I have a new Dell Laptop that I have setup the way I like it. I want to use Windows 7 to do a backup and then restore that backup on a different hard drive (solid state).

When I setup the backup info (manually) for Windows 7 Backup there is a little checkbox at the the bottom that says:

Include a system image of drives: RECOVERY, OS (C:)

I can also select to backup all my data on the C: drive (the only hard drive I have anything on) as well as some libraries (which are on my C: drive so no point in selecting those).

The question I have is, does Windows 7 Backup just somehow know what needs to be restored (ie program files and Windows and the registry ....? Or is it really making a full restorable copy of the C: drive? (If the later is true then I don't need select the C: drive to be "backed up" if I don't plan to access the files except by restoring them right? (Because the system image will already have it all.))

So, which way is it? What is saved in the System Image?

  • 1
    System image is a full copy of the disk where Windows is installed (usually C:). If Windows is installed on multiple disks, they will be included in the image. But if you have disks with only non-system files, then they are not backed up.
    – mins
    May 19, 2014 at 13:39

4 Answers 4


The system image will create a full copy of every file on your boot partition, which can be restored from the recovery console on the installation disk. This will restore everything, including the operating system, registry, all installed programs, and user profiles. The separate option to back up specific folders and files is necessary if you want to be able to restore individual files. The "previous versions" feature and the ability to restore just specific files requires that you back up those directories. If you only intend to ever use the restore features to do a full image restore, you don't need to select anything on C:, however, I have found it useful in the past to be able to recovery just a single file or directory of files, such as in the event of an accidental deletion, etc.

  • I guess this is still the case and windows 7 backup hasn’t really changed for later windows versions?! But besides that, this would include drivers as well?! Jun 19 at 12:31

Both Of these options come from Windows. There is the Backup and Restore and System image. to be on the safe side, I recommend that you use both of them and let me explain. I'd use Backup and Restore if I accidentally deleted a file during my computer use since you can pick separate files from a backup, I'd not use this if there's a hard drive issue and I needed a new computer. Its a good way to protect data from accidental deletion rather than being a base for a bare metal restore

Now with the System Image you cannot select separate files and this is what I would use if there is ever a hard drive issue and needed a new computer. It replaces your programs, settings (Program Settings), files, and it is an exact copy of your hard drive as if nothing happened.


It's important to point out the fact that the default option for windows backup is to backup everything. And if your PC is part of a company and the backup is stored on a server, you might not want to keep your browser passwords synced with your home PC.


It's also IMPORTANT to know, that windows system image does NOT backup EVERY file.
How does Windows decide what files to backup?

If you happen to compare the number and size of the files backed up, you may be concerned. From what everyone says, don't worry. I still do, but then I don't trust PC O/S's.

You can always mount the vhd file and take a look around ( I do ). Just the other day I found that several of my recorded TV programs in WMC weren't backed up. So, some of the public files and some temporary files, for sure. I'm not sure how many others.

  • 3
    this is wrong, the image does back up everything, the file backup doesn't/
    – jiggunjer
    Jan 7, 2016 at 1:52

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