How do you recover from a dead internal hard drive or SSD? Or if Windows becomes so messed up it’s useless or even unbootable?

You can always reinstall Windows from scratch. But after that you must reinstall all of your programs, and then reconfigure everything.

But if you have a relatively recent image backup handy, you can recover Windows, your programs, and your configurations with a few minutes’ work. 

Image backup vs. file backup

An image backup copies everything on your drive, including partitions and the boot sector. It’s the only way to back up your Windows installation properly, with all of your programs and settings. Don’t confuse this with a file backup, which only copies your data files (documents, photos, spreadsheets, and so on).

Of the two, the file backup is by far the most important. You can always reinstall Windows and your applications, but you can’t reinstall your business records or your family photos. You should back up data files daily. If you’re not regularly backing them up, see my 3 easy steps for getting this going.

By comparison, an image backup simply saves you the major hassle of reinstalling everything. I recommend you create an image backup three or four times a year, saving it to an external hard drive. (See our roundup of best external drives if you don’t already have one.) 

This article focuses on Windows 10. I’ve already covered the subject for Windows 7 and 8.

How to create an image backup in Windows 10

1. Plug in your external hard drive—which should have enough free space to hold everything on your internal drive. (The WD My Passport 4TB is our current top pick for this purpose.) Make sure Windows can access the drive.





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