In the days of Windows 10, everything is fine and happy and everything works all the time. OK, that may be just a tiny bit exaggerated. Like it or not, issues happen sometimes without warning and that are beyond our ability to control. Whether you experience hardware failures or software issues, the ability to restore to a stable state is a critical function of today’s systems.
Standard backups can take care of your critical data, but what about your operating system? Critical programs? Tweaks to your setup and custom drivers?
It can take a significant amount of time to get your computer back to the way it was before a failure through normal means, but what if you don’t have to? What if you could just rewind back before that install that went bad, or an update that caused a boot loop, or a driver that doesn’t play nice with the rest of a system?
Thankfully, Microsoft has implemented a number of features that allow for quick recovery of your system to as close to the present state as possible. Each of these are designed around specific criteria, so you’ll want to choose the method that is best for your particular circumstances.
If your PC will boot
Remove Windows updates
Despite Microsoft’s efforts to test every update before pushing it, there are some issues that are so pressing that they require making an update available before all possible issues are detected. If it is necessary to remove an update due to an issue that it is actively causing, in most situations this can be done by going to Programs and Features under the Control Panel. Once here, we can select the option “Uninstall an Update”.
If the option is available for a specific update on this particular workstation, the options “Uninstall” or “Change” will become available at the top of the screen. Once the update has been uninstalled, we’ll want to reboot the system for all appropriate changes to take effect.
System restore point
If the issue we’re experiencing is a bit more severe, we’ll want to try using a system restore point. Normally Windows will automatically create a restore point automatically when applications or drivers are installed, but it is also possible to create a restore point manually. While it is not quite a 100% snapshot of the system as it was, as it is not supposed to affect personal files, all system files will be rewound to this point when using a restore point.
To access this option, we’ll want to return to the Control Panel and select “Recovery”. Please note that if you have not already set up “System Protection”, restore points will not be available to you.
Once in this section, we’ll want to select “Open System Restore”. The screen will show us our available system restore points. Once we have chosen the date and time we want to go with, we can click on “Scan for affected programs” to see what choosing this restore point will do. If we are satisfied with this particular restore point, we can click on “Close” and “Next”.
You will then be asked to confirm your decision by hitting “Finish”. Windows will then run through the process.
If your PC will not boot
Windows Recovery Experience (WinRE)
If you can’t get into Windows to roll back Windows updates or return to a system restore point, you can still try to use these by using WinRE. Under normal circumstances, if your system does not successfully boot twice in a row, it will bring up the troubleshooting options automatically for you.
Once you have reached this stage, select “Troubleshoot”, followed by “Advanced Options”.
From here you will have your choice of options, including uninstalling updates, using system restore points or using a recovery drive — although the exact options listed and wording of those options can vary considerably. A recovery drive is a complete backup of your system at the time it was taken, and while a restore point should not affect your personal files, a recovery drive will reset the entire system back to that exact time.
If none of these options are available to you or are capable of resolving your situation, you may unfortunately have to perform a complete reinstallation of Windows. In previous versions, this usually involved booting from a CD or DVD and running through the standard installation procedure. Now however, not only do most users not have Windows installation media available, but even if they did, the system they are trying to restore it on may not have an optical drive to use it with.
Thankfully, Microsoft has made a Windows 10 media creation tool which is capable of creating either a bootable disc or a bootable USB drive in order to run through the installation procedure. This tool can be found here.
Once your media has been created, you will need to boot to it and will then be guided through the reinstallation process.
Back in the day, the be-all end-all for resolving Windows issues was a format and clean install. Thankfully there are many other options available to us now, and this is before we talk about any sorts of third-party solutions for restoration or backups.
This is especially useful if the system we are working on recovering cannot be rebuilt from scratch due to data on the device or just because of the sheer time commitment. During a downtime scenario, if (for example) our email server was just attacked or brought down by a bad update and we need to bring it back online as quickly as possible, having a number of non-destructive options available to us is tremendously useful. However these non-destructive options all require us setting them up ahead of time, otherwise they won’t be around when we need them.