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30 Hardware and Windows Tips in 30 Days Tip 14: Before You Update, Run System Restore

Some Windows Update 'updates' are turning out to be toxic for some PCs. Learn how to protect yourself from software screwups with System Restore.

When Windows Update Brings Clinkers

In a perfect world, every update delivered by Windows Update would be golden, and your system would run faster and better every time. Well, it's time to get real. Sometimes, Windows Update is the worst thing that can happen to your system. Consider, for example, Windows XP users that saw their systems slowed to a crawl when Windows Desktop Search 3.01 showed up via Windows Update. Or, the many users of Windows XP and Windows Vista with broken Internet Explorer browsers thanks to problems with December's MS07-069 security update. How can you protect yourself? Two words: System Restore.

Creating a Fail-Safe System with System Restore

System Restore, originally one of the few bright spots in the generally ill-starred operating system known as Windows Me, is a standard feature in both Windows XP and Windows Vista. It enables you to roll your system's configuration back to a specified point. To use it to protect yourself against faulty updates (as well as other problems), don't rely on automatic restore points. Instead, create your own restore point before you install updates with Windows Update. To learn how to install updates on your schedule, rather than automatically, see Tip #2 in this series.

To create a restore point, start System Restore from the System Tools section of the Accessories menu. In Windows XP, select the option to create a restore point. In Windows Vista, select the option to start System Protection. When prompted, create the restore point and provide a description.

Fixing a Broken System with System Restore

If you need to restore your system to that restore point, you can do it by running System Restore from the Start menu and selecting a particular restore point to revert to. However, if you cannot start your system normally, you can start Windows XP in Safe Mode and run System Restore after the system boots. With Windows Vista, you can start the system with WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment - boot from the DVD or WinRE disc or partition) and select Repair My Computer. Choose System Restore from the repair menu, and choose the restore point to revert to. By creating a restore point before you install updates (either delivered by Windows Update or installed manually), you enable a 'backdoor' to return your system to health if a half-baked solution gets installed on your system.

For more information about using System Restore in Windows XP, see KB306084. For more information about using System Restore in Windows Vista, see the Windows Vista Help: System Restore: FAQ page.

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