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Windows 7: Penitent sinner, or, how can I improve upon my backup strategy?

11 May 2013   #1

Win 7 Pro 64 bit
 
 
Penitent sinner, or, how can I improve upon my backup strategy?

So I have been running two identical 1TB hard disks on one machine in both a RAID1 and RAID 0 configuration using Intel Rapid Storage Technology RAID support. I created three volumes as follows:

C-drive (RAID1) - operating system (Win 7 64 bit), programs and a few data files in My Documents
D-drive (RAID1) - nearly all my documents, occupying around 500GB
E-drive (RAID0) - some very large cache files that need to be accessed and loaded rapidly for a particular software application.

Being a tight ghit I figured I'd go for two identical hard drives and create the RAID1 partition for stability and the RAID0 for speed rather than have a separate SSD drive for speed.

I used Windows 7 backup to create an image of the C drive onto an external disk plus a recovery CD-ROM, and backed up my D and E drive contents onto separate external disks.

Everythying was fine for a few weeks but then I got a message saying that the RAID1 array had got a problem. Unfortunately the problem appeared to be corruption in the master boot record and so I couldn't boot up, and using the Windows repair installation got me into an infinite boot up loop.

Nonplussed by this I decided to reinstall my disk image onto the RAID1 C drive volume. Except that I couldn't, since I just got an error message (I can't remember which) when I ran the CD-ROM essentially saying that it couldn't reimage from the external drive. Thankfully I didn't delete the disk image from the external drive even though it was useless (or so I thought).

So I decided to abandon the RAID and bought myself an SSD which I installed for use as both the C and the E drive contents, keeping one of the two platter drives from the RAID configuration as a D drive so that I didn't have to copy all my data back over. I reinstalled Windows all over again, and spent a day configuring everything (including putting what had been my E drive files onto the SSD C drive), and doing all the updates. Then on rebooting I got another error saying windows couldn't boot up, and the repair installation feature this time failed to even find Windows.

What I think might have happened was that there must have been something left over on what had become the D drive platter disk from the old RAID1 C drive that confused the system at boot-up, because my next action was to enter DOS via the repair installation, and simply reformat the "old" C drive on the platter disk, thus deleting all the operating system files carried over from the original Windows RAID1 configuration. I then reinstalled Windows again onto the SSD, this time knowing that the 1TB platter drive contained only personal data files on the D drive plus around 500GB of empty space where the C and E partitions used to be. Since then the system has been totally stable. I have my operating system and programs on the C drive, my large cache files are also now on the C drive, and my personal data files are on the D (platter hard drive) drive, along with all the unused space on that platter drive that used to be the C drive and half the E partition.

Unfortunately in the process of all this I realised that in the original RAID1 configuration I'd saved a few critical personal files on the C drive in Users. A bit of Googling showed me that I could potentially read files from a mirror disk if I mounted them as a VHD. So I connected my external hard drive with the mirror image on it, mounted as a VHD and presto! there were my missing files.

Now to my questions. What I would like to do, is to create a mirror of the C drive somewhere (I'm thinking of creating a new partition, let's call it F drive, using the extra capacity that my documents are not using, on the platter drive). And I'd copy it onto an external drive as an off site backup, just as I will continue to copy the D drive contents regularly as backups. That way, if the D drive fails I can put in the now spare 1TB hard drive that used to be in my RAID set up, and if the C drive fails I can reimage using the image from the D drive without having to faff with external disks.

However, I'm not sure why the original image failed to reinstall given that I know through reading the VHD that it contained viable files, and I wonder if there is any way of testing an image for its ability to reimage (other than trying to reinstall an image, knowing that if that fails I have to spend a couple of days reinstalling Windows the hard way). Should I use Windows 7, Easeus, Macrium, etc? Should I now be able to safely delete the external hard drive image that thankfully gave me the missing files I thought I'd lost forever, since that image related to a RAID configation that I no longer have? What should I do with the CD that I created, is that now useless or should I hang onto it, and if I use say Macrium to image my disk must I restore it with a Macrium boot CD, what if that CD gets corrupted, will the Windows 7 disk be OK, since maybe it was the restore disk that wasn't working that prevented my original reimage? And if I make an image of my C drive onto the F drive and subsequently make changes like adding new software, should I delete the image and make a new image, or will Macrium etc modify the image file to update it with the changes?

Sorry if some of these are noobie questions, I have installed and reinstalled various versions of Windows many times but have only just recently tried disk imaging, and the one system critical time I tried it, it failed, forcing me to go back to the tried and tested but ultimately slow and fiddly reinstall option.


My System SpecsSystem Spec
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11 May 2013   #2

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 7 Ult. x64 Windows 8.1 x64
 
 

Imaging, and restoring images with Macrium in my experience is near fool-proof. You should look at that:

Imaging with free Macrium

The beauty of Macrium is that it can be installed to a USB flash drive, and you can then boot from that and image and restore images from an external drive using it. To use this version of Macrium, you need a very large download of WinPE, but you can downlaod a pre-compiled version from my Google Drive if you like. Simply write it to a USB2 flash drive using your favorite USB installer (YUMI etc.)

Download for x64:
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6gV...it?usp=sharing
My System SpecsSystem Spec
11 May 2013   #3

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

I can second the Macrium recommendation. I've tested the free version using the WinPE that whs made available, and it all worked well. Also recommend you avoid the Win 7 imaging tool. I use Ghost 15 with no issues, but if I didn't have it, I would use the free Macrium.
You want to test restores so you have no doubts. I suggest you round up a test HD to restore your image to. Copying data from an existing drive elsewhere might free one up as a temporary test drive.
Make your image, unplug the system drive, then plug in the test drive and restore to that. Should boot just as the unplugged one would.
You can't lose your system that way. Suggest doing "cold" images/restores only. That's booting to the image software CD. Keeps your mind on what you're doing instead of playing Solitaire.
Also suggest you keep your system drive or partition as small as possible. Much faster imaging/restoring, so give some thought to that.
You'll probably be in the 5-10 minute range for making an image or doing a restore.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
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11 May 2013   #4

Win 7 Ultimate 64 bit
 
 

Rule #1 - RAID is NOT a backup!

Rules #2-? If ever in doubt, reread Rule #1.

All RAIDs do is increase speed (in the case RAID 0) or provide redundancy to help ensure a computer will continue to operate even if a HDD should fail. A power spike or surge can take out all of your HDDs. If an operator, hardware, or software malfunction or a virus or other malware corrupts your data, all HDDs will have that corrupted data. A true back up involves having copies of your data, either exact or restorable images, that are isolated from the computer, such as on an external HDD that isn't permanently connected to the computer. Since any media will eventually fail if given long enough, redundancy is vital. The more separate backups on separate media you have, the better (of course you can get ridiculous). A bare minimum back up scheme is to have one local backup and one stored offsite.

Macrium Reflect, as others here have suggested, is an excellent program for making backups. If you haven't already, I strongly suggest you read the tutorial Golden linked.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
11 May 2013   #5

Win 7 Pro 64 bit
 
 

Many thanks everyone, I will give Macrium a try.

Fron what it sounds like the only way to see if the backup worked is to swap disks, two things on that first it's a bit of a pain to take the PC to pieces and swap drives (lots of connectors in the back, not in a very accessible corner of the room) but also I only have one SSD (which the OS is on) and that is set for AHCI so if I put in another 7200 platter drive it will likely mean changing my BIOS settings, will that cause problems for the reimaging or does the Windows image not care whether it was created from an AHCI SSD or an IDE magnetic drive?
My System SpecsSystem Spec
11 May 2013   #6

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by Diddlededum View Post
Many thanks everyone, I will give Macrium a try.

Fron what it sounds like the only way to see if the backup worked is to swap disks, two things on that first it's a bit of a pain to take the PC to pieces and swap drives (lots of connectors in the back, not in a very accessible corner of the room) but also I only have one SSD (which the OS is on) and that is set for AHCI so if I put in another 7200 platter drive it will likely mean changing my BIOS settings, will that cause problems for the reimaging or does the Windows image not care whether it was created from an AHCI SSD or an IDE magnetic drive?
You should only have to do it once to know it works. You might be able to use an external plugged into USB, not sure. Changing BIOS to turn AHCI off/on isn't a big deal either, but you're smart to check that out before you dive in. I did all my image testing first with all platters and can't remember how I handled AHCI when I restored my platter image to the SSD. Think I read on this forum how to set up AHCI in the registry afterwards. You can't get off easy if you want absolute safety. That's not an issue now since I would only restore an image to another SSD. But your situation is different, since you're taking an SSD AHCI image and restoring to a platter. Never did that, so I can't comment, except to say read up.
Maybe somebody else will say it's no problem, which is what I suspect.
It's really very possible to just trust that your image restores will work, and that they will. Many people don't test first, and successfully restore images.
I just gave my opinion about testing, because that's how I roll. Your choice.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
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 Penitent sinner, or, how can I improve upon my backup strategy?




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