How do I restore my system image in Windows 10/11? If you are looking for an answer to this question, you come to the right place. MiniTool will guide you on how to restore image from an external hard drive in the event of system crashes.

If your Windows 11/10 PC crashes by accident, a system image can come in handy – if you prepare one in advance. A system image is an exact copy of system drives that are required for Windows to run. In the image file, Windows system files, boot sectors, settings, programs, registry, etc. are compressed.

To restore Windows from an image, you need to create an entire image file of the operating system and save the image file to a safe location. Once Windows fails to boot due to mistaken operations, a sudden power outage, a hard drive failure, etc., you can use it to return the system to a normal running state. 

Usually, an external hard drive is a good place to save the system image. To make sure you have the latest version of your Windows environment, you can create a system image at regular intervals.

Create a System Image Windows 11/10

How to back up Windows to an external hard drive via the image method? Here, we show you two tools – Backup and Restore and the third-party professional PC backup software MiniTool ShadowMaker. Now, let’s get started.

Backup and Restore to Create a System Image

This tool is a built-in Windows image backup restore tool in Windows 11/10/8/7 that helps to create a system image and create a system repair disc, then you can restore image in case of a system breakdown to let Windows run properly again.

Step 1: Type control panel into the search box and click the app to open. View all the items by large icons.

Step 2: Click Backup and Restore (Windows 7) to continue.

Step 3: Click Create a system image feature on the left side to begin the backup operation.

Step 4: Choose an external drive to save the system image file.

create a system image Windows 10

Step 5: System partitions for Windows to run will be checked. Then, confirm the backup settings and click Start backup.


After that, insert a blank disc and click Create a system repair disc. If Windows is unbootable, you can boot your computer from a bootable disc. If you have a USB drive, you can type recovery drive into the Windows search and open this tool to create a recovery drive for troubleshooting issues when the PC can’t start.

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Can you create a Windows 10 recovery USB for another PC? How to create such a repair USB drive? The ways will be introduced in this post.

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Use MiniTool ShadowMaker for System Image

In addition, you can run a piece of professional and free backup software – MiniTool ShadowMaker. With it, you can easily create a system image, back up files, folders, disks, and partitions. Besides, you can create incremental backups or differential backups only for all the changed files. Additionally, automatic backup is also supported.

If you need to restore image from an external hard drive when Windows 11/10 crashes, now don’t hesitate to download and install its trial edition on your PC for system backup in advance.

MiniTool ShadowMaker TrialClick to Download100%Clean & Safe

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Step 1: Run MiniTool ShadowMaker Trial Edition.

Step 2: Navigate to the Backup page, you see this tool has selected system drives by default as the backup source. You only need to tap on DESTINATION and go to Computer to choose an external drive to save the system image file.

back up system to external drive

Step 3: Click Back Up Now to begin the system image backup.

MiniTool ShadowMaker system backup

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For successful system recovery, you need to prepare a bootable USB drive or disc to run the PC from it when the PC fails to boot. Just go to Tools > Media Builder, choose a USB or CD/DVD, and then start the creation.

MiniTool create a bootable disk

How to Restore System Image Windows 11/10

As is well known, an image file can only be opened by the program that created it.

Here, we will show you how to restore Windows image backup from an external hard drive with MiniTool ShadowMaker or Windows snap-in tool. Read the following guide.

Restore System Image Windows 10/11 with MiniTool ShadowMaker

MiniTool ShadowMaker will request you to go to WinPE (Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment) and then use its Restore feature to begin a system image recovery from an external hard drive. Just connect the bootable USB disk you have created to your PC and configure BIOS to boot the system from it.

Step 1: Run MiniTool ShadowMaker.

Step 2: Go to the Restore interface, then you can see the image you have created in advance. Choose the system backup and click the Restore button to start the system image recovery Windows 10/11.


Here the drive letter in WinPE differs from what it is in Windows. So, identify carefully.

Windows 10 restore system image

Step 2: In the new window, you need to select one backup version based on the backup time and click Next.

Step 3: Choose the partitions to restore from the backup file and make sure MBR and Track 0 is selected. Then, click Next to the next step.

Step 4: Determine which disk you want to restore the system image to. Usually, you choose to restore image from external hard drive to the original system disk in case of system breakdowns. Note that it is not allowed to restore the system image to the hard drive containing the image backup file.

Step 5: The system image recovery from an external hard drive process starts. Wait patiently until the operation finishes. If you need, you can check the option of Shut down the computer when the operation is completed.


Additionally, MiniTool ShadowMaker allows you to restore image of Windows 10/11 to a new hard drive of different computer. Then, you won’t need to reinstall the operating system. To know some details, refer to our previous post - A Guide on How to Restore Windows Backup to a Different Computer.

“I use MiniTool ShadowMaker to back up my Windows 10 regularly. Now, my PC fails to run and I successfully restore Windows 10 from system image.”Click to Tweet

Windows 10/Windows 11 Restore System Image via Backup and Restore

Sometimes you don’t choose the third-party backup software to make a system image for Windows 10/11 but use the Windows built-in backup tool.

Well then, how to restore Windows image backup from external hard drive? As a matter of fact, the ways are different based on different situations. Let’s see some details.

Case 1: Windows Can Boot Directly

Sometimes Windows can still work normally although some system issues exist. Under this circumstance, you can restore image via the steps below.

Step 1: In Windows 10/11, click the Start button, hold down the Shift key, and select Restart to enter the WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment) interface.

Step 2: Navigate to Choose an option > Troubleshoot > Advanced options > System Image Recovery. Then, follow the wizard to restore system image from external hard drive.

system image recovery in WinPE


Sometimes you may experience the system image recovery can't find image issue if you don't save the backup on an external drive. Then you can search for a system image on the network in Windows 10/11 to continue.

Case 2: Windows Is Unbootable

How to restore Windows 10 from system image or how to restore system image Windows 11 if the computer can’t boot up properly?

If you create a system repair disc or recovery drive in advance, restart the PC to the BIOS menu, change the boot order to boot the machine from the disc/drive and then enter WinRE. Next go to Choose an option > Troubleshoot > Advanced options > System Image Recovery to restore Windows 11/8 from the image.

To sum up, system image backup and recovery is a good solution to make sure your PC can run in a normal state. If the system encounters some issues and fails to boot up eventually, the system image can do the trick. No matter which tool you use, Backup and Restore or MiniTool ShadowMaker, it is easy to restore image of the system from an external hard drive. Just follow the given instructions.

Recovery Drive VS System Image Windows 10/11

Backing your PC is an important thing and if you are running Windows 10/11, you may note that there is a feature called Recovery Drive that offers an option to back up system files to the recovery drive. Then, here comes a question: Recovery Drive vs System image, what’s the difference?

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A recovery drive stores a copy of your Windows 11 or Windows 10 environment on a USB flash drive. If Windows cannot start, this drive can be used to reset it or troubleshoot problems. Usually, it is as a repair disk. If you back up system files to this drive, you can reinstall Windows via it.

While a system image is different from a recovery drive. It creates a copy of the entire operating system and your user data, program files, registry entries, and all other files & folders related to the operating system are included in the image file. Once the machine goes wrong, you can restore the system to the earlier state without reinstalling OS.

Bottom Line

How to restore Windows image backup from external hard drive? From this post, you know much information on system image backup and recovery with MiniTool ShadowMaker and Backup and Restore. Just choose a proper way to back up your Windows and perform a system recovery when OS gets crashed or damaged.

If you have any questions while using our software or any suggestions about how to restore image in Windows 11/10, please don’t hesitate to tell us by leaving your comment in the following part.

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