File-Based Restores from “Complete PC Backups”

Hi everyone!

In Just the Computer Essentials, I talk about a couple different types of backups built into Windows Vista that I recommend you do on your computer. One is using the “Complete PC Backup” which will create an image of your computer that, in the event of a minor catastrophe, will allow you to get your computer 100% back to the way it was at the time the backup was performed within an extremely short amount of time. The “Complete PC Backup” is designed more with the disaster in mind and on restoring everything that was on your computer all at once.

The second type of backup is called “Back Up Files” and is designed to backup your important files (finances, photos, music, and any other critical data). This type of backup easily lets you pick and choose to restore individual files that you may need to recover (in Just the Computer Essentials, I also discuss the possible use of “Previous Versions” for this purpose).

So what happens if the only working backup you have is a “Complete PC Backup,” but you only want back maybe a handful of files? If you restore the “Complete PC Backup” image, you’re now stuck writing over everything – including other files you didn’t want to restore. So what’s a computer user to do???!!!

I’ll tell you what! Again, the “Complete PC Backup” is designed for entire system restores, but Microsoft did something pretty smart. You may have heard the buzzword “virtualization” floating around. You’re welcome to read the technical definition of server virtualization from Webopedia or Wikopedia by, but in a nutshell it allows you to have a physical computer with multiple other computers on it running “virtually.” The virtual computers act just like regular computers. Picture your computer and then think about if you had two other Windows computers running on top of it. Here’s a screenshot to help you visualize it…

(click to see the image enlarged in a new window)

Now, why would anyone want to do this? Well, think of the cost savings – I now have only had to buy one (beefed up) physical server and then I can have multiple virtual machines running on it. Each one thinks it’s its own separate entity and anyone on the network connecting to it thinks it’s a separate computer as well, but they can share all the resources (memory, processor, etc.) of the physical computer. In the IT industry right now, this has become huge! By consolidating servers this way, companies are savings millions – less hardware they need to buy, which also means much less electricity being used (another savings). I could go on about this with tons of other advantages to this, but that’s not the point of this blog entry.

So why am I talking about virtualization at all then? Let’s get back to Microsoft doing something pretty smart – the key is that Microsoft creates and stores the “Complete PC Backup” of each drive in a file with a VHD extension. VHD is short for “Virtual Hard Disk” and that’s exactly what is is – a virtual drive where all contents of the drive are stored in a single file. In other words, to come full circle, if you have a “Complete PC Backup,” you open up that file and move what you need over to your actual physical computer.

Here’s a couple of ways you can get the files you need from the “Complete PC Backup” VHD file (the virtual drive)…

1) Use vhdmount.exe to mount the VHD file as another drive on your computer. You can then browse that drive and then copy the files you need and paste them where you want on your physical computer. Although not horribly complicated, it will take some time to get this rolling. I’m not going to reinvent this process… I’ll leave that to an excellent resource in the Microsoft arena – Petri IT. More information on this can be found on his site in the following article:

…or Option 2 (a quicker method and the one we’ll discuss)…

2) Use a software program that can open the VHD file. An excellent program that can do this is called WinImage from Gilles Vollant Software. If you’ve ever opened a ZIP file using the built in Windows Extraction program or software such as Winzip, then WinImage should be very easy for you to use. So here’s how to do it:

  • Go to and download and install the latest version of WinImage. It’s a trial version and free for the first 30 days.
  • Run WinImage by going to Programs/All Programs and launching the program from the WinImage program group.
  • In WinImage, click File and then Open.
  • In the Open dialog, change the Files of Type dropdown box to be Virtual Hard Disks (*.vhd, *vud). Then browse to the location where the “Complete PC Backup” VHD file(s) are stored. If you have more than one partition or drive on your computer, you will have more than one VHD file (one for each drive letter). You will probably have to go through trial and error to see which one you need. Select one and then click Open.

  • It may take a little bit for the volume to mount, but once it does, you can browse the tree structure to find the file(s) you want. Once you find the file(s) or folder you want, right-click on it and select Extract.

  • In the “Extract” dialog box, click Browse and select the location to save the file(s)/folder to and then click OK.

  • Depending on the size of the file(s)/folder to be extracted, it may be instant or it may take a little bit, but that’s it… you’re done!

Congratulations!! You’ve hopefully been able to successfully rescue what you needed from your “Complete PC Backup.” Keep in mind what a lifesaver the WinImage program was and how much time, effort, and possibly money it saved you and consider supporting the program by purchasing a license from them at

Remember, there are much easier ways to get files back – Previous Versions, Back Up Files, etc. Check out Just the Computer Essentials for more information.

Good luck!!

— Jim
Author of Just the Computer Essentials