Just want to make a few comments, and invite discussion about this.
It might help some people, and I might learn something.
I know circumstances differ for different users, and I can only speak from the perspective of a home user.
And as a user who wants to install and tweak Windows only once, and wants to install and tweak my "always used" apps only once.
For example, my XP system lasted 5 years, and my Win 7 is almost 3 years old.
I'm pretty "serious" about imaging, even keeping a sysprepped image in case I need to go to a different motherboard.
1. All too often I see folks having problems because their system image backups include data not on the system partition They either run out of space, or it takes hours upon hours to do a backup. This discourages taking system images, and eventually leads to getting stuck between a rock and a hard place. I really think that encouraging keeping system images separate from data back-up would keep many people from getting caught in that trap. Am I dreaming?
2. All too often I see folks with huge system partitions, which basically leads to the above same frustrations - imaging non-system data. This is a big problem, because many store-bought computers are set up like this, and by the time they get to imaging, it's difficult to get them set up with a good configuration. I always roll my own PC's, and I don't know the answer for this. Might not be a good one, unless the PC sellers take it upon themselves.
3. I don't agree that system images should be time-scheduled. I image because of events. Any event changing my system that I want to keep - for example a new app, Windows updates, app updates, gets imaged - but the timing is up to me.
I don't see any value in imaging a system that has apps I don't want to keep, or uninstalled apps that have left garbage behind, and maybe the system even has a virus that hasn't shown itself yet.
This means I *always* restore my previous image before making a new image.
Then reinstall the new app(s) or redo the updates, which were the event(s) causing me to decide to image. Then I immediately make a new image. Always a full discrete system image. I keep a few prior images around for some time before I delete them. Just in case. But I don't recall using a single one of them.
Redoing updates doesn't take long, nor does reinstalling and retweaking an app.
That work will be on the new image, and I never have to do it again.
Just for reference, I have a 100gb system partition, but my system images hover around 20gb. Using Ghost 15, taking an image or running a restore itself runs 4 minutes. I only image/restore cold, so there's some minutes taken by booting.
All spinners. Sometimes I don't take an image for 4 months. Sometimes I take 2 in one week. It all depends on what I want on my image.
A good app I want to keep gets the process. SP1 got the process.
Anyway, this strategy has worked very well for me, and might serve as a template for others. There should be no reason for not being able to restore a good system image, unless you don't have a good plan. Not counting Murphy's law.
Fight Murphy's law! Don't give up! Fight!