What is a computer full system restore?

Updated: March 30, 2011

Applies To: Windows Home Server 2011, Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials

Hardware and operating system failures are rare, but they can happen. A malfunctioning fan could overheat a computer motherboard and render it useless. The operating system could become corrupt and refuse to start. Fire and water damage can result in permanent hardware damage. A hard disk drive may fail or you may decide to replace it with a larger hard disk drive.

In the event that you replace a hard disk drive or your computer fails to the point where it cannot be used or does not start up, you can restore the system from a previous backup of the computer. A full system restore returns the system to its functional state at the time the backup was made that you then use to restore the system.


You cannot perform a full system restore on computer hardware, such as a system board, that is not similar to the computer hardware that is being replaced. An installed operating system is closely dependent on the underlying hardware of the computer. However, you can perform a full system restore to a hard drive that is equal in size or larger than the one that is being replaced.

When performing a full system restore, you can choose a specific computer backup to restore the system, with all of the applications, configurations, and settings familiar to the user prior to the failure, catastrophe, or theft. You can also choose which volumes that you want to restore.

Important considerations


BitLocker Drive Encryption (Bitlocker) is a data protection feature in Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Ultimate, and Windows 7 Ultimate for computers. BitLocker protects against data theft or exposure on computers that are lost or stolen, and offers more secure data deletion when computers are decommissioned.

If the computer that you need to restore was encrypted using BitLocker (whether it was just the operating system drive or the operating system drive and single or multiple other fixed drives), you can still use the full system restore media contained on the CD provided with your server and the Full System Restore wizard to re-install the hard disk drive image, including the operating system, from a backup and restore the data to the new or repaired computer.

When drives, folders, and files are backed up by the server, an unencrypted version is saved to the server. During full system restore, this unencrypted version is copied to the computer.

After a successful full system restore, you have to reactivate BitLocker on the computer. For instructions, see “BitLocker Drive Encryption Step-by-Step Guide for Windows 7” (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=140225).

For more information about BitLocker Drive Encryption basics, see “BitLocker Drive Encryption in Windows 7: Frequently Asked Questions” (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=190324).

Encrypting File System-encrypted files

The Encrypting File System (EFS) feature in Windows can provide additional user-based file level encryption for different levels of security among multiple users of the same computer. It is important to note that, unlike BitLocker-encrypted drives, EFS-encrypted folders and files continue to be encrypted in any computer backup. EFS is not available in Windows XP Home Edition, Windows Vista Starter, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, and Windows 7 Home Premium.


Unlike BitLocker, you can only access EFS-protected files from within the operating system that encrypted them.

Disk partitions

If the hard disk drive size on the new computer is the same, or larger than, the original, you are given an option to reformat and repartition the hard disk drive. Refer to the chart below for specifics:

Original Computer Restored or New Computer

Single disk with multiple partitions

Single disk with multiple partitions, and any extra space is allocated to the last partition

Single disk with a single partition

Single disk with a single partition, and all available space is used for the single partition


If there are disk size and partition layout differences between the original and the restored or new computer, you must use Disk Management to create the appropriate partitions on the restored or new computer. You can do this in the Full System Restore wizard.

GUID Partition Table partitions

GUID Partition Table (GPT) is a standard for the layout of the partition table on a physical hard disk. GPT is not supported for computer full system restore.

RAID and dynamic disks

Backing up hardware redundant array of independent disks (RAID) is supported. Backing up software redundant array of independent disks (RAID) and dynamic disks is not supported.