How to Restore System Image from External Hard Drive (2 Ways)

Restoring system image from external hard drive is a popular way of restoring Windows 7/8/10. And this article will tell you the ways to restore Windows from external hard drive.


By Lily Updated on July 13, 2023

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System image is important to computer users

A system image is an exact copy of a drive which includes Windows and your system settings, programs, and files. A system image is important to computer users, because it is useful when your hard drive or computer failed -- you can use the system image to restore the entire contents of your computer. 

Why create system image to an external hard drive?

Computer users know that it is necessary to create system image after installing the Windows operating system, but where to image system on? There are many places you can choose, such as the local hard drive, external hard drive, or you can backup to NAS (network attached storage).

Truthfully, creating system image to an external hard drive is the best way for its security and stability. Even if the computer hard drive is broken, you can ensure the security of your system image. And when the computer is crashed, you can restore all data from the system image.

Fast way to restore system image from external hard drive 

“I cannot restore any system image which was created to external hard drive using Backup and Restore in Windows 10 v1709. I receive the following error:
'The system image restore failed. Error details: A Volume Shadow Copy Service component encountered an unexpected error. Check the Application event log for more information. (0x80042302)'
I just want to restore my computer from an image backup created before, why is it so difficult? How do I restore Windows 10 system image from external hard drive, or is there any easier way to do so?”

This question is posted on Microsoft Community and it shows that restoring system image using Backup and Restore is a little tricky and does not work all the time. So, I’d like to recommend a third-party freeware AOMEI Backupper Standard to you. It can restore Windows 7/8/10 system image from external hard drive in a few clicks, and this software is suitable for all users, even for beginners.

Before restoring system image from external hard drive, you need to do some preparations.

Download Freeware Win 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP
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  • Create bootable media (using CD/DVD, USB drive, etc.) or create a recovery environment for booting your computer in case of boot failure. AOMEI Backupper Workstation also provides you with "AOMEI PXE Boot Tool" to help boot multiple computers over a network.

Then, you can use this freeware to restore Windows 10/8/7 system image from external hard drive. You can follow the guide below:

1. If your computer cannot boot, you need to use the bootable media or AOMEI PXE Boot Tool to boot your computer. Insert the bootable media and the external hard drive with your Windows system image, and press a special key (usually F8) to enter the BIOS mode. Then, set the bootable media as the first boot device and you will get into the interface of AOMEI Backupper.

Boot Order

2. Click Restore, and click Select Task to select the corresponding backup task you want to restore from (If your computer can still boot, launch the freeware, and click Restore directly).


3. Then, you need to select the system backup task you created before. Click Next to move on.

Select Backup Image

4. Choose Restore this system backup and click Next to continue.

Restore Entire Backup

Note: If you want to restore to a different location, you can tick "Restore system to other location" and select a partition.

5. Then, you can confirm all information about the operations. If there is no problem, click Start Restore. And the operations will be executed automatically. Just click Finish to exit when the progress reaches 100%.

Start Restore


  • The "Universal Restore" option is for users to restore system from one computer to another, which ensures a successful boot after restoring to different hardware. However, it's a paid feature. If you would like to do a universal restore, you need to upgrade your Standard edition to the Professional edition or higher.

  • If you have performed a sector-by-sector backup before, then there will be a "Sector by sector restore" option. It will restore every byte on the hard drive and take more time and occupy more space. It’s not recommended unless your target disk is big enough.

Except for the backup and restore solution, you still can choose to clone only system or entire drive with AOMEI Backupper. You are allowed to boot your computer from the cloned disk directly when your system or disk is damaged. And all you need to do is to change the cloned disk to the first boot option.

✐ Easier way to restore system image from external hard drive: 

Instead of creating system image and bootable media one by one, you can use onekey recovery software AOMEI OneKey Recovery to create them simultaneously. And it will add a boot menu on the computer as well as a fast key to access it, F11 or A, for example.

 Then, when your computer is not working, you can press F11 or A to access this software via boot menu and then restore system image with OneKey System Recovery option. 

OKR Recovery

Restore system image from external hard drive with Windows built-in tool

There are still some users who want to use the inbuilt tool to restore computer from system image on external hard drive, so I’ll show you the detailed steps below. To restore image from external hard drive, you need to create a system image to external hard drive before, and a system repair disc for starting the unbootable computer.

Then, see below and learn to restore from system image with Backup and Restore. If your computer can still boot normally, you can restore system image directly. Take an example of Windows 7.

1. Open the recovery tool in Windows. In Windows 7, open the Backup and Restore by clicking Start-> Control Panel-> System and Security. Then, select Recover system settings or your computer.

Recovery System Settings

 2. Go to the advanced recovery settings by clicking Advanced recovery methods.

Advanced Recovery Methods

 3. Then, in the Advanced options screen, click Use a system image you created earlier to recover your computer option and follow the wizard to select the system image and restore the system image from external hard drive.

Use System Image Recover Computer

However, if your computer cannot boot, you need to use the system repair disc to boot your computer first, and then restore from the system image.

1. Insert the system repair disc to restart your computer with its power button.

2. Press any key to start the computer from the system repair disc.

Note: If your computer doesn't start from the CD/DVD, you need to check whether the first boot option is CD-ROM Drive in BIOS. If not, change it to the first option via “+”.

3. After choosing the language settings, click Repair your computer, select a recovery option, and then click Next.

The Windows built-in tool can recover system image, but it is difficult for people who do not know much about computer. Besides, some users still complain that they can’t restore from system image on external hard drive and it says, “Windows could not find a backup for this computer”, “A Volume Shadow Copy Service component encountered an unexpected error”, etc.

Plus: Can’t restore system image from external hard drive

As mentioned above, some users may report that they cannot restore system on external hard drive, so I’ll show a different way for restoration. This method is to install Windows 10 from scratch via installation disc, then mount the image created by Backup and Restore (Windows 7) and capture the image on external hard drive via recovery mode.

It’s said that this method is applied to Windows 10 and you can try it if you are using Windows 10. If you are using Windows 7, 8, 8.1, there is no guarantee that it will work for you.

Detailed steps to restore system image from external hard drive in Windows.

1. Disconnect your computer from network.

2. Boot your computer with an installation disc, then click "Next" > "Install now" > "I don’t have a product key", select the operating system you want to install, tick "I accept the license code" and click "Custom" to continue. It will create an operating system and recovery partitions which is required to boot Windows.

Install Now

3. Log into your computer and create MountedVHDX and WindowsImage folder subsequently in C: drive, then copy the WindowsImage backup folder from external hard drive to C:\WindowsImage folder.

4. Insert an external hard drive with enough free space and create a folder named CaputuredWIM in it (here is E:\CapturedWIM).

5. Open Command Prompt with admin, then type the following commands and hit Enter.

  • Mount-WindowsImage -ImagePath fullpathofvhdxindoublequotes -Path C:\MountedVHDX -Index 1

  • New-WindowsImage -CapturePath C:\MountedVHDX -Name Win10Backup -ImagePath E:\CapturedWIM\sib.wim -Description "Windows 10 Backup" -Verify

  • Dismount-WindowsImage -Path C:\MountedVHDX –Discard

6. Restart your computer and then go to the recovery mode via “Power” option and “Shift” key.

7. At the Choose an option windows, select "Troubleshoot" > "Advanced" > "Command Prompt", and then type the commands below and press Enter to execute it.

  • Format C:

  • Dism /Apply-Image /ImageFile:E: \CapturedWIM\sib.wim /Index:1 /ApplyDir:C:\

8. Restart your computer and see if your Windows is activated.

Now, you may already restore system image from your external hard drive. If you think it’s too complicated, you can go back to the above and learn the easier way

In the end

AOMEI Backupper Standard should be the best freeware for backup and restore, because it can not only help you create and restore system image from external hard drive in Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, 11, but also do many other important things for you to secure your computer and data.

For example, you can use it to backup files/folders, a disk or even a single partition. You can also use it to clone an SSD to a larger SSD, etc. In a word, it is worth using with its free payment. 

Lily · Editor
Lily Green joined AOMEI in 2018 and has since become a professional in the areas of data protection and data transfer. She is committed to helping users protect their precious computer data and troubleshoot Windows system errors. She consistently stays vigilant about the latest trends in technology, guaranteeing that the given information aligned with the ongoing advancements in the field.