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What is the difference between "recover" and "restore?"

Answer: The terms "recover" and "restore" both refer to retrieving files from a backup device, such as a hard disk, external hard drive or other storage media. However, recovering files typically refers to salvaging one or more files, while a restore usually refers replacing a complete system or hard drive from a full system backup.

For example, if you accidentally erase a document, you may be able recover the file from a recently backup (assuming you have a recent backup). If for some reason, several files in a folder are corrupted and cannot be opened, you may be able to recover the entire folder from a backup. Individual files and folders can be recovered using a backup utility program or by simply dragging files from the backup disk to the original hard disk.

Then there are times when an entire hard drive crashes and stops functioning or the system directory becomes corrupt and the computer cannot boot up. In these desperate times, a full hard disk restore or system restore may be necessary. A hard disk restore can be done using a backup program, which copies every file from the backup to the original disk exactly, essentially duplicating the hard disk. Some backup programs copy a "disk image," or exact binary copy of a hard disk from one the backup drive to the original hard drive.

A system restore can typically be done using the original operating system installation disc(s). A fresh operating system can be installed from the CD/DVD that came with the computer, ensuring there are no problems with the system. While this gives your computer a fresh start, it does not replace the personal data you had previously saved on your hard drive. These files will have to manually be copied back to the new hard drive from a backup device.

So "recover" and "restore" are related, but have different meanings. It might help to think of restoring a hard disk as recovering all files at once. In other words, restoring a hard disk is a much bigger process than recovering individual files. Regardless of how you memorize the difference between the two terms, the important thing to remember is to back up your hard drive!

Published: October 24, 2007 — by Per Christensson

Answer from the PC Help Center