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Manufacturers don't like to ship full Window's installation media, so many of them offer a way for you to make your own restore or repair disc. But these restore discs might not be as useful as you think.

What's the difference between system restore discs and system repair discs? On my new HP, I created what amounts to an old boot disc; only it's on a DVD, of course. The files on this repair disc are called boot files.

You suggest creating images of a computer when it's out of the box. I don't understand the difference between these restorable discs (what are they supposed to restore exactly if you don't have anything on the system yet) and a good ol' fashioned system repair disc?

In this excerpt from Answercast #8, I discuss how restore discs work and show the difference between the manufacturer's restore options and a full system image.

Manufacturer restore discs

So the terms restore and repair disc in this particular case are completely ambiguous. I don't know what they mean and in all honesty, they may not mean what you think they mean either.

The problem is this: manufacturers are loath to ship full installation CDs for Windows.

What they have been doing for the past several years (if you don't request otherwise) is send Windows pre-installed. In addition, on a hidden (or not so hidden) partition on your hard disk is a copy of the Windows installation media. The repair disc (or the restore disc) that they either give you or that you make yourself typically only restores the files from that hidden partition on your hard disk back to the main partition in your hard disk. It reinstalls Windows.

If your hard drive fails

The problem I'm hoping is obvious. If you replace the hard disk, then you've lost both that restore partition and your main partition with all your data. That means that the restore disc that you created (or that repair disc that you created) has nothing to restore to because the restoration information (the copy of Windows) is not on that DVD; it's not on that CD.

That's why I suggest that when you get a new machine, if you did not get a copy of Windows (and I truly mean a copy of Windows that you can install and run setup from on CD or DVD); that you immediately (or as soon as possible after installing your backup software) create a full system image of your new computer; and save that image somewhere. That is what you would then restore to instead of reinstalling Windows from scratch should you ever have to reinstall Windows from scratch.

Image restore is easier

Without an image, not only might you not be able to reinstall Windows from scratch (because you don't have the CD and the restore partition may have disappeared on you), but this is typically faster and easier.

You just restore this disc image onto the hard disk, and you're back where you were on the day you got your new machine.

So that's the real difference there.

Like I said, I think there's a tremendous amount of confusion on restore and repair discs. I think that they really don't do what a lot people think they do. That's one of the reasons I've been evangelizing taking the system image as soon as you can when you get a new machine. So that you have a snapshot of what that new machine contained on the day that you got it.

Next - Can I use my 25" desktop monitor on my laptop?

Article C5197 - April 12, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

April 13, 2012 7:42 PM

Personally, I buy the OS I plan on using, in my case, it's Windows XP Pro.
New computer with Win 7 pre installed? I'll buy the media from Micro$oft so I don't have to fool with system restore or system repair discs.
Just my way of doing.

April 16, 2012 5:48 PM

The Acer laptop that I got in December had me burn 4 DVDs that are called "Default Recovery Disk #" Then there was a fifth DVD called Drivers and Applications.

I certainly hope that after burning 5 DVDs I have something more than a boot disc that will read a hidden partition!

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