Is there a way to create a snapshot of a Windows 7 system?

My goal is to be able to save the current state of my Windows 7 OS, on external storage, and be able to restore it on the same hardware in the future. Much like a snapshot on a virtual machine.

One solution would be to install two hard drives in RAID 1, then take one of them out an store it. Is there an easier solution?

  • 1
    The best tool for a job like this is third-party software that can clone your hdd.
    – Ramhound
    Feb 13 '14 at 20:01

The most reliable save is to simply clone the entire partition (the portion of the disk where Windows 7 OS resides). This takes more time and disc capacity than selectively picking out system configuration details, but is also much less likely to result in a corrupted or "almost" system restoration.

Several tools exist. I have used open source Clonezilla successfully on several machines with Windows XP, 7, 8. In one case, the disk was encrypted.

If the disk is unencrypted, Clonezilla will save a compressed, optimized image. For encrypted disks, it simply makes a full copy of the encrypted partition, with no optimization.

You need to create either a bootable USB, CD, or DVD (see Clonezilla Live CD for details on creating this). which will boot up Linux automatically and lead you step by step through the process.

You will need a wired LAN connection to a file server with an open SAMBA/CIFS (Windows) share, NFS share, or SSH server. There is an option for using wireless, but I have never been able to successfully configure this. Wireless connections require dropping to the command line and manually configuring the wifi adapter. Wired connections come up automatically, and support DHCP.

The transfer rate is about 3 Gb/min, so budget about an hour for each 120 Gb. If the disk is not encrypted, empty sectors are ignored (for example, an 800 Gb disk with 240 Gb used would take about two hours and require 240 Gb or less for the image files).

The target disk used to store the image must have at least as much free capacity as the compressed size of the content on the disk (or partitions) being cloned.

  • Is there no way to do differential snapshots -- or even like -- while the computer is running? (i.e. the functionality is built in to windows [with the Volume Shadow Service / VSS] -- seems kind of lame that there's no way to use it this way. -- would save a lot of disk space because you're just storing the difference in state of the hard drive...) Feb 7 '16 at 21:21
  • In general I have had problems with differential backups and restores, particularly in Windows going back to 3.1. Note that Clonezilla can compress a non-encrypted image, with the empty space approaching 0% and significant (>20%) compression on the non-empty areas.
    – wistlo
    Nov 2 '16 at 15:31

You can't really do a traditional snapshot, but you can make a system image of your computer that you can later use to restore it with the built in functionality of Windows 7 Backup.

I'll put the information from the article I found here

To back up your programs, system settings, and files

  1. Open Backup and Restore by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Backup and Restore.

  2. In the left pane, click Create a system image, and then follow the steps in the wizard. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Keeping different versions of system images

If you're saving your system images on an internal or external drive, or on CDs or DVDs, you can keep several versions of system images. On internal and external hard drives, older system images will be deleted when the drive runs out of space. To help conserve disk space, you can manually delete older system images. For more information, see What backup settings should I use to maximize my disk space?

If you're saving your system images in a network location, you can only keep the most current system image for each computer. System images are saved in the format of drive\WindowsImageBackup\computer name. If you have an existing system image for a computer and are creating a new one for the same computer, the new system image will overwrite the existing one. If you want to keep the existing system image, you can copy it to a different location before creating the new system image by following these steps:

  1. Navigate to the location of the system image.

  2. Copy the WindowsImageBackup folder to a new location.


To create a system image of a drive, it must be formatted to use the NTFS file system. If you save the system image on a hard drive or USB flash drive, it must be formatted to use the NTFS file system.

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