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Windows 7: Why bother with OS-level backup (and other thoughts on backup strategy


30 Mar 2012   #1

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 
Why bother with OS-level backup (and other thoughts on backup strategy

I've been rethinking my backup strategy at home (or lack of it, to be more precise) and came to these conclusions (I only need to backup one computer running Windows 7 x64):

1) Why bother with OS backup at disk image level?

I just don't see a point in doing OS backup at disk image level at home. Within past 15 years I could've benefited of it once. Since I didn't have it I spent about a day and a half re-installing OS from scratch, which I was OK with plus it's always good to reinstall OS from scratch to get rid of accumulated "crud"

Other reasons why this is a hassle:

2) What software to do it with?

I just don't trust anything that claims to be able to backup OS while it is running. To do this backup program has to integrate itself with Windows at OS level, install drivers and/or services that run all the time and consume CPU resources and often mess up whole OS. Just check out review for Acronis 2012 at Amazon - 2.5 out of 5 (~100 reviews). The other popular contender is Macrium that has 3.5 out of 5 at Download.com. IMO anything under 4.8 is not acceptable for the backup application. Please recommend if you know something better.

So the only feasible option is to use some kind of bootable media and backup when OS is not running. This takes a long time and you can't use your computer until it is done and backup is verified. Plus it still takes large amounts of disc space. As of now my compressed OS image would be about 40 GB. Say you do this once a week - this is 160GB per month, which will add up fast.

Do this less often? Might as well not do this at all. Or maybe only keep a couple latest images - this way it won't eat up disk space that fast.

3) Do you trust the restore of OS level backup?

OK, so you did backup and verified it (that is files were compared with originals on disk). But you don't really know if your backup will work until you restored it (on a different disk, because you don't want to mess up your primary OS) and used your OS for while. Who has time/patience to do this? So you won't. So why even bother backing it up?

Does anybody do their OS level restore often enough to comment on reliability of some consumer level backup applications?

So my conclusion is that OS image backup is not worth it in my case. Please let me know if I miss something (that is if OS image backup saves you anything but time) .

And this brings us to the second part of my post - Data Backup at file level.


4) One must backup your own data. There is no way around it. The only question is to come up with efficient backup strategy (and keep in mind that you have no backup until you restored it)

What I need for my purposes seem to be some kind of glorified file copier/verifier (paid applications are OK). The closest thing to this that I found is SyncBack Pro (SyncBackPro - powerful computer backup software. The power user's backup software. , has free version as well). You can read about all features on the website but in a nutshell it allows me to ZIP a bunch of files with a password and upload this ZIP to FTP and/or cloud services like Amazon S3 or Google storage. I haven't found if it in itself supports MD5 (or other checksum) verification but if I use ZIP this is not an issue since ZIP archive can always be verified and verification can be easily scripted/automated.

Are there any other applications like this that don't install any crud that runs in the background?

5) What to backup?

I am looking for guides on what personal data to backup at file level. I can think of "My Documents", browser bookmarks, Outlook .PST file, Photos, Music, a couple SQL Server databases that I use for development (my source code is backed up via separate backup process at SVN repository level). Am I forgetting something important? Of course it will be unique for everybody but I am asking about "universal" stuff here that everybody needs to backup.

My System SpecsSystem Spec
.

30 Mar 2012   #2

Windows 8.1 Pro x64
 
 

Hi Joe, Welcome to Seven Forums.

I simply took a system image of my Windows 7 machine after installing the OS, Windows Updates and my standard applications using the built in Windows 7 Backup utility.
Backup Complete Computer - Create an Image Backup

I don't then create system images every week simply because my initial image would always be the one i would want to restore (clean install with my standard applications).

2nd to that i use Windows Backup to backup all of my files/folders, this runs everyday but it doesn't create a full backup everyday, just anything that is new or has been changed since the last backup.
Backup User and System Files

I myself have found it to be very effective as a the Hard Drive died a week after using it so upon the manufacturer replacing it i used the system image to restore the OS and then the backups to restore the files.
OS - System Image Recovery
Files - Restore Backup User and System Files

Not a single issue.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 Mar 2012   #3

Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-Bit
 
 

I use a separate data partition that is then backed up to an external hard drive at the end of each day using Microsoft's SyncToy.

My data backup consists of personal documents, photographs, music, etc. and SyncToy in Echo mode does a good job of synchronising each folder pair.

As for my main system, I've been caught out by image screw-ups on more than one occasion, so I just carry out a clean install every six months or so. I only ever install what I need and the reinstall takes 3 hours max.

It's just a matter of personal choice really and the best advice I can offer is to use whichever strategy you feel comfortable with.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
.


30 Mar 2012   #4

Windows 8.1 Pro x64
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by seavixen32 View Post
As for my main system, I've been caught out by image screw-ups on more than one occasion, so I just carry out a clean install every six months or so. I only ever install what I need and the reinstall takes 3 hours max.
I myself have never really had a system image issue at the home level (don't get me started in a domain environment LOL, got there in the end though)

I would always concentrate more on the file backups as opposed to the actual OS. Like you stated, it doesn't take long to do a fresh install but it's the data that may have been lost when the hard drive file occurred, there is always going to be something irreplaceable such as family photo's / videos.

Regardless of how long it takes to setup or even spending a little extra cash on a new hard drive to backup too... money can never buy those lost memories. My first ever backup setup sat there for about 1.5 to 2 years without ever even needing it and then when you least expect it (such as a brand new hard drive ) bang! hard drive dies and that backup is your hero
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 Mar 2012   #5

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 7 SP1, Home Premium, 64-bit
 
 

I tend to agree with your comments on OS backup. I use Macrium every month or so, but would never restore with it short of a disaster. OS imaging has cost me time, since I haven't had to restore. If you are constantly diddling your OS and doing semi-risky stuff, then maybe you can make a case for it. Some people are in that situation and it probably saves them time. I think a lot of OS imaging is related to hobbyist activity--it adds to geekiness and makes one feel one is properly preparing for the future--like an insurance policy effect.

At any given time I have 2 or 3 images. I never image my data, only the OS partition.

I've never seen a controlled test of consumer imaging products, but I'd be surprised if they reached 99% reliability. I wouldn't expect a lack of reliability to drive people away from imaging unless it was truly horrid. If it works most of the time, a certain group of people (including me) will use it. But I don't expect it to work when I need it. It's hardly a big deal if I have to clean install.

Re file by file backup: take a look at Second Copy. In development for around 15 years, free 30 day trial, $30 if you want to keep it.

Re what to backup: I tend to think in terms of stuff on my data drive, plus bookmarks, plus email. The latter two don't live on my data drive. Other than that, data is data. If it's worth having, it's worth backing up.

The only real distinction I make between critical data and frivolous data is that I make an additional backup to a USB stick of my "critical files". These are mostly text files of some type--as opposed to images or video.

And I backup in multiple ways--to an internal via Second Copy, to an internal via drag and drop, to the USB stick, to external hard drives through an eSATA dock connection. Second Copy daily, and the other ways less often--more like monthly or quarterly.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 Mar 2012   #6

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Vista x64 / 7 X64
 
 

Up to you Joe.

I have done dozens of restores on this machine alone.

I don't follow your problem with having a backup program installed - there have been some issues with Acronis, I hear.

It is very large and intrusive. I don't use it.

I use macrium and paragon.

Never had any kind of problem. 100% success rate.

In my view, a recent image is the most important step anyone can take.

Then again, I do muck around with the o/s a lot - so it is a big time saver.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 Mar 2012   #7

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

Great answers y'all!!!

I don't muck around with my OS much anymore. If I want to try some software that may mess up OS I have separate Windows 7 boot for this.

On my semi-retired computer I've used XP for 6 years without any need to reinstall. It got somewhat "gunked up" with crud over the years but was still perfectly usable. The thing is - if I had a recent OS image and used it to restore OS I would again get "gunked up" OS even though all my applications would be installed. So clean install is never a bad thing if you have time and your OS is not customized to the point where it would take you weeks to get it the way you want it from scratch.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
30 Mar 2012   #8

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by SIW2 View Post
Up to you Joe.

I have done dozens of restores on this machine alone.

I don't follow your problem with having a backup program installed - there have been some issues with Acronis, I hear.

It is very large and intrusive. I don't use it.

I use macrium and paragon.

Never had any kind of problem. 100% success rate.

In my view, a recent image is the most important step anyone can take.

Then again, I do muck around with the o/s a lot - so it is a big time saver.
So which one do you use more often? Do you back up OS in the background or via bootable media?
My System SpecsSystem Spec
31 Mar 2012   #9

Windows 7 Home Premium 64
 
 

I agree with JoeSchmoe. The three times in 27 years I've lost a disk and had to reinstall the OS took far less time and hassle that the accumulated backup time and cost of OS imaging. I just backup my User folder, less the AddData folder. I do a full backup once a month and a differential backup (all changes since last full backup) once a week. SyncToy 2.1 syncs my User folder between a VistaHP x64 and Win7HPx64 laptop daily (or more frequently if I wish).

SyncToy also let's you preview what files will need to be synced in six categories before it pulls the trigger, then puts any files that were deleted in the trash, where they can still be recovered. It's fast as well. Here's what the report looks like (note the drives were in sync so it says no syncing was necessary).

SYNC: 03/31/2012 13:30:32:543: SyncToy run of My Docs (C:\Users\Cyberbiker\, \\SRM-TX2000Z\Cyberbiker\) completed at 3/31/2012 13:30:32.
SyncToy action was 'Synchronize'.
SyncToy options were:
Active for run all
All files included
No files excluded
Do not check file contents
Include read-only files
Do not include hidden files
Do not include system files
Backup older files (send to Recycle Bin)
All subfolders included
SyncToy run took 00:00:01:332.
Copied 59,944 bytes in 1 files in 00:00:01:332.
Bytes per second 45,000.4, files per second 0.8.
Avoided copying 31,141,003,301 bytes in 52,453 files that did not require action.
Saved approximately 00:13:35:704 by not copying all files.

My System SpecsSystem Spec
31 Mar 2012   #10
whs
Microsoft MVP

Vista, Windows7, Mint Mate, Zorin, Windows 8
 
 

You must not be doing a lot of "experiments" on your system. I muck up my systems on a regular basis and restore the images frequently - have to. That's why I make images about 3 times per week. My data is always on a seperate data partition. So that is not effected by the "experiments". But I also image those partitions on a regular basis.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
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