System Restore is an application in Windows that should back up the Registry and many important system files frequently and automatically in Windows XP and Vista. But various conditions can prevent System Restore from creating backups or (as it calls them) restore points.

Users have been known to receive a Windows error message that says 'System Restore was not successful, Please try a different restore point. Nothing was changed on your system'. In some instances this message appears until the System Restore is turned off and then back on again.

To get to it in XP, open the Start menu, head for Help and Support, and choose 'Undo changes to your computer with System Restore'. Choose 'Create a restore point' to back up your Registry; to restore the Registry, select "Restore my computer to an earlier time." (You can also get to the tool from Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore.)

If you ever have trouble with Restore Points, there are a number of things you should be looking for to correct the process.

Tight drive space

To create a restore point, you need about 200MB of free space on the system drive or partition (usually the C: drive). When this space is unavailable, your PC may stop creating restore points and may delete existing ones.

No task scheduler

System Restore uses Windows' Task Scheduler to create system restore points automatically every day. To make sure Task Scheduler is active, select Start, Run (or Start in Vista), type 'services.msc', and press Enter. Scroll to and right-click Task Scheduler, and choose Properties. If 'Service status' isn't set at 'Started', click the Start button. And make sure that 'Startup type' reads 'Automatic' before you click ok.

No rest for the OS

System Restore creates restore points automatically only when your PC is turned on but idle. If the system is always off, hibernating, or in use, you get no automatic restore points.

Even when System Restore works properly, not all restore points are usable. Restore points aren't complete backups. Each holds only the changes since the previous restore point, and System Restore may need to use all the restore points on your hard drive so as to revert to any one of them. In that case, if one restore point is corrupted, they're all useless.

NEXT PAGE: Turning off Restore Points

  1. Tips and tricks to ensure your system can be restored
  2. Turning off Restore Points

System Restore is an application in Windows that should back up the Registry and many important system files frequently and automatically in Windows XP and Vista. But various conditions can prevent System Restore from creating backups or (as it calls them) restore points. We’ve round up some tips & tricks to help you get System Restore working again.

If you can't get any of your restore points to work, remove all of them so you can start over; to do this, turn System Restore off and then on again. In Windows XP, select Start, Run, type 'sysdm.cpl', and press Enter. Click the System Restore tab in the System Properties dialog box, check Turn off System Restore, click Apply, uncheck Turn off System Restore, and click OK.

In Vista, click Start, type 'sysdm.cpl', and press Enter (or select System Restore from the list of programs that appears as you type). Click the System Protection tab (or choose open System Protection), and uncheck Local Disk (C:). The exact name of this option varies, but it should end with '(System)'. You may have to wait a few seconds for it to appear. Select Turn System Restore Off in the System Protection pop-up, click Apply, recheck Local Disk (C:), and click OK.

If none of the above work and you're still troubleshooting why not try Bert Kinney has an immensely valuable System Restore FAQ, which includes details about corrupt Restore Points. And for those of you in a geeky frame of mind should download Doug Knox's Single Click Creation of a System Restore Point.

Finally, we also recommend ERUNT (Emergency Recovery Utility NT) as a great freeware tool to back up the registry and allows you to restore it.

Removing restore points

If you want to remove restore points, there are a couple of ways you can get rid of them.

The first uses the Disk Cleanup utility to remove all but the last Restore Point. From My Computer, right-click the C: drive, choose Properties, and click Disk Cleanup. Once the hard drive stops churning, you'll see a list of items to delete, such as Temp files and the Internet cache. You might as well dump those, too. Next, choose the More Options tab and select 'Clean up in System Restore' at the bottom panel of the dialog box.

The second method temporarily removes all Restore Points. This one is risky because if something goes wrong, you won't be able to undo system changes. It's worth doing if you strongly suspect you're infected with spyware and want to remove every Restore Point before scanning with an antivirus or antispyware program. I've done it, but I'm fully backed up (just like you are, right?).

From the Control Panel, double-click System, click the System Restore tab, and select the 'Turn off System Restore' check box. Click OK, and then click Yes to initiate Restore Point Deletion. Do the antivirus or antispyware scan, and then turn System Restore on again: Repeat the above steps, but this time click to clear the 'Turn off System Restore for all drives' check box.

  1. Tips and tricks to ensure your system can be restored
  2. Turning off Restore Points