Server Solver

State of the System

Administrator wonders what does System Restore does to passwords and the rest of the system state.

Zubair: I need to perform a System Restore of my Windows XP computer and would like some assistance with a couple of issues. I'd like to know how System Restore handles passwords. Is there a chance that I can be locked out of my computer if System Restore restores an old password? Also, how can I find out how much disk space is being used by System Restore and what are my options for managing disk space?
— Name withheld

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First of all, you’ll be glad to know that System Restore doesn’t restore Windows XP passwords. This is to prevent users from locking themselves out of their computers in case they restore an older version of System Restore and don’t remember their old Windows XP password.

System Restore also doesn’t restore Internet Explorer passwords, Content Advisor passwords and hints. Again, this is to prevent users from locking out if they can’t remember their old passwords.

System Restore only updates the computer’s local state. On Windows XP computers that have joined a domain, which is the typical scenario on corporate network computers, System Restore will update the restore cached password to whatever the current password is as soon as the computer is reconnected to the domain.

As far as determining the amount of disk space used by System Restore, you can use the following method:

  1. Make sure Windows XP is displaying the “super-hidden” files by clearing the box “Hide protected operating system files (Recommended).” Simply displaying the hidden files by checking the button “Show hidden files and folders” is not enough. I prefer to show hidden files as well as super-hidden files on my computer (see Figure 1).
  2. In Windows Explorer, go to the drive where Windows XP is installed and locate the _restore folder under System Volume Information, e.g. C:\System Volume Information\_restore.
  3. Right-click the _restore folder and select Properties to see the amount of space that’s being used by System Restore. Don’t be surprised if the size is in Gigabytes. Use the same steps to see the size on other drives.
  4. If your computer is part of the domain, you may not have the proper NTFS permissions to access the folder. Simply give your domain account access to the System Volume Information folder and then repeat step 3 above.
Bare-naked files
Figure 1. Be sure that Windows XP is displaying the "super-hidden" files.
System Restore properties
Figure 2. You can control the amount of disk space that System Restore uses up through Setting button of the Properties tab.

If too much disk space is being used, you can either delete all the old System Restores and keep only the last one by using the Disk Cleanup tool (Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Disk Cleanup) or delete all the System Restores by disabling and re-enabling System Restores (Control Panel | System Properties | System Restore). You can also control how much disk space should be used by System Restore. By default, on drives larger than 4GB System Restore will use 12 percent of total disk space. On drives smaller than 4GB, System Restore will use 400MB. You can manage the System Restore's disk space usage through the Settings button on the System Restore tab of System Properties (see Figure 2).

About the Author

Zubair Alexander, MCSE, MCT, MCSA and Microsoft MVP is the founder of SeattlePro Enterprises, an IT training and consulting business. His experience covers a wide range of spectrum: trainer, consultant, systems administrator, security architect, network engineer, author, technical editor, college instructor and public speaker. Zubair holds more than 25 technical certifications and Bachelor of Science degrees in Aeronautics & Astronautics Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Information Systems. His Web site, www.techgalaxy.net, is dedicated to technical resources for IT professionals. Zubair may be reached at alexander@techgalaxy.net.

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