How to create a Windows 8.1 system image backup (step-by-step)

Windows 8.1 System Image Backup using PowerShell

Although, Microsoft has removed the Windows 7 backup tool in Windows 8.1, the feature still pretty much alive, but in form of command-line. Now to create a system image backup, you’ll need to use the PowerShell “Wbadmin start backup” tool, which for years system administrators have used on the server version of Windows.

The Windows 7 “Backup and Restore” feature, which was renamed to “Windows 7 File History” in Windows 8, was somewhat simple tool that allowed users to create a system image backup of their PCs. Basically, it was a program able to make an exact copy of a hard drive and primarily let users recover from hardware failure in a timely manner without losing their desktop applications (e.g., iTunes, Chrome, Photoshop, Microsoft Office, etc.), Metro-styled apps, Windows installation, PC settings, and much more.

In Windows 8.1 the image backup tool has disappeared, but as it turns out still possible to create a system image backup, and even though you’ll have use PowerShell, which could intimidate a lot of users, it’s a task pretty easy to do. Just follow the instruction below:


1 Go to the Start screen, start by typing Windows PowerShell, right-click the result and select Run as administrator.

2 Connect an external USB drive to save the image backup.

3 While in PowerShell (Admin) type the following command and press Enter:

wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:D: -include:C: -allCritical -quiet

wbadmin-start-backup powershell

To save an image backup to a shared folder in the network use the following command:

wbAdmin start backup -backupTarget:\\sharedFolder\folderName -user:username -password:userPassword -include:C: -allCritical -quiet


The wbAdmin start backup is the command-line tool, -backupTarget:D: refers to the drive where you are saving the system image — if your external drive has a different letter, change “D” for the letter of your drive –, -include:C: tells to the backup tool to capture an image backup of your main hard drive (where in this case Windows 8.1 is installed). The -allCritical switch specifies to include all the values inside of the hard drive (very important option), and finally there is the -quiet switch that will simply run the subcommand without prompting anything to the user.

Quick Tip: If your PC has more than one hard drive, you’ll need to specify to include all those drives as well. To do this change the -include:C: to something like this: -include:C:,E:,F:

The process to complete the system image backup will depend on all the data in the hard drive, in the amount of hard drives you are backing up, and of course your computer hardware. (While testing this tool in a virtual machine, it only took 30 minutes to backup about 10GB of data.)

Once the backup is done, you can browse the USB drive you chose to save the system image and you’ll notice something familiar, you will find the good old WindowsImageBackup folder, the .xml and .vhdx files, like you used to see in the “Backup and Restore” feature in Windows 7.

WindowsImageBackup folder in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 Image backup VHDX files

How to restore Windows 8.1 from image backup

Now the most important instructions are how to actually take this full backup and restore Windows 8.1.


1 Pop the DVD or USB media with the Windows 8.1 installation files. Also connect the storage drive with the backup in it.

2 Restart your computer and make sure your PC can boot from DVD or USB media.

3 When the installation wizard start, click Next, then click the Repair your computer link in the bottom-left corner of the window.

4 Click on Troubleshoot, then click Advanced options, and select System Image Recovery.

5 Choose the target operating system you want to recover.

6 The Re-image your computer wizard starts, it will scan for a system image backup. Click Next and choose whether to format and repartition the hard drive (optional).

System image backup recovery tool Windows 8.1

7 Finally, click Finish to start the recovery process. 

Starting recovery in Windows 8.1

As you can see it is possible in Windows 8.1 to create a true full backup that copies bit-by-bit all the data out of your PC’s hard drive, including Windows installation files, desktop applications, modern apps, user profiles, PC settings, personalization, and everything in between, even secondary hard drives used for storage.

SEE ALSO: How to create a Windows 8.1 full backup (Step by Step)

Important Note: Microsoft brought back the full backup functionally in Windows 8.1, so creating a system image works in the same way as it did in Windows 8.

Update: Although, Microsoft brought back the System Image Backup tool in Windows 8.1, what the company removed for good is the option to schedule a backup. But don’t worry, there is a workaround, just follow these instructions.

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
  • ilyas

    nice work but buddy how i restore icant make system repir disc they show only usb flash option

    • Mauro

      You don’t need a system repair disc, you only the Windows 8.1 installation DVD or USB. Then just follow the second set of instructions to restore.


  • BF Fulgham

    I’ve been using the command line version and powershell versions of this for backups since Server 2008/Vista/2008R2/Win-7. I have run into a problem with the newer hardware that uses UEFI. The recovery partitions and the EFI System Partition are not NTFS, so the “-allCritical” parm cannot backup these areas….backup fails.

    I have not been able to test this with the MS Partners early access for Win-8.1 on a physical box. Has there been a change in this area?

  • Erik Denkers

    Thanks for this great information. However…

    The System Image Backup feature was not removed from Windows 8.1, Microsoft just put it in a different place.

    If you open the Control Panel, select System and Security and then choose File History, you will see on the lower left corner of that screen a link to “System Image Backup”.

    Clicking that link will bring up the “Create a system image” wizard.

    I have to give credit to this information to CNET because I found it here…

  • Mustafa Omar

    how can i make only :C: backup without the other internal hard schijfs??

  • Andrew Lin

    i can’t get this done, It says ERROR – the specified backup location could not be found or is not a supported backup storage location no matter how i try it. I have tried different usb flash drive but still doesn’t work… Any suggestion???

  • Lech Jaszcz


    I have 3 computers: computer 1 running Windows 7, computer 2
    running Windows 8, that I plan to update to 8.1 and computer 3 running Windows
    8.1 Pro.

    I planning to make full backup of all computers on external
    USB drive.

    I would like to know:

    1 If one backup will not override the other

    2 If I will have a choice to select correct OS during Restore

    Thanks for any info,


    • Mauro

      I best I can recommend is to plug the external drive in the main computer and create an image backup. Then create a folder for each of the other computers and share them on the network, then just point the backup from all the other PCs to the corresponding networked folders.
      Or simply create the first backup and rename the WindowsImageBackup folder to WindowsImageBackup_PCname. Go to the next PC and create a new backup, then rename the folder to WindowsImageBackup_PCname2, and so on and so forth.
      When doing the recovery, Windows will automatically scan the folders and choose the right backup. This I know for sure.

      As for your question, Windows should not overwrite other PC backups. Theoretically it should list the backups inside as single WindowsImageBackup folder. However, you can’t never be 100% sure that’s why I listed other alternatives.

      I hope this helps.

  • sup2069

    Hey mauro thanks for the article.

    But as a heads up, any folders that has spaces in their names (folder path) will cause the command to fail. I renamed a folder in my NAS to use the underscore instead and it worked like a charm!


    I thought I was ready to proceed and give all this a try until I read “sup2069” statement about …it’s all good and works great, but only after you rename folders which have spaces to use underscores. Geeze…what the heck is that supposed to mean. My drives have a $#%^ load of folders with spaces in their names. Shouldn’t this requirement be mentioned from the very beginning?

    So many situations, conditions, that need to be considered. Isn’t that was programming code is best at? This is a lot of info to take into consideration. I don’t understand why Microsoft or other software engineers simply create / provide consumers with an idiot proof full backup solution that requires simply pushing a button to initiate a “complete” backup. And, when disaster strikes, recovery is simply a push-button away.

    Consumers want the ability to, at closing, push their desk chair in…and press a button or icon, and know that everything is being backed up in full. The same goes for the restore process.

    All this CLICK on ????, then type in ????. The obvious winner who successfully engineers such a device will quickly own the market. Programs coding should be able to detect and act on different partitions, structure type.

    Click – it and forget it.


    I’m sorry, but what is a person supposed to do when their computer is a name brand pc which has not “windows install disks” but only self-burned DVD’s to return the system back to the state it was when it came out of the factory.

    Can installation disks be created from OEM recovery disks? Not, that I’ve ever heard. If so, please enlighten me. “Perhaps you could go next door and borrow the neighbors…” Not happening.

    • Mauro


      If you’re using Windows 8.0 or Windows 8.1, find the product key, watch this video to download Windows 8.1

      Then make a clean install of the operating system and the next time, you need to restore, the new Windows 8.1 files you downloaded from Microsoft will be your “Windows install disk”.


  • Adam Drews

    Here is a simple powershell script to retry on error and to send an email after completion: