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Windows 7: Backing Up Windows, general noob question.

06 Jun 2010   #1

Windows 7
Backing Up Windows, general noob question.

I'd like to get a layman's answer to a question that has bugged me for too long: Why can't I backup my hard drive by simply cloning its contents?

I don't mean doing an exact "hard disk clone" including multiple partitions, MBR, etc., although maybe that in-and-of-itself is part of the answer, but I get frustrated trying to understand why Windows won't allow itself to simply be copied -- activation concerns aside. On my Mac or my Linux machines, I can literally do a rsync or cp or whatever I want to do and have the entire disk copied over to an external, a thumb drive, a secondary internal disc, etc., and can then boot off of that disk. There's no additional configuration, aside from first formatting the disk (if needed) to whatever file system the OS needs.

Is it because Windows relies in the MBR in a different way? Is it because of activation / security concerns? Am I wrong in my question in the first place?

My System SpecsSystem Spec
06 Jun 2010   #2
not so gray matter

W7 Ult. x64 | OS X

I'm not certain why a simply copy/paste doesn't work but I'm guessing it has something do do with hidden files/partitions/properties/mbr/etc.

Regardless of why a straight copy and paste doesn't work there are a few methods that you can use to "clone" your hard drive. You can use backup software to create a system image. This is basically a clone of your current hard drive's status and it allows you to restore your computer to exactly that point from scratch. You could also use disc management software to clone your hard drive in the manner you're speaking of. I'm not sure if it'll work properly on a boot disc but you could try. Keep in mind that it's best to clone the hard drive using a live cd so that you're not booting off that hard drive at the moment of the clone.

More about backup software...

Personally, I don't recommend using the Windows version of backup software because I've found it's unreliable. However, many people use both third party and Windows versions of backup software and both work. The key is finding a method that is reliable for you.

I use a free program called Macrium Reflect. It's a backup software that allows you to clone any partition and save a copy. You can then use a Linux Boot Disk to restore that image to any hard drive with sufficient space. The one thing you want to make sure of in this configuration is that the boot disk works for you.

For your first test, I recommend backing up all of your information before doing anything. Once you've done this, create a system image and place it on a secondary disk. Now create your Linux Boot Disc. Boot from this disc and attempt to access your system image. If everything works properly and you can access the system image on whatever secondary disc you're using, use that image to restore your hard drive. This shouldn't take too long as long as your primary disc isn't too large. Anyway, if everything works properly then you know you have a reliable backup method. Now you can create system images on a regular basis and keep a base system image from just after you've installed your operating system and drivers.

I highly recommend doing that last part. Once every few months, I revert to my base system image which is simply an image of my hard drive about a day after I installed Windows 7. It's configured the way I want it and has all my basic software/drivers installed. For me, it's the equivalent of formatting my hard drive. Even though most people use this method or something similar to simply backup their boot disc, you can use it to back up any disc you have.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
06 Jun 2010   #3

Dual boot XP Pro SP3x86 and Win7 Pro x64

I think a religious followed backup regimen is essential, if only for peace of mind. What app you use and the regimen you follow is a matter of choice; everyone has their own preferences. Since you do not ask for a detailed protocol, I will give you a succinct rundown on what I do.

Software: there are several free apps. In addition to Macrium Reflect, both Seagate and Western Digital have a free version of Acronis that you will find at their respective sites if you use either of their HDDs.

Since it is the OS that is prone to degradation, I place the OS on an OS-only partition (nothing else goes on that partition). Since it is a small partition, it can be backed up and restored easily and quickly. I create an image backup (an exact clone of the partition) before making any changes/additions to the OS but at least once a week.

Since ALL my other data is placed on other partitions/HDDs, if my OS partition becomes corrupt, none of my other data will be affected. I store my image backup on a different HDD (not different partition on the same HDD) so that if my OS HDD fails, my image partition is safe elsewhere.

This protocol is direct, easy, and fast; it also avoids any inherent Windows issues such as you mention. Post back and ask if you wish a detailed how and why.

My System SpecsSystem Spec

06 Jun 2010   #4

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 10, Home Clean Install

I basically follow the backup procedre of monk, with one exception. As soon as my OS is installed and activated (or shortly thereafer), I make a copy and then put it away and forget about it. In the event that one of my weekly backups are corrupted or have a virus, I alway have the old back up available. No more installations for me.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
06 Jun 2010   #5
Microsoft MVP


What you want can be accomplished using Win7 built-in back up imaging. Just select any/all of your partitions to save externally, then you can reimage to any HD later from the stored image using your Win7 DVD or Repair CD. The image will be slightly smaller as it doesn't copy empty space.

If you want to be sure your image will be usable on another HD, it is best to back up a second image using a separate utility like free Macrium Reflect. This pretty much makes it failsafe.

If you need to break data out of the image at any point, mount the image VHD files using Disk Management and copy data off of the image externally.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
06 Jun 2010   #6

Dual boot XP Pro SP3x86 and Win7 Pro x64

@Richc46: excellent point, I think. That way, if for whatever reason you had to go back to square one, you would avoid activation/installation issues.

Thanks for that.

My System SpecsSystem Spec

 Backing Up Windows, general noob question.

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