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Windows 7: Cloning VS. Imaging - Full Backup my Windows Hard Drive

11 Sep 2013   #1

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit SP1
Cloning VS. Imaging - Full Backup my Windows Hard Drive

Good day to all!

I am confused on what do I have to do: "clone" my Windows hard drive or make an "image" of it that will serve as back-up. I want to back-up my Windows hard drive so that when this hard drive fails (e.g. mechanical problem like I encountered last month), I can restore my OS including all updates through Windows Update and all the softwares installed in this drive. Also, I want that these softwares will run like before.

Can someone tell me the difference of each, the advantages and disadvantages, and the best recommended utility to be used.

Thanks to all that will help.

My System SpecsSystem Spec

11 Sep 2013   #2

Win 7 Ultimate 64 bit

Cloning makes a duplicate of a HDD that is fully functional. An image acts like a photo negative; all the data necessary to rebuild a HDD is there but can't be used as is unless the software used for imaging is capable of mounting an image. One significant difference between a clone and an image is a clone is of the entire HDD while images can be made of individual partitions on a drive, multiple partitions, or the entire HDD.

Images are best for backing up HDDs or partitions that contain the OS since they can be used to restore the OS to the original HDD without having to physically swap drives. Merely copying the OS from a clone back to the original HDD will not work. Images also usually take up less room on a HDD than the original data because they are usually compressed.

Clones are usually best for moving the contents of one drive to another. Both clones and images can be used to back up not OS data.

For backing up my desktop, I make an image of my SSD boot drive. Since it has only the OS and programs on it, it is only 56GB big and takes me only 8.5 minutes to clone to a folder on my first data drive in the computer. I can easily restore the boot drive from the image and have done so several times. I clone the data drive because, if the data drive ever dies completely, I can use the clone (I actually have three, two at home and one in a safe deposit box at my credit union) to easily access my data until I can replace the dead drive.

My notebook has only one drive so I basically have it partitioned into a boot partition and a data partition. I keep a clone of the entire drive on a separate HDD in my notebook in case the HDD irrecoverably dies while I'm on the road (normally, the only time I use the notebook; I have a little dock I keep in the case to use for backups and recovery). I keep images of the boot partition on another drive that I also carry in my notebook case. That way, if the OS gets wonked up while on the road, I can quickly restore it. Except for photos I take while on the road, I don't worry about the data I keep on it because I have a copy on the clone and it's all on my desktop anyway (which is backed up to the teeth). Photos I just copy from the camera card to the notebook, then copy from there to the HDD with the boot partition images, to an old 32GB camera card I keep in my purse, and upload to my Amazon Sky Drive. Redundant backups are vital so if one fails, the data can be recovered from another backup.

Before leaving on a trip and after getting home, I save an image of my notebook's boot partition to a folder on my desktop machine.

While Win 7 has an imaging function, most people here prefer to use a third party program. One of the best (and most popular) is Macrium Reflect, which has an excellent free version that is far more flexible and reliable and is easier to use than Win 7's imaging function. One of our own here at Win 7 Forums, whs, has an excellent tutorial on how to use it.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
12 Sep 2013   #3

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit SP1

So that means, in my requirement, "imaging" is the better option since I want to back-up my OS. I will adopt your back-up style so that I will never start in scratch again like last month, where I don't have any back-up of anything in the HDD that failed. One more question, is there some precaution or danger when restoring those images that I will make even there is no problem is my HDD or it is like the System Restore points that will just "turn back time" except that it can be moved to other drives as backups?

BTW, thank you for the detailed reply. I appreciate it.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

12 Sep 2013   #4

Win 7 Ultimate 64 bit

If you decide to use the free version of Macrium Reflect that I linked, the tutorial should also linked should answer all your questions.

I don't use system Restore anymore. In fact, I have it disabled. I've found using an image to restore a drive to be far more reliable and can be used even if the drive has failed completely since the image is stored elsewhere.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
13 Sep 2013   #5

Windows 7x64 Home Premium SP1

Ditto the system imaging approach. I have restored to new HDDs/SSDs quite a few times and never used cloning. Your last system image can give you the most recent up to-date new HDD/SSD.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
14 Sep 2013   #6

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit SP1

Alright, that should answer my questions. Thanks to all of you, SevenForums guys! MARKED AS SOLVED!
My System SpecsSystem Spec

 Cloning VS. Imaging - Full Backup my Windows Hard Drive

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