Originally published at: http://www.howtogeek.com/192115/what-you-need-to-know-about-creating-system-image-backups/
System images are complete backups of everything on your PC’s hard drive or a single partition. They allow you to take a snapshot of your entire drive, system files and all.
For me, it is much more convenient routinely to image my Windows partitions routinely on my 5 machines that use it as the main OS. I use the BlacX box and an assortment of 2.5 and 3.5 SATA hard drives. I make regular backups with the free version of Ease ToDo Backup of my files that reside on separate partitions on each machine, or in most cases, separate hard drives. For some folders, I simply use a free folder compare and sync application.
One of the biggest hassles in personal computing is recovering from a Windows or (hard drive) crash and having to reinstall 125-plus programs (my laptop I am using right now, as an example) to get the operating environment back to its familiar status. Image restoration of the main partition is an hour's job versus several days for reinstalling Windows and my myriad programs.
Through the years, I've used Norton Ghost, Acronis True Image and now the free version of Macrium Reflect for disk imaging the Windows partition. The one instance where the free Reflect did not work was when I needed to install a larger hard drive in an older XP machine in my workshop/lab, and I couldn't restore the image to the new hardware. I used Clonezilla, and it did the job flawlessly.
Imaging the main partition on this 32-bit Vista laptop using USB 2.0 on the BlacX takes about 30 to 40 minutes. The desktop and laptop that have eSATA connections to the BlacX are considerably faster, about 20 minutes. I have a pair of 500GB 3.5 inch drives that I use, one for the two Windows 7 eSATA business-related machines, and the other for this laptop and two legacy XP machines that are now isolated from the internet.
Question: What is the difference, if any, between a System Image, and a Clone?
I haven't visited or posted on the forum in some time, for reasons I won't bore or offend you all with, and have just been reading the articles on the home page. However, I was very disappointed with much of what Chris had to say in this article.
First, backing up one's system by imaging is much easier to do than reinstalling the OS and programs. One also has to reinstall drivers and updates (updates alone can take hours) and reset a myriad of settings. This can be a daunting and time consuming task, especially if one has very many programs. Restoring with an image is much simpler and much faster.
I have seen may reports of problems from people using Win 7's imaging program and recommend using Macrium Reflect Free ( http:/www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx; see http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/73828-imaging-free-macrium.html for a good tutorial on how to use Macrium Reflect). It's reliable and easy to use. By default, it compresses the image by around 60%, which significantly reduces the size without affecting reliability. In fact, I've found using Macrium Reflect imaging and restoration to be far more reliable than System Restore and now keep System Restore disabled. Restoring an OS and programs from an image is a simple, one step process that takes only a few minutes compared to the hours a clean reinstall can take.
I make one image a week and also make an image just before making any changes to the OS or adding new programs. If things go pear shaped, it's easy to just restore the image to get back to where I was before. I only keep the most recent images plus the original images I made when I first installed the OS and basic programs on my machines so they don't eat up all that much room. Even with 62.5GB on the boot drive on my desktop machine, my images are only 25.6GB and take only 10 minutes or less to make and verify; a process that can run on its own without any attention from me; I can spend more time than that in the bathroom. HDD space is cheap nowadays so image size should not be a deterrent to imaging, especially if one use some discretion on how many to keep on hand.
While images are best for backing up the OS and programs, they are too bulky for use for data backup so I image only my boot drive on my desktop machine and the C: partition on my single drive notebooks. I use a folder/file syncing program, Freefile Sync ( http://sourceforge.net/projects/freefilesync/ ) to back up my data drives (D: partition on my notebooks). That gives me a backup I can just plug into my computer and keep chugging along on if a data drive ever goes belly up. I keep two backups at home for each data drive in use and two more in a safe deposit box at my credit union, which get swapped out with the ones at home at least once a month (I save my images to a data drive so they will get backed up).
Contrary to what Chris stated (and, normally, the man is spot on with his advice), imaging definitely should be part of one's regular backup strategy!
Think of an image as a photo negative. You use the negative to recreate the photo positive. An clone is equivalent to a photo print; it is an exact duplicate of the original. Cloning is better for replacing a hard drive than imaging because it is a one step process that doesn't require an intermediate drive for the image. Cloning is inefficient for making all but an initial data backup because it takes too long and involves too much redundant duplication.
LadyFitzgerald beat me to the post; I agree with most of her comments and even use the same tools for imaging and file backups (Macrium Reflect and FreeFileSync, respectively). I upgraded to the paid version of Reflect which enables incremental and/or differential copies once the base image has been created. I create a full image once per week and incrementals the other 6 days. Fully automated and brainless. My system is older with a core 2 class processor and several SATA2 drives. That said, it takes under 10 min image my primary partion with 40GB of data (yields a 30GB file) and under 90 sec for daily incrementals. Restoration is almost as quick. Unless something is fundementally wrong with your current Windows installation I can think of no better recovery technique than restoring a system image if you need to roll back recent changes. Note you may need to copy recently changed documents to another drive before doing a complete restoration as older copies of those files would overwrite the most recent versions.
Thank you, thank you LadyFitz. As an amateur photographer, I now clearly understand the difference.
Here is a little tutorial I once made that explains the imaging process with free Macrium. There is also a linked video that describes the recovery process from my friend Keith (Kado). For those of you that are new to imaging this may be a good starting point.
Note that I use Macrium since 4 years and have made appr. 100 recoveries on my own systems and many friend's system. There was never a failure. Macrium is highly reliable, fast and easy to use.
We insist on an image backup to an external hard disk as this overcomes unnecessary downtime in installing the OS, motherboard drivers, printer drivers, application software & setting up email accounts & importing data, etc.
With an image backup you can have the customer up and running within an hour or under...no extra configurations required!
The difference is that an image is a single file, like a ZIP or ISO file. The image file contains the contents of your original file, but it's not bootable, and you can't use it to run a computer. A clone is a usable, working partition that's a nearly identical copy of your original.
I say "nearly" identical copy, because the imaging process usually allows you to resize the target partition, typically to expand it to a larger hard drive. There are some other changes that can be made on the fly, but those are usually for building a large number of PC's or making a bunch of PC's identical in managed environments, like large companies.
I agree with LadyFitzgerald and Davey126. Macrium works. The cold-metal WinPE boot disk works. I have done a couple of restores (Win 8.1). With an SSD and plenty of ram Macrium is fast. Chris is way off in this article.
As always, Chris is married to the tools inherent in Windows. Windows image backup is unreliable and stinks. The Windows custom image backup is worse and is fetid. Do not use them.
Easeus and Paragon (free) emergency boot disks did not work for me (Win 8). What good is an imaging program if you cannot cold-metal boot?
By the way, I installed and successfully restored an image backup using AOMEI free. The cold-metal boot (Win 8.1) worked for me. I like it as much a Macrium. Give it a try and see if it works for you as well as it did for me.
And one more thing, for file backups, I use Cobian and/or Allwayssync. I like Allwayssync much better than Freefilesync,
I agree that a third party imaging program that uses a Win PE boot is the way to go. If you have more than one pc it is nearly impossible to find all the motherboard drivers, video drivers, Wi-Fi drivers, Usb3 drivers, etc. By having a large capacity hard drive for images only has saved me from hard drive crashes, virus attacks, and faulty windows updates. The new UEFI bios on some motherboards have caused me to look for new imaging programs-both free and paid. For me AOMEi backerupper 2.01 has the best Win PE boot disc out there. This is all referring to Windows 7 and not 8. Also test out your boot disc that the program will build and make sure that it works !
Like a few others have mentioned, I think a system image is absolutely the best way to manage daily system backups.
Downloading and reinstalling software is only a fraction of the task -- you'll spend additional hours or days reconstructing the configuration settings and preferences that were lost along with the original programs.
It's annoying enough to do for your own system, but it's pure torture when you're trying to restore someone else's system to a pre-crash look and feel.
Toolbars, icons, window layouts, favorites, fonts ... the list of tweaks can be endless.
Having gone through this twice, I now install EaseUS ToDo Backup on every system I might be asked to help support (friends or family), and set it to run a full system backup every night. I save several full backup images if the external drive has enough space for them.
This practice has helped convert a four-day torture session into half a day of straightforward restoration steps, whether I'm recovering a system that's had its system hard drive replaced, or migrating files from an old PC to a newer one.
The advice given in this article is simply asinine at best and malicious at worst. System images is number one in things you should do as part of maintaining your machines. Who the hell wants to spend hours/days re installing programs, hunting down drivers, and worst of all re customizing all the programs. Not making system images regularly is absolute stupidity. The author needs to give his head a serious shake and any body reading the article needs to dismiss it as the garbage it is.
See, The typical clone is a concept for copying a hard disk's partition as the source to another had disk's partition as the destination. nowadays, the clone tools comes with the option of choosing the copy method to be sector-by-sector or just the occupied area, means the clone tool will only copy the data not the sectors. The System Image is different, which is not require another hard disk as a destination. and there is no option to use the sector-by-sector method. the source is where the operating system has installed and the destination is any valid location, might be local/network. with The System Image only data copied.
I disagree with the author. System imaging is the smart and efficient way to go rather than reinstalling Windows or any OS for that matter.. As for software I prefer Clonezilla. I realize most Windows only users will find the interface and nomenclature different. However if one invests a few minutes in investigation to learn Clonezilla is far superior than Reflect. Reflect is good for those who refuse to learn something new or who have to have a GUI. Clonezilla is text based.
I think periodic system imaging is helpful, especially when your computer does not come with Windows installation disks (the case with HP systems at least when I bought them). In addition, restoring to the factory system image gives you "shovelware" that you must deleted. It can take many hours to install the software, printers, and configure everything. I back up the system image right them.
I try to keep data on separate drives, so the system image doesn't include data. And by the way, I have had the Windows 7 image restore fail due to an unspecified error, so I don't chance the Windows version anymore.
Stuff does go bad with Windows over time, so I have a system image with a known good configuration of Windows 7 SP1. Reinstall the image, install the Windows updates, and restoring from the image makes life easier.
Also when upgrading drives, I have found those drives failed to boot for unknown reasons when just copying the image. Better to back up the system image and then restore to the new drive. For me anyway.
The problem @AnthonyWerner with using an image without recovery discs is that you have no way to go back to a "day one" state. If you manage to get a virus or other malware installed, and it gets copied to your image, you have no clean backup.
Taking an image right after the initial system installation is a good idea, as is making one periodically after major updates or software upgrades... but you should always have installation media.
No new computer ever comes without installation media: if it didn't come with physical discs (very common nowdays), then it will come with a utility to create them. Go buy a pack of blank DVD's and create those backups. That's absolutely essential.
Yes, yes! This is where I found system image to be the most valuable-at least for me.
I currently have six programs that have limited restoring. For instance, one of my writers program only gives me two restore credits-then I would have to re-buy the program. Well, about 5 months ago I had a system crash? I restored my system using system image-putting all my lost programs back on without a credit loss.
True I could have put the programs on using the DVDs, but I would have had to re-register, causing a credit loss to the program. System image replaced all my programs, in working order, with no credit loss.
Thanks for your time.
WTF? What program is this? Remind me to never buy that.
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