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Restore Files From a Windows System Image

posted Sep 18, 2012, 5:10 PM by Jeremy Walker   [ updated Sep 18, 2012, 5:18 PM ]
Windows Backup and Restore, the backup system built into Windows 7, when setup with default settings, makes a full snapshot of the entire local hard drive. Windows calls it a System Image. Not many people know that the snapshot/system image is actually stored as VHD files, one per partition. Windows Backup and Restore uses VSS to freeze the file system when it takes a snapshot. That means if your computer is running an instance of MS SQL Server (most-likely for an installed program), the database gets copied as well - usually without corruption.

Windows Backup and Restore is only able to restore files from the folder of files that it copied as part of the file selection made during the setup wizard - not the files in the VHDs. So, how do we restore the files form VHDs? Here we go.

Windows 7 Home and Professional are both capable of mounting VHDs as a native file system. We can instruct Windows to mount the VHDs using the diskpart command line or the Disk Management Snap-In. I prefer Disk Management for simplicity.

The VHD files are buried in a folder named WindowsImageBackup in the backup destination - usually an external hard drive. (Sometimes it's necessary to mount the external hard drive using Disk Management to get to the folders on it.) The VHDs are named with a bunch of funky numbers and letters we call a GUID.

Follow these steps:
  1. Click Start.
  2. Right-click Computer then click Manage.
  3. Click Disk Management and wait for it to finish loading.
  4. Now right-click Disk Management then click Attach VHD.
  5. Browse for your VHD in the WindowsImageBackup folder on your external hard drive then click Open.
  6. Click OK.
The VHD will be mounted as the next available drive letter. You may browse the mounted drive and copy the files you need. Without setting the Read-only checkbox in the Attach Virtual Hard Disk window, you may change the files in the VHD as you please.

There are many other things you can do with VHDs. Just Google for it.