How to protect yourself against a Windows 8.1 catastrophe

windows 8.1

When you buy a new Windows computer, the install software for the OS is usually placed on the hard drive inside a separate partition.  If you upgraded from Win 8 to 8.1, accessing this install will roll back your computer to Windows 8. From there, you would have to go through the pain of upgrading all over again. Windows 8.1 does include tools to reset the OS to its default settings, or reinstall it. But what if something goes so wrong with Windows 8.1 that you can’t even start it? As a hedge against such a catastrophe, this guide will show you how to backup your Windows 8.1 setup, and how to use it to restore the OS.

Make a recovery tool on a USB flash drive
Make a recovery tool on a USB flash drive

Type “recovery drive” into the Charms bar search tool, and click “Create a recovery drive” which should appear in the search results. Follow the Recovery Drive’s menus and insert a USB flash drive that’s at least 256MB into your computer when prompted. This will write a self-booting version of the Recovery Drive software onto the USB flash drive. You’ll use this to reinstall Windows 8.1 if you need to. This Recovery Drive tool can also be used to try to repair any Windows 8.1 or Windows 8 computer that won’t boot correctly, or reset its installation to a like-new state.

Make a second partition
Make a second partition

If there is only one partition on your computer’s hard drive, create a second partition. It’s recommended that you allocate at least 14GB to this partition. Partition Wizard lets you do this quite easily. This application is free for personal use. Right-click on the C: drive (or the one on which your Windows OS resides) and click “Split” in the pop-up menu. Then move the slider side-to-side to adjust the size of the new partition. Click “OK,” and then the “Apply” button that’s in the upper-left corner of the program.

Minimize your Windows 8.1 setup
Minimize your Windows 8.1 setup

Uninstall all Windows desktop and Start Screen apps. Delete personal files or move them to an external storage medium, or onto the second partition you created. Launch the File Explorer, right-click on the C: drive, and select “Properties” and then the “Disk Cleanup” button. Click the “Clean up system files” button. This will flag any old versions of Windows that may be residing on the C: drive. After you upgraded to Windows 8.1, the files for Windows 8 may be in a folder named “Windows.old,” which can be several gigabytes. Click “OK” to have these files deleted. Your goal should be to reduce the amount of space taken up by Windows 8.1 and its associated files on your hard drive.

Make a backup of your Windows 8.1 setup
Make a backup of your Windows 8.1 setup

Type “file history” into the Charms bar search tool and click “File History.” Click the “system image backup” button which is toward the lower-left corner. File History will automatically highlight the second partition you created as the destination for the backup of your system’s entire C: drive. After it finishes, a folder named “WindowsImageBackup” will appear in this second partition. If you pruned your Windows 8.1 setup down to its essentials, the size of this folder should be less than 14GB.

Reinstalling Windows 8.1 from the second partition
Reinstalling Windows 8.1 from the second partition

If Windows 8.1 ever fails to start, set your computer to boot from an external USB device. Stick the Recovery Drive USB flash drive into one of your computer’s USB ports, and start the computer. After the Recovery Drive software is loaded, click through “Troubleshoot,” “Advanced options,” “System Image Recovery,” and “Windows 8.1” to start the image recovery tool. The backup of your Windows 8.1 setup will be listed for you to reinstall onto the main partition (C:) of your hard drive.