Optimizing System Restore

When you perform certain operations on your PC, you face a high risk of causing otherwise irreversible damage to your operating system. For instance, installing new drivers for your sound card, installing a Windows service pack, and making edits to Windows initialization files are sometimes necessary but dangerous steps to fully optimizing your PC. What if something goes wrong? Even the most conscientious of technical gurus are still helpless if the software or hardware developer made a mistake. This is where System Restore comes in. By making regular backups of your system's state, as well as performing one-time backups whenever Windows detects that you are installing new software or drivers, System Restore gives you the ultimate "rewind" button for your PC.

System Restore should not be seen as a complete backup solution for your PC, since it only monitors and archives system settings. Any unwanted changes to personal documents or accidental deletions cannot be undone with System Restore. To protect your data against accidental changes or deletions, you should back up your files to external media, like an external hard drive or a data DVD.

Risks of System Restore

Because System Restore takes snapshots (called "Restore Points") of your system's current state, it represents a vector for reinfection after you've removed a virus or malware variant from your system. For instance, imagine you are unknowingly infected with a virus on Friday, and your machine automatically creates a Restore Point on Saturday. On Sunday, your anti-virus software reports the infection, and you choose to remove the virus. Then, on Monday, your new audio card drivers ruin your system, so you revert back to Saturday's restore point. In some cases, your computer will become reinfected with the virus, as the virus may have been included in Saturday's snapshot.

Also, on older machines or machines with limited hardware, System Restore can use an inordinate amount of disk space. If you have a 10GB hard drive, Windows XP Professional will take approximately 40% (4GB) of that. System Restore will default to a further 12% of your disk space, which it will reserve for storing Restore Points. This leaves you with just 4.8GB of hard disk space for your critical applications and personal files.

Disabling System Restore

Disabling System Restore can free up disk space and other system resources and remove a vector for virus infection. If you have more than one partition or physical disk, you can safely disable System Restore for all non-system drives. In some cases where hard disk space is limited or you are concerned about viruses hiding in the Restore Points, it is prudent to disable System Restore on all disks. To disable System Restore, choose Start, and then right-click on the My Computer icon. Select the Properties option and navigate to the System Restore tab. Check the box labeled "Turn off System Restore". Press "OK", and restart your computer. Your past Restore Points will be automatically removed, and System Restore will stop taking Restore Points.

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