Windows 11 basics: how to use System Restore to go back in time

A few years ago, I was working as a freelancer for a company trying to develop a US market for its rather obscure hardware products and needed a native English speaker to edit the text on its site. Everything went smoothly until my second week on the job, when I went to the site – and found that I suddenly started seeing weird ads all over my screen and lost the ability to access my security software.

I had to remove everything that had entered my system – hopefully without the need to reset my PC (and waste more time reinstalling all my apps and files). This is what I used: System Restore.

System Restore is a handy feature that creates a kind of snapshot of your PC’s software, registry, and driver configuration at one point; this snapshot is called a restore point. You can then bring your PC back to that time if necessary. You may lose some of the work you’ve done since you created that restore point, but you’ll also lose any unwanted changes that may have been made without your permission.

While the restore point worked for me in that particular case, I have to admit that I usually didn’t have much success with restore points. However, as of Windows 10, System Restore seems to have vastly improved. Here’s how to use it with Windows 11.

Set up system restore

To use System Restore, you must first make sure that it is enabled.

  • Interestingly, in Windows 11 System Restore doesn’t seem to be available through the normal Settings menu. Instead, the best way to find it is, according to Microsoftto use the search icon in your taskbar and type in Control panel† In the results you will find the Control Panel app; select it.

Do you remember the Control Panel?  Well, it's still hidden in Windows 11.

  • Those of us who have been around Windows for a while will immediately recognize the old-fashioned Control Panel, where you used to go for almost all Windows tweaks. Look for the search box at the top right and type in recovery
  • Select Recovery > Configure System Restore

When you go to the recovery page, you can access or configure System Restore.

  • This will de System properties windown. You are on the System Protection tab. If you’ve never used System Restore before, all buttons will be grayed out except Configure† Anyway, make sure your available drive (usually the C: drive) is highlighted and then click Configure

Select Configure to set up System Restore.  You can also create a new restore point here.

  • below Restore settingsselect Enable System Security† If you prefer, you can select the maximum disk space used for your restore points; after that, older ones are deleted to make room. Usually 1 GB to 5 GB is sufficient, depending on the size of your hard drive. Click Okay

If system protection is not already enabled, you can do so here.

  • You are back in the System Properties windows. It’s a good idea to create a new restore point right away, so click the To create… knob.
  • Name your restore point in the pop-up window and click To create† After a minute or two you should get another popup that says: The restore point was created successfully† click on Close to

You can manually create a restore point.

And you’re done! Note that new restore points are created only when, according to Microsoft, “you install a new app or driver and when you manually create a restore point.” To do this last, for example if you are about to do something experimental with your system, follow the instructions above. (There are ways to make your PC automatically create a restore point every time it boots up, but that requires working with the PC’s registry; this article only covers the basics.)

Using a restore point

So let’s say you just installed a new game which then started spreading ads and other nasty stuff all over your system. It’s time to use your restore point to go back to a time before you made that mistake.

Follow the instructions above to get to the Control Panel and Recovery page.

  • Select Open System Restore
  • You will get a pop-up window with the title Restore System Files and institutions. click on Next one
  • You’ll get a list of all the different restore points that were created, including the date and time they were created, what they were called, and whether they were created manually. Choose which one you want to go back to.

Mark the restore point you want to revert to.

  • If you want (and it’s a good idea), click Scan for affected programs† This will give you a list of programs that will be removed and which will be automatically restored. Close the window and then click Next one

If I had apps that might be affected by a restore, they would be listed here.

  • The final confirmation dialog will show the restore point you’ve chosen, the drive it affects, and a warning that if you recently changed your Windows password, you might get a password reset disk using a USB stick. You also get another chance to scan for affected programs. click on Finish to start the process.

Confirm your restore point and your system will return you to that configuration.

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