Move Back in Time with Windows XP’s System Restore Feature

In the past, the installation of a buggy driver or poorly programmed application could lead to all sorts of system instability issues. In some cases, these issues could lead to ceaseless error messages, or worse still, a non-functioning system. Thankfully, Windows XP addresses the issues associated with making major configuration changes via a tool known as System Restore, and you guessed it – System Restore settings are configured via the System applet in Control Panel.

The basic premise of System Restore is that XP periodically saves backups of your system’s critical configuration information in a dedicated area of disk space every time you make major configuration changes. These are not full backups in the manner of backing up your data, but are still important. Essentially, every time that you attempt to make a big change (such as updating a driver, running Windows Update, or installing new software), XP will automatically create what is known as a restore point. Then, if anything fails or results in errors once you’ve made your configuration changes, you can move back in time by restoring one of these previous backups.

It is also possible to manually create your own restore points if necessary. Available from All Programs > Accessories > System Tools, the System Restore tool allows you to manually define your own restore points, or restore one that was created automatically or manually. If you’re system goes south after a configuration change, it makes a great deal of sense to boot into Safe Mode and then try to restore the most recent restore point. The good news is that doing so will not impact things like your email or documents – these are not included in a restore point, so don’t worry about losing them.

The System Restore tab in Control Panel allows you to configure settings related to the operation of System Restore. By default, System Restore will be enabled for all local drives on your system, with a percentage of available disk space allocated to storing restore points for that drive. When this space becomes full, older restore points are disabled to make way for newer ones, so keep that in mind. System Restore can be globally enabled or disabled from the main tab, or you can configure settings for an individual drive (including disabling it if necessary) by selecting the drive and clicking the Settings button. From this screen you can also configure the amount of disk space allocated to System Restore on each drive, but keep in mind that less space allocated with mean that fewer restore points can be stored.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.