How to create a system image backup in Windows 10 (step-by-step)

This tutorial will show you step by step how to create a system image backup in Windows 10.

A system image backup is an exact copy of the partition(s) required to backup and restore your operating system (e.g., Microsoft Windows 10), installed programs, and settings.

You can use the built-in Windows “Backup and Restore” utility or a third-party program like Macrium Reflect or AOMEI Backupper. I prefer using at least two methods.

What is a system image backup?

A system image backup is an exact copy of the partition(s) required to backup and restore your operating system (e.g., Microsoft Windows 10), installed programs, and settings.

You can restore a system image backup when your operating system no longer works properly, or when your operating system gets infected by malware (e.g., computer virus, trojan, etc.).

You can store a system image backup on a second internal hard drive (installed in your computer), an external hard drive, USB flash drive (not recommended), on one or more DVD's, or a network location.

Another option would be Windows 10's built-in feature called “Fresh start”. This feature reinstalls and updates Windows while keeping your files and some Windows settings. But it will take longer than restoring a system image backup, and it also removes most of your programs, including Microsoft Office, third-party antivirus software, and other software that came pre-installed on your computer. I prefer a system image backup.

How to make a full backup of Windows 10 using Windows Backup and Restore

1. Open the system image backup tool. To do so, you'll need to open the Windows Control Panel first. And to open Control Panel, you type control panel in the Windows search bar, and then click on it when it appears.

Open Control Panel in Windows 10 via search

You can also open the Windows Control Panel by clicking on the start menu button > Windows System > Control Panel.

Open Control Panel in Windows 10 via start menu

Or you can also press the [Windows] + [Pause] keys on your keyboard, and then within the System window, you click on Control Panel Home located in the top left corner of the window.

Open Control Panel in Windows 10 via System window

2. Within the Control Panel window, under System and Security, you click on Backup and Restore (Windows 7).

Open the Backup and Restore utility in Windows 10 via Control Panel

A “Backup and Restore” window will appear.

3. Click on Create a system image located in the top left corner.

Create a system image option in Windows 10

Now it will ask you where you want to save the backup. You can choose between an external drive, multiple DVD's, or a network location. I prefer to use an external hard drive.

4. Select the On a hard disk option.

5. Connect your external hard drive to your computer.

6. Use the drop-down menu below the On a hard disk option to select your external hard drive.

Select where to save the system image backup options in Windows 10

7. Click on the Next button in the bottom right corner of the window.

8. By default, it will only backup the partition(s) required to backup and restore Windows 10. If you want, you can also include other drives, but it will add to the file size of system image backup. So it's better to only backup the partition(s) required to backup and restore Windows 10.

Which drives do you want to include in the backup?

9. Click on the Next button.

10. Click on the Start backup button.

The Windows “Backup and Restore” tool will now create your system image backup.

This process may take a while.

The time it takes to complete the system backup depends on:

And there are probably more things that play a role in the speed of the backup.

11. When the system image backup is complete, it will ask you to create a system repair disc. Just click on No.

System repair disc option

If you ever need to restore a system image backup, you can use a bootable USB flash drive to access the recovery environment.

You can also use a Windows 10 installation disc or USB flash drive to restore a system image backup.

12. Click on the Close button to close the tool.



How to make a full backup of Windows 10 using Macrium Reflect Free

Macrium Reflect is a reliable, well-known, and often recommended program for creating system image backups.

You can download Macrium Reflect Free from their website, here. Make sure you download the free version and not the trial version of their paid product. The free version is all you need for this.

1. Connect your external hard drive to your PC.

2. Open Macrium Reflect Free.

3. When the “User Account Control” window appears, you click on Yes. If you're not using an administrator account (which you shouldn't use for daily use anyway), you first need to enter the administrator password and then click on Yes.

4. Click on Create an image of the partition(s) required to backup and restore Windows located in the top left corner.

Create an image of the partition(s) required to backup and restore Windows in Macrium Reflect

A Disk Image window will appear.

5. At Folder, you make sure that your external hard drive is selected.

In this example, the external drive has the letter S as drive letter but it probably has a different drive letter for you.

Make sure that your external hard drive is selected in Macrium Reflect

6. At Backup filename, you can use the image ID as the file name, or if you want, you can enter a more descriptive name to help you remember what it is.

7. Click on the Finish button at the bottom right of the window.

A Backup Save Options window will appear.

8. Uncheck the Save backup and schedules as an XML Backup Definition File option.

9. Click on the OK button.

Macrium Reflect Backup Save Options

Macrium Reflect will now create your system image backup.

The time it takes to complete the backup depends on:

And there are probably more things that play a role in the speed of the backup.

10. When the system image backup is complete, you click on the OK button.

11. Click on the Close button.

12. You can now close Macrium Reflect.



How to make a full backup of Windows 10 using AOMEI Backupper

You can download AOMEI Backupper Standard from their website, here. Make sure you download the free version, which is called AOMEI Backupper Standard, and not the trial version of their paid product. The free version is all you need for this.

In this example, I'll be using AOMEI Backupper Professional, but the free version works exactly the same. The only difference is that the paid version has more features, like for example, the abbility to encrypt (password protect) backups, create system clones, merge backup images, split backup images, and more features.

1. Connect your external hard drive to your PC.

2. Open AOMEI Backupper.

3. When the “User Account Control” window appears, you click on Yes. If you're not using an administrator account (which you shouldn't use for daily use anyway), you first need to enter the administrator password and then click on Yes.

4. Click on Backup.

5. Click on System Backup.

AOMEI Backupper System Backup

6. At Task Name located at the top, you type a name for your backup.

AOMEI Backupper Task Name

7. Make sure your external hard drive is selected.

AOMEI Backupper drive selection menu

In this example, the external drive has the letter V as drive letter but it probably has a different drive letter for you.

8. Click on the Start Backup button in the bottom right corner.

AOMEI Backupper will now create your system image backup.

The time it takes to complete the backup depends on:

And there are probably more things that play a role in the speed of the backup.

9. When the system image backup is complete, you click on the Finish button.

12. You can now close AOMEI Backupper.


Maybe you're also interested in:

How to back up files in Windows 10


References:

WindowsCentral

HowToGeek

AskLeo