New software can be fickle, especially if it relies on hardware such as the sound card or the CD/DVD drive. If you ever run into a situation where the sound on your computer stops working or inserted CD/DVDs suddenly aren't recognized after installing a program, then you might want to look into using the System Restore utility.
Another reason to use the System Restore utility is to recover from a system crash. A system crash could be caused by a virus attack, by installing new improperly configured hardware or software, or by any number of other system failures or conflicts. A system crash can be devastating, but with proper precautions, you can minimize the damage.
Regardless of what caused the hardware failure, software problems, or a system crash, there are procedures you can follow to recover. Windows includes a utility that can save the state of the system during a time when the system is working. This is called a restore point and it can be recalled after a system crash to return the system to a working state.
The System Restore utility can't solve all your hardware and software problems, but it is one of the first steps to try to get your system back to a working state. System Restore doesn't remove any data, application, or email files from the system, but only changes the application settings back to a previous restore point.
If your system is having trouble with an application that was recently installed, you should first try uninstalling the offending program before running the System Restore utility. If a recently installed piece of hardware is causing problems on your system, then you should first try disabling the device using the Device Manager before running the System Restore utility. The Device Manager can be opened from the Hardware panel of the System Properties dialog box.
You can learn more about device drivers and using the Device Manager in Chapter 31.
The System Restore utility is accessed using the Start All Programs Accessories System Tools System Restore menu. The System Restore utility, shown in Figure 50.1, lets you create a restore point or restore the computer to an earlier time. The utility uses step-by-step wizards to walk you through the process of creating and restoring restore points. The restore process is completely reversible if you need to revert back the computer's original state before the restore.
Figure 50.1: The System Restore utility is used to create and restore existing restore points.
Although the System Restore utility can restore your Windows setup, it doesn't save or delete any of your data files. To save data files, you can use the Backup utility which is covered in Chapter 49.
A restore point saves the settings of the computer during a time when everything is working properly. By saving a restore point, you can backtrack if the system starts experiencing problems. Some problems to watch for include software behaving erratically; throwing errors or reporting that certain modules are missing or can't be located; hardware that stop working or that throws errors; or when the operating system shows up as a blue screen reporting an error.
Windows automatically creates regular restore points, but you can use the System Restore utility to create restore points at any time.
If you're planning on installing software that relies on hardware to function properly, it is a good idea to create a restore point just before beginning the installation.
To use the System Restore utility to create a restore point, follow these steps:
Select the Start All Programs Accessories System Tools System Restore menu to run the System Restore utility.
Select the Create a restore point option and click Next.
In the next step of the wizard, you can enter a restore point description. This description identifies and distinguishes the restore points from each other.
A good restore point description explains the system before any changes, such as "System settings before installing the latest Outlook update."
After naming the restore point, click the Create button to begin the process. A dialog box listing the restore point is displayed once the process is finished, as shown in Figure 50.2.
Figure 50.2: The System Restore utility can create restore points at any time.
Click the Home button to return to the first page of the wizard.
If your computer is acting erratically and you can't troubleshoot the issue, you can sometimes eliminate the problem by using the System Restore utility to return the computer to an earlier restore point when the system seemed to be running just fine.
Returning the system to an earlier restore point does not delete any files or data that have been saved since the restore point was created.
When the Restore my computer to an earlier time option is selected in the first page of the System Restore wizard, the next page of the wizard shows a calendar for the current month, as shown in Figure 50.3. Every date that includes a restore point is marked in bold.
Figure 50.3: All days that include a restore point are shown in bold.
If you select a restore point and click Next, the restoration process begins. During this process, the computer reboots, so you should save any work before beginning the restoration. Returning to an earlier restore point also doesn't change the current time and date.
After you use the Return to restore point command, the wizard includes an option to Undo my last restoration. If returning to a restore point causes more problems than it fixes, you can undo the last restoration. This requires another system reboot.
If you click the System Restore Settings link on the first page of the System Restore utility, the System Restore tab of the System Properties dialog box, shown in Figure 50.4, appears. Using this tab, you can disable the System Restore utility. If restore points are established daily, they could potential use a lot of disk space for a feature that you aren't likely to use very often, especially if you aren't regularly installing new software. If you find that you're getting low on disk space, you may want to disable this utility.
Figure 50.4: The System Restore tab of the System Properties dialog box lets you configure and disable the System Restore utility.
You can also access the System Properties dialog box by right-clicking the My Computer icon and selecting the Properties menu command.
You can also use the System Restore tab to set the amount of disk space that the computer uses to save restore points. The System Restore utility automatically creates restore points before the installation of every application. As the designated disk space limit is approached, the older restore points are overwritten. If the amount of available space on your hard drive falls below 200MB, then the System Restore utility is automatically disabled.
If you need to reclaim disk space after changing the disk space limit used for restore points, open the Disk Cleanup utility and click the More Options tab. Within this tab is an option to free disk space by removing all but the most recent restore point.