Friday, February 25, 2011

Recovery Disks vs. Repair Disk

Recently I got this question from a customer:
I got a message saying you need to create System Recovery Discs. Is this necessary with all the changes you did to our new computer?
Please be aware of the difference between a Repair Disk and System Recovery (or System Restore) Disks. Some programs that can write System Recovery Disks can also write System Repair Disks.

Repair Disks are operating system specific and can help to repair an operating system that does not boot anymore. They got introduced with Windows Vista.

Vista and Windows 7 can create Repair Disks natively, that is without additional software.

Recovery Disks (or Restore Disks) can restore a computer system completely to the exact state it was in when the Recovery Disks were created. On Windows 7 no special software is needed to create Recovery Disks. Many manufacturers now supply such software under various names pre-installed with their systems.

But BEWARE: Many manufacturer programs will give you "Recovery Disks" that will recover the computer to the original, factory installed state. And trust me, you don't want to go back there and as a consequence loose all updates, additionally installed programs and personalized settings. And with one wrong selection you could loose ALL your data files as well! 

In their own documentation Microsoft does not always clearly distinguish between system Repair and system Recovery (or Restore). Beware of the ensuing confusion.

There is a fairly good explanation of the term "Recovery Disk" on Wikipedia. Only the sentence "OEM supplied recovery media is commonly shipped with most computers" is not correct any longer. Since the introduction of Windows Vista in late 2006 I see on new Vista and Win7 computers only software installed to create such disks; generally there are no disks being supplied any more. And any manufacturer supplied recovery disk will very likely restore your computer to it's original state; see the paragraph above that begins with "But Beware".
After an eventual catastrophic event System Recovery Disks allow you to completely recover the system to exactly the state it was in at the moment the Recovery Disks were made, including all your programs and data. You need several DVDs for one set of Recovery Disks so you should buy at least 5 or 10 recordable DVDs, NOT CDs! Naturally your computer needs to be equipped with a DVD writer to be able to create the recovery disks.

IMHO it is always advised to make System Recovery Disks, not even only once after a new computer has been set up but after every major change or update.

And it is advised as well to create a System Repair disk; this needs to be done only once. If you did not do it or if this function got left out by the manufacturer of your system then I can help; I have a complete set of Repair Disks for Vista and Windows 7 in their 32-bit and 64-bit variants.

After you have made the first set of Recovery Disks the reminder message mentioned in my customer's email will not come up anymore but the software should still be on your computer in the All Programs menu.

In the past I have seen that some manufacturer in their eternal wisdom choose to remove the software after the first set of disks was created. Should that happen on your machine don't despair, there is other free software available that can write Recovery disks. Repair disks can be downloaded from Microsoft.

If you got confused by the above please don't despair. The Windows Secrets blog has a completely different way to describe the same theme while talking about all these options quite differently.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the bother of putting these on. This has helped me. I recently bought a computer and they wanted $60 to set it up and make recovery disks. I was too cheap so they took the disks out of the box (as they already had done it they said) Anyway, now I can't find how to do it so I searched and that's how I found your blog.

Eike Heinze said...

No bother at all. I am glad that it helped you.
Please remember:
If you created a set of Restore Disks you need to have a Repair Disk as well to be able to eventually really use the Restore Disks.

Anonymous said...

I did some research and I believe that the System Recovery Disk will get your computer back to the way it was WHEN YOU BOUGHT IT (factory reset), not when you decided to make the disks. The System Backup/Restore disks are the ones that restore to when you made them by using the system image. You can only make ONE set of System Recovery Disks.

Eike Heinze said...

Thank you for reading my blog and commenting.
I will read the article again and eventually improve on the wording. But here is an original quote from Windows 7 Help and Support:
"A system image is an exact copy of a drive. By default, a system image includes the drives required for Windows to run. It also includes Windows and your system settings, programs, and files."
This is possible when you use the built in features of Windows 7 (I have not checked on Vista though).
What you refer to are manufacturer specific restore disks; these usually reset the computer to the factory new state - and that is a place where you don't want to have your computer at after downloading and hopefully installing many months worth of security relevant and thus mandatory updating.
IMHO by far worst are manufacturers that allow their proprietary software to create restore disks only once. That's outright ridiculous; what is the user to do if he/she burns a coaster? I remember seeing some garbage like that on a Sony system; it's no a trick, it's a Sony; remember? ;-)

Eike Heinze said...

I have re-read the article and believe that I said everything correctly and completely. So there will be no improved wording or correction.
Should you want to discuss this in more detail please email me either from the contact link way at the bottom of each article or to my email address which you find at the end of the "Welcome" text in the blog.
Thanks again.