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Windows 7: What exactly does a Windows system image backup save?

20 Oct 2015   #1
DavidOdden

Win7-64 pro; XP
 
 
What exactly does a Windows system image backup save?

My main question is what is actually saved when you run Windows backup to create a system image (assuming a generic Win7-64 pro installation). I don't know the proper terminology, but my concern is being able to recover the first two invisible partitions (the boot partition or whatever they call it, plus the OEM "recovery" partition), along with the C: drive with Windows etc. My related question is, is there any way to verify that stuff has been saved, e.g. where the heck is the backup (presumably contained in the read-only folder with the name of my computer on my external drive; or, it could be in the folder WindowsImageBackup that has a folder with the name of my computer...). I confess that I have multiple backups created by different programs and I'm not sure who made what. I'm just trying to understand the Windows utility: figuring out better backup methods would be next.


My System SpecsSystem Spec
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20 Oct 2015   #2
Brink

64-bit Windows 10 Pro
 
 

Hello David,

The tutorials below can give you more information about this. Please feel free to post any questions you may have after reading them.

Backup Complete Computer - Create an Image Backup

System Image Recovery
My System SpecsSystem Spec
21 Oct 2015   #3
DavidOdden

Win7-64 pro; XP
 
 

Thanks for the pointer. There are still some murky details. The tutorial says that a system image is an exact copy of a drive, and would include all NTFS partitions with an operating system installed on it, plus the System Reserved partition. This possibly covers two of the three partitions, leaving out the Recovery partition. There is / was no option to exclude any of these partitions when I do a disk image.

On my Vaio, MMC reports that the first partition on Disk 0 is "Recovery", the second is "System Reserved" containing System (100MB) and the third is "C:" = Boot, Page File, Crash Dump, Primary Partition. However, on my Dell, it reports that the first partition is "OEM" (39 MB), the second is "Recovery" and the third is "C:" = Boot, Page File, Crash Dump, Primary Partition. No partition is identified as "System Reserved" and none is given the "System" property. The Dell does boot up and run normally. So I assume there's some subtle difference in how partition properties are identified between the two machines, and MMC doesn't identify my Dell as having a "system". But this make me wonder whether System Image might not have backed up the recovery partition or, in the case of the Dell, the (apparent) System Reserved partition (the 39 MB piece).

Is there any way to verify the actual contents of a supposed "system image"? (Apart from getting another drive, trying to restore to the new drive, and seeing if it works).
My System SpecsSystem Spec
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21 Oct 2015   #4
Brink

64-bit Windows 10 Pro
 
 

Correct. A system image is an exact clone of the Windows disk and any system disk with all their partitions.

Unfortunately, other than the successfully created message when it's finished creating the image, the only way to know 100% is to restore the image. This is one main reason why it's best to have a few different backup sources to be safe.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
21 Oct 2015   #5
Layback Bear

Windows 7 Pro. 64/SP-1
 
 

My method might be helpful.

I use Windows 7 built in backup (clone) to a external and Macrium backup (clone) to a different partition on the same external.

I'm paranoid. If one doesn't work when needed the other should.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
21 Oct 2015   #6
DavidOdden

Win7-64 pro; XP
 
 

I'm a bit more paranoid. I tried to migrate to an SSD from a spinning drive using Macrium, and while it seems to have made a copy on the SSD which will boot, the original HD got trashed in the process (error messages at the end of the operation; the system failed to function thereafter; quasi-booted, but told me that the copy of Windows wasn't genuine and basically didn't function). I'm letting that drive have a vacation while I stop sweating.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
22 Oct 2015   #7
Stevekir

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by Brink View Post
Hello David,

The tutorials below can give you more information about this. Please feel free to post any questions you may have after reading them.

Backup Complete Computer - Create an Image Backup

System Image Recovery
I am looking for a totally unqualified answer to the following question: "Does a System Image made by Window 7's Backup and Restore routine definately, without question, result in all Programs on the C: drive being restored perfectly in such a way that they will immediately run exactly as before, including major programs such as Adobe Photoshop and MS Office?"

I have read both of the above tutorials. I have read several (about three I think) web pages on Microsoft's site. Two say programs are included, but one of them, on a separate page from the others, simply says "An Image backup will, by default, install only the programs required for Windows to run." The "by default" clearly requires the user to set something to achieve that, and what setting?

Also, there is another sevenforums tutorial:

Backup User and System Files

which states, in a pink warning panel just before the "Here's How" section, that programs will not be included in the procedure. Please see the attachment.

Finally, another senior member of seven forums said about a month or two ago, in reply to a query, that programs will not be included.

I am completing a backup routine for my machine and want to rely on Backup and Restore restoring my programs (if it can) so that they are capable of running as described in my question. In view of the apparent conflicts, it would be really helpful if you could clear up this question (above) once and for all on behalf of sevenforums, by saying what the answer is, hopefully without any qualifications (although explanations would be helpful).


Attached Thumbnails
What exactly does a Windows system image backup save?-warning.jpg  
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22 Oct 2015   #8
DavidOdden

Win7-64 pro; XP
 
 

Stevekir, I certainly can't give you an unqualified and trustworthy answer, but I think the primary distinction is between creating a system image, and "backing up". A simple "backup" by default only backs up a select subset of "user data" files, although you can override the default and select specific directories so that you cover everything on your C: drive. A system image is supposed to be "complete", though there is still the question of whether it will actually back up the first two invisible partitions. If you ask it to restore, you can select particular files or folders and by navigating through those folders, you can see what Windows claims to have backed up. Although I told it to back up everything, it backed up Program Files and Program Files (x86), but not Windows, Boot or various other system-type files. (That is, it did / did not judging from whether the relevant files and folders were available to restore, but I did not verify that it would successfully restore by doing so with an installed program). A possible test would be to download some program, install it, back it up, then uninstall it. However, I think that won't work, because programs often store junk in the register, and I believe the register is a set of don't-touch files buried under Windows -- which is not backed up.

For some programs, you can just restore the files and when you run it, it fixes whatever quandries it encounters regarding the register, but with for example Photoshop, you can't just copy from machine to machine. So I conclude that a "backup" is not particularly useful, and you have to go with system images. I inspected my recent System Image folder (having figured out how to parse the content on my drive) and there are three .VHD files that, judging from file size, could well correspond to the three partitions on my drive. However, someone is telling stories, because while Windows Explorer reports the size of the biggest VHD file to be 202 GB (the size of the used part of C), MMC tells me that that virtual disk is 286 GB (the total size of C). If one knew a way to meaningfully inspect the content of the VHD files, one might have a shot at verifying what was actually backed up via the system image option. Or... buy extra computers and drives, and perform the test.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
22 Oct 2015   #9
Stevekir

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by DavidOdden View Post
Stevekir, I certainly can't give you an unqualified and trustworthy answer, but I think.........
Thanks.

Has anyone actually used a Backup and Restore System Image which has restored all programs to full working condition?
My System SpecsSystem Spec
23 Oct 2015   #10
DavidOdden

Win7-64 pro; XP
 
 

A small shred of additional info. You can run MSC, open the Disk Management add-on, and attach a VHD (as described here but it is important to not attach the file read-only -- otherwise, the content is so protected that you can't even see it). The disk will appear as a new drive and you can browse it, copy things etc. This way, you can see what files were actually backed up, and verify for example that C:\Windows was backed up, unlike with a normal backup. This also allows you to see the two invisible partitions (the system reserved and the recovery partitions), which will at least suggest that these partitions were backed up. For verifying your C: drive, you can do an item-by item comparison of what's in the backup vs. on your C: drive. For the invisible partitions, you can at least see that there is some directory structure with file names that are meaningful and which suggest that stuff that you'd expect in a recovery partition is actually there.

This is, BTW, useful because a complete system backup might contain things that were not backed up in a regular backup; but for various reasons, you might not want to restore the entire system. So this gives access to the content of a disk image. Completely restoring programs, manually, could be very tricky because it could take a lifetime to figure out where all of the required files are, including registry setting.

The only way to be completely certain that a backup "is correct" is to make a backup, stick in a fresh drive, recover to that drive, and see if everything still works.
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 What exactly does a Windows system image backup save?




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