How to create a Windows 8 system image or full backup (step-by-step)

Configure Windows 8 system image

A system image is simply a full backup of your PC which includes: Windows installation files, applications, personal documents, device driver and everything else, that will help to restore Windows 8 in case of fatal system failure, viruses, and other error that may occur.

Creating an image of your system in Windows 8 hasn’t changed one bit from how it was done in Windows 7, Microsoft only changed the name from “Windows Backup and Restore” to “Windows 7 File Recovery” — Why the “7” in the name? This is for backward compatibility with previous version of the operating system.

Having a full backup of your hard drive can be considered the best disaster strategy, when things goes wrong in your PC. You should always consider creating backup at least once a week.


Here is the thing, it seems that Microsoft doesn’t want to use this feature anymore, why? Just look at the name of it, if you do a search from the Start screen using the keywords: “backup” or “system image”, you won’t see this feature as an option; the name is confusing, it hasn’t been updated, and it might go away in the future because it is mainly to restore files from a Windows 7 System Image or if you’ve performed an upgrade from a previous version of the OS.

The software maker now prefers you use the new File History to backup your files (documents, libraries, contacts, favorites, etc.), and then use the new feature “Refresh your PC without affecting your files” — formerly known as “Refresh your PC” — and the “Remove everything and reinstall Windows” — formerly known as “Reset your PC” –, to come back from a system failure or to help you safely get rid of your computer.

1 To begin go to the Start screen, type Control Panel and launch the utility.

2 In the search box from the top-right side of the page, do a search for Windows 7 File Recovery and click the link to start the process.

3 If you have done this in Win 7 the user interface will look a lot familiar because it hasn’t changed. From the menu on the left, click Create a system image.

Windows Backup

4 Choose whether to save the system backup on an external hard drive, on a DVD (this could take many discs), or on a network location and click Next. For this demonstration, I’ll be using the network location. This is convenient if you know how to configure a network shared location, if you don’t, the safest way is by using an external storage media such as a USB drive, just make sure that you have enough free space available.

Note: Files already in the storage media will not be erased by this operation.

Create full backup

5  Confirm your settings and click Start backup. The time that Windows 8 will take to create the system image will depend on the amount of data and the location where you are storing the backup.

Windows backup widzard

6 Windows will start saving the backup and once the process is done you’ll be prompted to create a “system image repair disc”, click Yes to continue. You want to do this in case your PC hits a serious system failure and the PC does not boot. The repair disc will enable you to boot the PC into the recovery environment and make use of the backup you just created to restore everything.

Backing Up

Bootable disc repair

7 Click Create disc. After Windows 8 has finished backing everything up, don’t forget to store your system image in a safe place. Taking it offsite to a friend’s house that you trust or a family member is not a bad idea.

System image repair disc drive

You are now done!

System Image benefits

The benefits of creating a system image are: consolidation of your whole PC in a single backup, applications are preserved and you don’t have to reinstall them, personal document and settings are maintained as well. But best of all, if you hard drive were to go bad (unusable) you can recovery your full system in matter of minutes by just restoring the backup image.

SEE ALSO: How to restore Windows 8 system image in the event of system failure (step-by-step)

Mauro is a technology writer at and He’s been recognized as a Microsoft MVP, he’s also a technology enthusiast and enjoys writing content about Microsoft, Google, Apple, and other interesting technologies. Got a hat tip? Send him an email with your rants, rumors, tips and tattles.

Email @Pureinfotech
  • Toni Marie M

    Good job of describing use of Microsoft’s now-you-see-it, tomorrow-it-may-be-gone backup tool. Using a tool that produces something another tool has to work with makes me nervous especially if the company (MS here) is trying to hide the utility or phase it out.

    What works well for me after following the technology curve from backup tapes to CDs to DVDs but skipping bluray is not to use any of these intermediate media at all. Instead I use a similarly sized and speed hard disk in an external usb enclosure that is easy to open and swap drives in and out. Storage has gotten so cheap it’s ridiculous.

    So once a month or week or whatever, I do an offline (ipl with the backup product disk) clone of the current hard drive. Good products are Macrium Reflect (free) and Acronis TrueImage (free from and for specific hard drive manufacturers like WDC). The offline backups run amazingly fast compared to any program that has to run through the standard Windows interfaces and overhead and I don’t have to sit and constantly feed in storage media. Just start the clone operation and go do something in the real world for about an hour or so then come back and make sure it shows no errors. If there’s something wrong you can fix it right then.

    Now here’s the real benefit of this scheme, when the clone is complete, I swap the hard drives with the current internal disk moving to the external enclosure and vice versa. I know almost immediately if I have a functional replacement for the old system hard drive by actually using the cloned copy as the new system hard drive. This is much better than having to wait for a disaster to occur and then do the real “test” of whether another program can read the backup media and use it to create a working version of the system. A side benefit is that each hard drive gets used half as much as would be typical so they last longer and errors are that much farther apart.

    You will always test the backup/restore function to see if the process, programs and media can do the job in real disaster situation. I prefer to not do it at the time of the disaster. It’s not unheard of to think you are in good shape by doing regular backups only to have your beliefs shattered when you try to restore your data and find out there’s a problem.

    Actually I am typing this on a new Windows 8 system which has been cloned through the process above and the hard drives switched. I know the one I just took out works (because it was running till then) and now am sure the new one works as you see since it is now the current system drive. The former system drive can be sent offsite (to my brother’s who happens to live around the block) and the possibility of there being restore errors as well as the time and effort of running a restore to get my system functional again are both eliminated.


    Toni Marie Monturo

  • Toni Marie M

    If you want to avoid most of this process at least in the case of total disk failure (and no I am not selling anything or sending you to a software package link) read my comment in the companion article to this at :

    Toni Marie Monturo