System Restore is a feature in Windows operating systems that saves all the basic information about your system at least once a day. This saved data is called a System Restore Point and you can bring your system back to that configuration at any time.
System Restore can be used in conjunction with a disaster recovery plan, such as imaging your hard disk weekly and creating incremental disk images on a daily basis. It is not a substitute for a backup or having an image of your hard disk (nothing is a substitute for a backup!), but it makes bringing your system back to life in a stable condition easier than trying to reload a bunch of files and remember your configuration settings.
System Restore can be used when your system goes flaky because of the latest software patch, the new application you just installed, the changes you made to the registry or because of hardware or software problems. Windows automatically creates a System Restore Point every 24 hours but you can set one at any time by using the Help and Support screen found under the Start menu. You can save as many System Restore Points as you want, so you can restore several days or even a week or more back. However, there are some "gotchas" to using Windows System Restore.
First, unlike Acronis True Image, System Restore does not produce a complete image of your disk. It only saves the important information to restore the system. That means it cannot necessarily be used to restore your disk in case of a catastrophic failure, nor can it be used to restore individual files or folders. It can only turn the clock back on your system and return it to an earlier system configuration.
Second, it eats disk space. By default, Windows XP sets aside 12 percent of its disk space for System Restore files. You cannot set your System Restore to save restore data to an external or networked drive, let alone writable optical media.
The third thing is that if you have installed any applications or patches since the last System Restore Point was set, they will be lost when the system is restored. You will have to re-install them. In addition, any other work you've done or emails you've received will be lost.
To recover to the last System Restore Point, go to Start, Help, and Support and then to System Restore, which is under the "Technical Toolbox" heading. You will be asked if you want to create a System Restore Point or recover to the last Restore Point. To create a system restore point, enter a name for the point (date and time are automatically added) and click "create". To restore, choose the recover option. You will be shown a calendar and asked to choose the date and restore point you want to restore to.
System Restore can be part of your overall backup strategy, but it should not be your only or even primary, backup component. Remember, if your disk is physically damaged, you might not be able to get any information off the drive, so no System Restore option will recover lost data.