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Windows 7: Home Computer System Imaging for Newbies - My "Rules"

02 Aug 2013   #1
Victor S

Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Home Computer System Imaging for Newbies - My "Rules"

This is a quick post, and far from comprehensive. Just have the "urge" to write it down.
I've been making and restoring images on my home computers for many years. My success rate is 100%.
I'll just state what has worked for me. The important parts. Some may disagree with how I do it, and that's fine. This is mostly aimed at those with no experience, and can get them started well.

1. Get Macrium, Ghost 15, or other imaging software. I use Ghost 15, and have used Macrium. They work.
Macrium has a free version, which I tested out. It worked fine.
Don't use the Win 7 imaging utility. It does incremental images, which introduce complexity, and it has unacceptable weaknesses.

2. You MUST have either another internal drive, or an external drive to hold the images. The more the better.
Some might argue one drive with 2 partitions will do, and that's true. I don't recommend that.
Data drives are almost as cheap as dirt, so why open yourself to defeat if a sole drive fails?

3. Keep your system partition (we'll call it C) as small as practical for you. Install all registered and commonly used applications on C. This is your "core" system. This is what gets restored in as little as 5 minutes, with no reinstallations.
Do not put data on C. Back up data separately. My Documents, My Photos, My Downloads, and whatever else Win 7 or an application stores on C should be redirected to another partition. You HAVE to know where applications put your data, because when you restore an image to C, EVERYTHING on C gets overwritten.
That's the nature of restoring an image. To put everything to how it was when the image was made.
It will take some little study to know where your data is, but it's necessary, and not hard to do.
Since you never know in advance when a restore will be necessary, make it a habit to keep data in a safe place.

Here's a few examples I deal with.

a. Game saves. Commonly put in a Users directory. I don't consider games "core" apps, so install them on D.
They are easy to reinstall. But many games store saves to a User directory, with no other option.
b. Quicken. It's a core app, and keeps it data on C. I do a backup to D every time I change something.
c. Turbo Tax. Temporary core app. I store all work on D. You could make a case for installing on D.
d. C-Organizer Pro (PIM) Core app. Same as above.

(BTW, the main reasons for keeping C small are,
a. Makes imaging/restores fast. That's important, simply because if it takes a long time to do you won't want to do it. Just human nature. I shoot for 5-10 minutes, or 20-30gb.
b. Disk space taken by images. You're duplicating a lot with multiple system images. So dupe less.)

4. Take at least 2 images of your system with all core apps installed. That's simple redundancy safety.
Name the image as you please. I use ccyymmdd. Sometimes "temp" or "BeforeQuicken2013Install." Just make sure you know what's what.
Do this as soon as possible after setting up your system. You want it "clean."

5. Get familiar with the imaging software restore. You want to know it works, right?
This was a bit scary at first, even for me. The first thing restoring an image does is virtually delete everything on your C.
My solution was to put an extra drive in place of my C drive. My C drive wasn't touched when "testing" the software the first time. I can't say whether you need to be that cautious. Up to you. I will say what I did was unnecessary, because the first restore I did worked fine. After that, you should be totally comfortable.

6. NEVER restore without pausing to go over what you will lose on the C. A check list works fine. Did I back up data on the items I mentioned above. Quicken, save games, etc.? Or didn't I?

Those are the base points, and I hope enough to get anybody started. If anybody wants more info, just ask. I can talk about my experience, but only that.
Others here have there own experience, and can weigh in.
There's plenty more to it, some gotchas, some processes/methods I use. For example, I always do a restore before taking an image, etc.
My basic principle is KISS,
For any home user who doesn't want to lose data, and despises reinstalling Win 7 and retweaking everything, this is the place to ask how it can be done. Imaging is a bit of work, but it can really pay off.
I don't look at it as "insurance."
It's a a computing "lifestyle."

My System SpecsSystem Spec
02 Aug 2013   #2

Desk1 7 Home Prem / Desk2 10 Pro / Main lap Asus ROG 10 Pro 2 laptop Toshiba 7 Pro Asus P2520 7 & 10

Yep Victor I use the Macrium and I use KIRSS (KEEP IT REALLY SIMPLE STUPID) LOL!!

Only I got the info from WHS's tutorial on it.:)
Imaging with free Macrium
My System SpecsSystem Spec
02 Aug 2013   #3

Windows 7 Home Premium x64

As Tyra Banks would say.. My image is everything.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

03 Aug 2013   #4

XP Pro (x86) | 7 HP (x86) & (x64) | 7 Pro (x64)

I am one of your newbies :)
Have just spent 5 hours reading a few threads in regarding mirroring, imaging, restore points, restoring, and now this thread. Are they all the same thing ?
Where does Macrium fit into the picture ?

Three days ago I created a windows restore point then installed a program that appears to have sent "Save As" dialog navigation pane into landslide mode
Now that restore point could be a life saver
I have never used a restore-point, because I don't know the ins-and-outs of risks etc.
Now my hands are sweating !

Glad I found this "Victor S" thread, because it has clarified my concerns about the possible loss of data files.

Laptop (Toshiba) ... C:\ with everything on it .. programs + data ... bad karma ?
- the laptop has a lot of Toshiba crap on it, but no sign of a partition
- I never use the Toshiba "stuff" + I have a non-Toshiba Win7 OS disc
- (I have uninstalled MS Office "Q" drive)

Can I partition the Toshiba now and move all data to the new partition ?
... before I attempt to restore to a previous RP -- Or am I snookered ?

Backing up data has not successful, when the Toshiba goes to sleep (hibernate?) I press the space bar to wake the beast up, the copying process is dumped and copying incomplete.

Just to make it interesting (sleepless nights) I am modifying my daughters Dell laptop Win8 and installing programs she needs and tweaking it with Classic Shell Start etc...
First thing I did (when I figured how to get past the Lego blocks for under 5s) was to create a restore point before I installed anything.

Will partitioning the Win7 32bit (Toshiba) and Win8 64bit (Dell) be the same process?
If not, I will start a new thread for Win8 x64 over at
I have found...
"Return computer to factory condition" or "Use A System Image Created Earlier" ...unread so far
Image Your System With Macrium ... a lot too read, 4 years worth
this thread :- by "Victor S"
... feeling rather apprehensive about data loss and how to use the restore point

Would appreciate any help
My System SpecsSystem Spec
03 Aug 2013   #5

Desk1 7 Home Prem / Desk2 10 Pro / Main lap Asus ROG 10 Pro 2 laptop Toshiba 7 Pro Asus P2520 7 & 10

No Gray imaging and cloning mirroring are virtually the same the restore you just restore the computer back in time say for instance you have an update that compromises the machine you restore back to a date before that update was installed. You don't lose data like docs etc just stuff you have installed before that date.

In 7 you go to Programs then dig into system tools you will find it there I am on 8 at the moment and not having it on long I haven't had a proper look to see where it is but you just set the date you want to go back to and the wizard will guide you through. This will help though most stuff like this just search the tutorials mate.:)
System Restore

I have just put on 8 (plus Stardock8) on the main Toshiba and it is flying:) (I have an SSD and clean install on both Toshibas now and without the bloatware mate they are so much faster.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
03 Aug 2013   #6
Victor S

Windows 7 Ultimate x64


I can't speak to the Toshiba, except generally. There are probably guys here who know about the Toshiba specifics.
Right now, address your data backup problem. You should be able to set the Toshiba to NOT sleep, and complete your data backup. So take it a step at a time. Though system imaging has a lot of benefits, it's your data that's most important.
So take care of that first. Reinstalling Win 7 isn't a huge deal, as long as you don't lose data. It's just that imaging makes reinstalling unnecessary in most cases. Besides Win 7, you have to reinstall everything else, re-enter all those product keys, retweak everything to how you like it, etc.

A system restore is basically restoring your OS to a previous state, using a restore point that describes the state.
So you take a restore point, which describes the state of the OS. What's in the registry, what system files are installed, what programs are installed, what your desktop looks like, etc.
Later, after you make other system changes, something goes wrong, or you just don't like something, so you ask the system to restore to a previous point.
It's a complex programmatic process restoring, and it can easily go wrong. Something wasn't anticipated by the restore logic.
A virus hammers something needed to do the restore. A corrupt disk sector stops it in its tracks. And so on.
I can't speak much to it, as I don't consider it trustworthy so don't use it. The only time I used it, it failed to work.
If others have had success using it, good for them. It has probably worked for many people.

Imaging is simply writing an entire partition to another place. When you make or restore a system image, it's a relatively very simple process compared to "system restore." It's primarily communicating with hardware based I/O commands, and some tweaking of OS tables/files to emulate how the OS expects them to be in order to boot. I'm not technically qualified to explain it in detail, but that's the gist of it. I've done it at least hundred times, with 100% success.
An image doesn't have to keep track of thousands of variables. It basically takes an exact byte-by-byte picture of your OS partition (or any other) and puts it back the same way. it's really KISS as far as backups go.
Doesn't care about virii or anything else. That also means you should take/restore images with a bootable CD, and not use an
imaging system residing on and depending on the OS. The OS could be broken for any number of reason.

As to your partitioning question, yes there is software to repartition disks, and I used it once successfully.
Since I build my own systems starting with unpartitioned disks, I don't really do that. I set the partitions as they will be.
But you might want to do that. It's not difficult and it shouldn't scare you, IF YOU HAVE BACKED UP YOUR DATA TO ANOTHER DISK. So I say again, take care of backing up your data first. I'm unfamilar with Win 8.

You're on the right track, just be cautious. You don't mention what disks you have on the computers, and you should get that down pat. Understand "physical disk" and "partition" if you don't already.
"My" basic rule is a 64gb C system partition is plenty for most Win 7 users. I use a 64GB SSD, and never come close to filling it. Get an idea of gb sizes on your PC's. As I said, having a small amount of data to system image makes it much easier simply due to reducing the time it takes.
Inexpensive and fairly fast external disks make imaging possible for anybody who can connect one to their PC or laptop.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
03 Aug 2013   #7

Desk1 7 Home Prem / Desk2 10 Pro / Main lap Asus ROG 10 Pro 2 laptop Toshiba 7 Pro Asus P2520 7 & 10

Basically what Victor is saying is what I said only his is far more detailed than mine to his credit:)

If you are concerned with Toshiba stuff Gray I have a bit of experience with these machines in both the software they put on (mostly rubbish) and repairs, so please don't hesitate to ask:)

If you want a good partitioning tool use this I use it all the time not just for partitioning but disk wiping (Clean all in DISKPART) surface testing and generally digging around in drives that are locked up.

For imaging (and cloning) Macrium is the shot mate Macrium Reflect FREE Edition - Information and download

and to use it there is this Imaging with free Macrium it is an excellent tool not to mention tutorial.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

 Home Computer System Imaging for Newbies - My "Rules"

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