System imaging should be a common practice with modern PCs, although many have never heard of or understand the importance of it.
It should be considered, not only for unexpected drive failure, but as a form of system security as well.
Although it should never be used in place of a proper security setup. Proper Security is still top priority.
Everyone should be aware of its importance, and IMHO, put it into practice.
What is System Imaging?
Imaging is quite simply a "snapshot" of the partiton or Hard Drive you Imaged.
It is an exact copy of your Windows installation, files,folders settings etc at that exact moment in time the image is created.
Why is System Imaging important?
As we all know, the first defense against a Virus and/or Malware attack is your Security system itself. (AV & Firewall)
Generally speaking, the name of the game is preventing an infection from ever happening.
But what happens when dispite our best efforts something gets through?
Many times, you can remove & recover from an infection.
However, occasionally the damage may be so severe there simply is no recovery, in which case a clean install of Windows may be needed.
There are also other factors you must consider that may not involve a Malware or Virus infection at all.
1) A failing or defective harddrive.
2) A Bad software or driver Update
3) File Corruption
4) Registry corruption or system file corruption
(which may not be able to be repaired)
These things can be caused by faulty software, user error etc.
In the event something bad does happen, and all resources including System Restore fail, you can simply re-image the Entire system back to a know good state.
Quite lierally, anything that happened or changed after that image was created, never happened.
What is the best method to use for a System Image?
There are a few options at your disposal. Many of which are free, and cost only a couple minutes of your time. The payoff however, should you ever need it, will be worth its weight in gold.
Some of the most common & recommended software is as follows:
1. Windows 7 built in Imaging
Free & included with Windows 7
( Backup and restore system software and PC system utilities for Windows and Linux OSs
Acronis is a paid software & offers many advanced features such as Incremental, Differential backups. As well automatic scheduled task and much more. ** Many HD manufactures also offer a free version of Acronis (such as Western Digital) This is a basic version of the software allowing you to clone and make basic back ups. You just need to register your product to gain access to it.
When should I make a Image and how often?
1) The first Image you should make should be right after you install Windows.
Install your prefered imaging software and activate Windows.
Make a image right then!
This way, you always have a fresh, clean activated image Windows with no drivers or software you can fall back on.
Burn this Image to a DVD, or an external HD and store it somewhere safe.
2) The next main image you should make is after you get all your main software installed, activated, updated, and Windows set up the way you want it.
3) Before any major system change.
This includes installation of any new software, Updating or rolling back graphics drivers etc.
4) Before any major update/patch such as Windows updates.
5) How often you image will depend how often you change things on your system, and your own habits.
I would suggest a complete Image at least once a week.
As long as space is not a issue, you can really never make to many.
For how often, just keep in mind:
If something devastating happened right now, how many days could you lose without losing to much work? A week, 2 days?
Remember, its a good habit to keep a few images in store. Perhaps 1 or 2 a week fro the last month.
Not just the most current.
I can not stress the importance creating System Images has.
Many of the tools are completely free (unless you wish to have extra features) and cost only a few minutes of time.
The time it can & will save you in case of disaster however, will be significant.