More efficient way to backup and restore your computer OS

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.

OneKey System Backup

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.

Ivy · Editor
Ivy is an editor of AOMEI Technology, she covers backup & restore,hard disk & partitions management and cloud files transfer and so on for AOMEI. She is an outgoing girl and enjoys helping people find solutions to their problems. She loves traveling, eating, reading and so on. She usually hangs out with friends at her leisure time.