Lee Wilbur
IT Solutions
A service of Multiverse Enterprises Inc.

How to Perform a System State Backup

If you discover any links that no longer work or have questions and/or comments about this page, my site, or me, please contact me.


  1. What Is A System State Backup
  2. How do I Perform a System State Backup?
  3. Can Other Programs Perform System State Backups?
  4. What is NOT included in the System State?
  5. Related Links
  6. Disclaimer

What is a System State Backup?

Since the release of Windows 2000, a system state backup properly backs up Windows Registry and critical system files. If the server is also a domain controller, the system state includes Active Directory information.

System State Backups are done using the built-in Windows Backup Utility, sometimes referred to as NTBackup. This utility replaces the NT4 and earlier RDISK command that created an Emergency Repair Disk (ERD).

Before making any significant changes to your systems I recommend backing up your system state. In addition, it's also a good idea to create System State backups on a regular basis, especially for your servers. Regular System State backups should be done to your typical backup media, however those made before system updates, can be made to a file on the local hard disk.

How do I Perform a System State Backup?

  1. Start the backup utility. In all Windows 2000 and 2003 Server versions as well as XP Professional, the Backup utility can be found in your Start Menu, Programs, Accessories, System Tools. As a shortcut, you can select Run from the start menu, type NTBACKUP, and click ok. (Note: Windows XP Home does not install backup by default, but it can usually be found on your Windows XP home CD - reference Microsoft KB Article 302894.
  2. When backup programs open, you may be greeted by a wizard. If so, click the link to change to the Advanced Mode.

  3. Once the Backup Program is the Advanced (non-Wizard) mode, select the Backup tab. Check the checkbox for the System State and provide a name for the backup file.
  4. Once you have provided a file name and selected the System State data as the data you want to backup, click the Start Backup button. A new dialog will appear. (see below). I generally leave the Backup Description and label set as is. I also leave the option to append or replace set to append (when saving to a file, any time the file name doesn't exist, the file will be created so it doesn't matter which option is chosen).
  5. Click the Advanced button to set advanced options, specifically, the verify option. Once advanced is selected, click OK. All other options can be left as is.

  6. With the Verify option selected, you are returned to the Backup Job Information dialog (see picture from Step 4). Click on the Start Backup button and the backup will begin. The process takes between two and ten minutes in most cases and the size of the backup can vary from a little over 200 MB to roughly 700 MB for most workstations and small servers. However, the upper limit can be much higher if you have a large organization in a backup that includes Active Directory data. The images below show a System State backup in progress followed by the verify in progress.

  7. When the backup completes, you will be shown a dialog similar to the image below.

  8. It's always a good idea to look at the log and make sure nothing occurred that needs your attention. Below is a sample of the log from a System State backup.

  9. Once you have reviewed the log, you can click close on the Backup Progress dialog (see image in step 7). Then you can close the backup program itself.

Can Other Programs Perform System State Backups?

Yes, some other backup programs can properly backup a System State. Both Symantec Backup Exec and Brightstor Arcserve can provide Backups of your System State data. However, many small, third party utilities do not offer this ability. If you're not concerned with backing up your system so you can recover it from failure, then these programs may work great for you. If recovery of the system is a requirement, then you'll need more elaborate programs or to rely on the built in backup tool.

What is NOT included in the System State?

Some things of note that are not backed up by system state backups include:

The images above were taken from the Windows XP version of the Backup Utility. While there are some differences between versions, Windows 2000, 2003, and XP should be substantially the same when performing a system state backup.

Related Links


The information provided here is as accurate as possible, but still may contain errors. Use of the information provided is entirely at your own risk.

You may copy the content of the page in whole or in part provided you include a link directly back to this page.

Last Modified: April 30, 2007