Windows' safety net: System Restore

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

Q. Can you explain how to use System Restore? I've heard that it can fix some computer problems.

A. System Restore functions behind the scenes by periodically taking “snapshots” of various parts of the Windows operating system. If a problem arises with your computer, System Restore can then use one of the snapshots to restore your system to a previous date when things were theoretically working fine. System Restore does not affect your data, it only preserves your Windows settings, so you won’t lose any documents or photos or other information if you use System Restore.

To use System Restore when a problem arises, click Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore. Select “Restore my System from an Earlier Date.” Select a restore date from the calendar that appears, then confirm your selection to start the festivities. The System Restore process can take a few minutes or several hours, depending how much reconfiguration Windows needs to do and how fast your PC is. When System Restore finishes, you should be able to begin using your PC as you did previously.

When you initially launch System Restore, you will also see the option, “Create a System Restore Point.” I recommend doing this before installing any software or making any settings changes, just in case things take an ugly turn.

Q. During electrical storms, is it a good idea to turn off power to my computer by turning off the power strip/surge protector? Someone told me that I should not turn off the power strip/surge protector, just the computer. What do you recommend? I'm a new subscriber to your weekly newsletter and love it! Thanks, Mr. M.

A. Not all power strips are surge protectors (sometimes called surge suppressors), and not all power strips and surge protectors are equal in their capacity, so it's important to know what you're using.

A good surge protector will protect your equipment in the event of a lightning strike or power surge, but that type of device often provides single-use protection, which means it will need to be replaced after a strike. A power strip does little more than provide the ability to plug more devices into the same outlet.

Some devices are combinations of the two, but a surge protector should be UL (Underwriters Laboratory) approved, and comply with the 1449 TVSS (Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor) standard. It should note both on its packaging or label.

A UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), with a built-in battery, will provide power to your computer in the event of a brief power outage. I have several UPS units, the smallest of which is about the size of a small car battery. In the event of any power interruptions, it maintains power to the PC, while emitting a shrill squeal, which allows me to then power down in a normal manner, before my ears begin to hemorrhage.

During an electrical storm, you're doing the right thing to turn your computer off. If you’re using a good surge suppressor, it's fine to leave that plugged in. However, if you’re not sure of the quality of your power protection, it’s better to play it safe and unplug the surge suppressor from the wall, as well.

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Mr. Modem publishes "Ask Mr. Modem!” each week, featuring PC tips, tricks, and plain-English answers to your questions by email. For more information, visit www.MrModem.com.