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

Use these instructions on Windows 8.1 to create a system image backup of your PC using the wbAdmin command-line utility using PowerShell.

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:

How to use PowerShell to create a Windows 8.1 system image backup

  1. Open 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

How wbAdmin command works

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 system 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.

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].