Windows can grind to a halt for all manner of reasons. Installing a new application can inadvertently overwrite an important system file, system updates can create instability and it’s easy delete a file accidentally and stop something from working normally. Fortunately, there is an easy way to undo such things in the shape of System Restore.

System Restore runs in the background and automatically takes ‘snapshots’ of Windows at certain times — usually when you’re about to make a critical change to the operating system.

The clever part is that you can restore your system to the state it was in when one of these snapshots was taken, which makes it a quick and easy way to undo damage to your data — anything from deleting a file to something more serious. Here’s how to use it in Windows 7 and 8.

Check out the video above for step-by-step instructions.

Step 1: Check System Restore is running

First check System Restore is running. Open Control Panel, select System and Security > System and then select System protection in the left of the window.

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Step 2: Activate System Restore

When the System Properties dialog box opens, look on the System Protection tab for the Protection Settings section. Your PC’s C: drive should have Protection set to On for System Restore to work. If not, click the Configure button — you can also click it to change System Restore’s settings.

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Step 3: Change the amount of disk space it uses

If System Restore is turned off, select the Restore system settings and previous versions of files option at the top of the dialog box. You can also use the slider under Disk Space Usage to choose how much disk space to dedicate to System Restore — the more disk space it uses, the further back in time you’ll be able to restore your PC (around 10% is a sensible size). Close all the dialog boxes when you’re done.

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Step 4: Create a Restore Point manually

System Restore now runs in the background and will create a Restore Point automatically when Windows thinks one is needed. Alternatively, you can create one manually at any time by opening the System Properties dialog box (see Step 2) and clicking the Create button. Type a meaningful name for the Restore Point, click the Create button and wait until Windows has finished.

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Step 5: Open System Restore

If something goes wrong with Windows for any reason, returning to a previous Restore Point is usually the simplest fix. This won’t affect any of your documents or personal files — System Restore only affects system files, programs, and registry settings.

So if you’ve installed an application that caused problems, System Restore can cause it to disappear (depending on when the Restore Point was taken). Start by typing system restore into the Start menu search box and selecting it from the list of results. In Windows 8, open Control Panel and search for recovery to find System Restore.

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Step 6: Choose a Restore Point

Follow the on-screen instructions and choose a Restore Point to return to — enable the Show more restore points option if you can’t see the one you want. Click the Next button to continue.

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Step 7: Restore your PC

Windows will display a confirmation message before it makes any changes, so click the Finish button when you’re ready to continue. System Restore can take some time to complete and your PC may restart as part of the process.

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Step 8: Undo a Restore Point

If the System Restore doesn’t fix the problem you had, you can always restore to an even earlier point by repeating Steps 5 and 6. Alternatively, when you next open System Restore, you’ll see an option to undo the last restoration, which will return your PC to the state it was in before you started.

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