How to create full system image backup on Windows 10

A full PC backup should always be part of your recovery strategy — here's how to use Windows 10's System Image Backup tool.

Windows 10 full backup
Windows 10 full backup
  • To create a full system image backup on Windows 10, open the “Backup and Restore” settings, click the “Create a system image” option, and select the USB drive to save the full backup. Continue with the directions by selecting the system and secondary drives and clicking on “Start backup.”

UPDATED 11/2/2023: On Windows 10, you can create a full backup using the system image tool in the “Backup and Restore” setting, and in this guide, I’ll show you the steps using a USB hard drive or network shared folder. A system image backup is the deprecated process to create a “full backup” of your computer. This “image” contains a copy of all of the data on your system drive and any secondary storage devices (if applicable), including the Windows setup files, applications, settings, and files.

A full backup of your computer is always essential as it could help you recover from any system failure, errors, or malware. Since Windows 10 updates are mandatory, it is important to have a recovery mechanism in place in case your computer won’t boot due to a buggy driver or update.

In this guide, I’ll outline the steps to create a full backup of your computer using the system image backup feature on Windows 10 and how to recover individual files as needed.

Create system image backup to USB drive on Windows 10

To create a system image backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings on Windows 10.

  2. Click on Update & Security.

  3. Click on Backup.

  4. Under the “Looking for an older backup” section, click the “Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” option.

    Windows 10 Backup and Restore

  5. Click the “Create a system image” option from the left pane.

    Create system image option

  6. Under the “On a hard disk” setting, select the external USB drive for the full backup of Windows 10.

    Windows 10 backup USB destination

    Quick tip: You can use an external USB hard drive with data already on it. The tool will not format or erase any files in the drive. Instead, it will create a folder called “WindowsImageBackup” to save the system image.
  7. Click the Next button.

  8. Select any other drive to include in the Windows 10 full backup (if applicable).

    Backup additional drives

  9. Click the Next button.

  10. Click the Start backup button.

  11. Click the No button.

Once you complete the steps, the backup will be created on the external USB drive. You will also be prompted to “create a system image repair disc.” However, you can skip this option since you can use the Windows 10 bootable media to access the recovery environment.

Create system image backup to network drive on Windows 10

If you don’t have external storage with enough space, you can also create a backup over the network to a file server or network-attached storage (NAS).

To create a full backup to a network drive on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Settings.

  2. Click on Update & Security.

  3. Click on Backup.

  4. Under the “Looking for an older backup” section, click the “Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” option.

    Windows 10 Backup and Restore

  5. Click the “Create a system image” option from the left pane.

    Create system image option

  6. Under the “On a network location” setting, click the Select button. 

    Windows 10 backup network destination

  7. Confirm the network path to the shared folder.

    Windows 10 backup network credentials

    Quick note: You must create and share a folder in the destination computer, network-attached storage (NAS), or file server.
  8. Confirm the credentials to access the network folder.

  9. Click the OK button.

  10. Click the Next button.

  11. Click the Start backup button.

After completing the steps, the “System Image Backup” feature will create a backup in the specified folder location. However, since the process will happen over the network, the backup could take a long time to complete.

Restore system image backup on Windows 10

To restore a system image backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Power off the computer.

  2. Connect the Windows 10 USB installation media.

  3. Connect the USB backup drive.

    Quick tip: The device must be configured to boot from USB. You will need to enter the BIOS and reconfigure the boot order if this isn’t the case. Since this is different on most computers, check your manufacturer support website for specific details.
  4. Power on the computer.

  5. Click the Next button on the “Windows Setup” page.

  6. Click the “Repair your computer” option from the bottom-left corner.

    Windows 10 Setup repair your computer option

  7. Click on Troubleshoot.

  8. Click the “System Image Recovery” option.

    Advanced option System Image Recovery

  9. Click on Windows 10.

  10. Select the “Use the latest available system image” option.

    Select backup to restore

  11. Click the Next button.

  12. (Optional) Check the “Format and portion disks” option if the backup restoration will be to a new drive.

  13. (Optional) Check the “Only restore system drives” option to restore the drives needed to run Windows 10. 

  14. Click the Next button.

    Select backup to restore

  15. Click the Finish button.

  16. Click the Yes button.

After you complete the steps, the backup will restore your system with all the installation files, applications, configurations, and personal files.

Restore files from system image backup on Windows 10

The system image backup is meant to restore the entire system, not individual files. However, you can still open the image to recover individual files with a simple workaround.

To restore files from backup on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.

  2. Search for “Create and format hard disk partitions” and select the top result to open the Disk Management app.

  3. Click on Action and select the Attach VHD option.

    Attach VHD

  4. Click the Browse button.

  5. Browse inside the WindowsImageBackup folder that contains the backup files.

  6. Double-click the folder with the computer name.

  7. Double-click the Backup xxxx-xx-xx xxxxxx folder.

  8. Double-click the largest VHDX file to mount the image in File Explorer.

    System image VHDX mount

  9. Click the Open button

  10. Click the OK button.

  11. Right-click the volume on the mounted drive (blue icon) and select the “Change Drive Letter and Paths” option.

    VHD change driver letter on Windows 10

  12. Click the Add button.

  13. Select a drive letter.

  14. Click the OK button.

  15. Open File Explorer.

  16. Click on This PC.

  17. Open the mounted drive and browse the location of the files to recover.

  18. Select and copy the files.

    Restore files on Windows 10

  19. Paste the files to the location you want to restore them.

Once you complete the file restoration, right-click the drive and select the “Detach VHD” option and the “OK” button to detach the backup drive.

When restoring files from the backup, you can only recover files backed up and created before the backup. To keep files up to date, you should consider using different solutions, such as File History or OneDrive.

It’s important to note that Microsoft no longer maintains the “System Image Backup” tool on Windows 10, but you can still use the feature. The reason is that the company wants you to use the “Reset this PC” feature to fix problems on Windows 10 and the “Windows Backup” app to protect your files, apps, settings, and credentials in the cloud.

However, the legacy recovery tool is still relevant, especially for creating backups before making system changes or upgrading to a new version of the operating system. If you want to use this approach, you should always consider creating an image backup at least once a week or before making any changes.

Update November 2, 2023: This guide has been updated to ensure accuracy and reflect new changes.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].