Good stuff, and a good forum. My first time here. I'll add my comments.
As others have said, for various reasons most don't keep images as they should.
No help for those who just never will, but for those who do want to, here are some suggestions to make it more realistic to image.
First, you want HD space. I've seen many computers sold with one massive non-partitioned hard drive. Don't buy that. You want multiple hard drives.
If you have a laptop, or otherwise are stuck with one internal drive, get an external drive (or 2) for your images.
What's the purpose of your image?
I'll say right now mine is for my system and core apps.
I don't want to reinstall and reconfigure everything if something goes wrong with the software or hardware. All my data (non-system) is simple files, and I don't image that. I do have that backed up, but that's an entirely different strategy.
So I'll just talk imaging my system and core apps.
I can't speak to imaging with networking, SDD, RAID, or anything but vanilla stand-alone single system PC's with standard hardware.
The first thing to think about is the size of the image. The lowest level for an image is partition size. So let's say the sweet spot for HD prices is 500gb.
But I don't want to image a 500gb drive. So I partition 90gb as my C: system drive.
Nothing goes there but Win 7 and my apps. The remaining 410gb is used for data, or "temporary" apps, such as games.
My images have never been more than about 25gb, so I never worry about the partition being too small, and am never tempted to put non-system data in there.
Image size is important for a couple reasons; time to image, and space taken by images. Time is important to me because I only image using the CD executables and with Win 7 down. Wouldn't be so important for those who image with Win 7 running, but of course time and space used are closely related.
And the less time it takes to image, the more likely it gets done.
My images typically take about 15 minutes reboot to reboot.
But that's 2 images, one to each of 2 drives.
It's actually faster making a new image than copying one to a different drive on my setup. Probably safer as to data integrity too.
A restore takes about 5 minutes. I use Ghost 15.
Whatever imaging software you use should be thoroughly tested. Imaging and restoring should be "second nature." The first restore is the only "scary" part, because the first thing that happens is your partition gets hammered. I've used different imagers, but used Ghost for many years with no issues, so naturally went that way.
I was initially pleased with the built-in Win 7 imaging, but rejected it after testing portability of images. Don't know if I missed something, but I found that moving images around broke it. Can't remember the details, except it had something to do with disk id's, and I just didn't want any doubts or hassles. I'm really a KISS fan.
I'm sort of a fanatic about images, because I really got soured on reinstalling earlier version Windows and apps when Windows broke.
I hate reinstalling. I had my original XP install for 5-6 years because I imaged it. XP broke a few times, and probably caught something a few times.
This Win 7 is 2 1/2 years old, but hasn't ever broken.
I mainly restore as a "cleanup" after trying some apps, installing games I no longer want, or even suspect a virus. Maybe every 3 months or so.
Restores should never be rushed. Your partion is about to be hammered.
Have I backed up needed data?
I have 2 "core apps" that need that, but have developed the habit of backing up their data when it is created. I still slow down to think about it.
If I have the slightest doubt about anything, I make an image before I restore, and put temp in the image name. I can delete it later.
When I restore, some apps need their updates, so I get them.
Then if I have tried a new app I want as a core app, I install that.
Then I make an image, so that next time I restore that app will be there, and I won't be far behind on software updates.
Well, now that I've bored everybody to death with my personal habits, I'll make the point I came here to make.
Earlier today I was thinking about something that bothers me - when I think about it.
My MB (Asus P6T) isn't sold any more.
I roll my own, and the last PC I built 2 for the house with the same MB.
My plan then for a failure was to put my image to the second PC.
But I only built one of these P6T's.
If my MB fails all of my images are garbage. The only answer would be to find a used P6T on eBay or someplace else. Probably be down a long time.
Practically speaking, I would want to upgrade my MB anyway.
Making my images garbage.
So I was looking into how Win 7 handles hardware/drivers for systems put on a new machine, and ran across this very good tutorial posted here,
by Kari. Transfer your Windows 7 installation to a new PC « Windows 7 is easy!
I'm going to make an occasional sysprep'ed image to cover this weakness in my imaging strategy.
I'll try to enlist my son, an extreme overclocker with many boxes, to provide me a 64-bit capable box to test the image. Might try a "deleted driver" image too, as that has some advantages over sysprep.
Okay, just wanted to give the hard-core imagers something to chew on.