Yes, You Need Image Backups (and here's how)
Did you know that online backup services like Mozy or Carbonite don't backup ALL your files? If your backup strategy only covers what you've got stashed in your Documents folder, you could be in for a rude awakening if a data disaster strikes. It's the same with manual, haphazard "pick and choose" local backups you make on a flash drive or external hard drive. Here's what you need to know about system image backups...
Image Backups: How and Why
Backup of critical data is essential, especially in these days of increased ransomware threats. If any malware gets through your defenses, it is likely to be ransomware that locks up all of your data and demands money for its release. But data files are not all you need to backup.
Both of the options I described above have the same fatal flaw -- they don’t make copies of Windows system files or the hidden system files that make your boot drive bootable. If your primary, bootable drive is taken hostage by ransomware (or otherwise rendered unbootable), you may need to re-install Windows, and in the process re-create those hidden boot files.
Then, of course, you’ll have to run Windows Update for a few hours, because the Windows installation disk you bought long ago (or the System Repair disk you made long ago) is way out of date. Well over 100 Windows update files may need to be installed, and they don’t always turn out “successful.” Failed updates must be re-installed until they “take.” A lot of your time will be spent checking update statuses and manually re-installing failed updates.
Often, a hunt for proprietary drivers will be necessary to get your printer, WiFi adapter, and other peripherals working properly (or working at all). Even with a helper like iObit’s Driver Booster, re-installing drivers takes more of your time.
Third, you’ll need to re-install applications software. Some you may have on CD or DVD; others, you’ll need to download if you can find them again. And finally, you’ll need to tweak all the settings in Windows and applications that made your old setup nice and comfy. Just preparing your computer to receive backed-up data files can take all day.
But if you have a System Image file and the program that created it, you can get your whole setup back the way it was with just one “restore” operation. You need only start the operation, do something else until it’s done, and then reboot into your old familiar environment. Doesn’t that sound simpler?
System Imaging Tools in Windows
Windows has a built-in utility that creates a System Image of any drive attached to your system. In Windows 7, just type “backup” in the Start menu’s search box; the “Backup and Restore” page link will be the first search result. On that page, you’ll find “Create a system image” in the lefthand sidebar.
Windows 10 uses the same imaging utilities as Windows 7. Type “backup” into the search box and the first result is “Backup and Restore (Windows 7).” Go to that page and you’ll find “Create a system image” in the lefthand sidebar. Don't worry that it still says "Windows 7" here. Apparently, Microsoft hasn’t put much effort into updating this utility for Windows 10.
The native Windows system image backup and restore programs are not highly reliable, by all accounts. I found them bare-bones and unfriendly. For example, the backup utility does not estimate how long a backup is going to take or how much time remains. There is no option to verify a backup’s integrity, so after I create a system image, the only way to make sure it will restore properly is to restore it.
Other (Better) System Imaging Tools
For these reasons, I recommend using a third-party system imaging tool. I use and recommend Macrium Reflect Free because because it's friendly, it works great, and it’s free for home users.
When Macrium Reflect is run, it displays all of your physical disks and logical partitions. In the image shown, I show only the boot partition (C:) of a hard drive. In the lower left corner of the image, we see the number of gigabytes of used space and, below it, the amount of remaining free space. The file system type is NTFS, and that is critical; Reflect does not work with older FAT32 or other file systems.
The checkmark in the lower right corner indicates that this drive has been selected for imaging. When I select Backup > Image Selected Disks, I am prompted for a destination where the image file will be written. The destination can be any storage medium that has more free space than the C: drive has used space (65 GB).
Reflect can compress data so that an image file takes up less than the drive’s used space; with compression, the image file of the C: drive occupied only 21 GB. But there’s no telling how compressible a drive is, so it’s best to have more room than needed on the destination medium.
Reflect includes an option to validate the image file it creates. Validation just about doubles the time required, but it ensures that you won’t be disappointed when you try to restore an image.
I really love Reflect because it doesn’t need me during the imaging process. It can run at night, or unobtrusively in the background while I do other things on the computer. My time used - as opposed to total imaging time - is really just a couple of minutes per image.
When the image has been created, Reflect will ask if you want to create a Rescue Disk, which contains everything you need to restore an image file to a drive. Even if you already made one with Windows, I recommend making another using Reflect to ensure the best degree of compatibility between image file and Rescue Disk.
But before you click “yes” to make a Rescue Disk, know that it may take more than three hours to download and compile all of its components. You can cut that time to just eight minutes by downloading this pre-compiled Reflect Rescue Disk in ISO format. Then burn the ISO file to a blank DVD or flash drive. https://goo.gl/t0ad4f
A full image of your C: drive, and a Rescue Disk, should be made after you have set up Windows, your applications, and your data files just the way you like them. This image willb e your “baseline state” of the drive. It will save hours, even days, should you need to restore your C: drive.
Other free imaging utilities include AOMEI Backupper, and EaseUS Todo Backup Free. Any one of these can be your primary backup/restore program. A Windows Task can be created to run your backups at a convenient time, and custom imaging profiles can be created to make images of various drives.
I recommend that a full image of your C: drive be made once a week. Even better, add a daily differential or incremental image of everything that has changed on the C: drive since the last full image. Such partial images save time and storage space.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Feb 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Yes, You Need Image Backups (and here's how) (Posted: 7 Feb 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved